The recent departure of Christian Atsu makes you think back to when he first joined Newcastle United in 2016.

Newcastle had just been relegated, their second time under Mike Ashley, and Atsu, a Chelsea fringe player at the time, was brought in to bolster the Magpies’ attack in the second tier.

His departure reminds us just how far gone those days now are: it’s like an era has turned.

And as he departs St James’ Park, the attacker – you’d presume inadvertently – fuelled the flames of fire once again about the legacy Rafael Benitez had at Newcastle – and one in which Steve Bruce is trying to build.

Atsu said in an exclusive interview with the Newcastle Chronicle: “When I heard Newcastle wanted me and Rafa was the coach, I had no second thoughts.

OXFORD, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 04: Christian Atsu . (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

“It was always a pleasure working with Rafa. Before I came here, I was told I will enjoy working with him and that was true .

“He is the best man I’ve ever worked with. My number one. Both tactically and player management, he is top.”

This is a player who has plied his trade under both managers – and so you can be forgiven for saying that Atsu knows what he is talking about when it comes to comparisons between the two coaches.

Bruce is a popular figure in the media but so much not at Newcastle. Benitez was tremendously popular, however, and on paper at least, the pair have offered the same amount of achievement in the Premier League and domestically (Benitez’s promotion with Newcastle withstanding).

Benitez guided Newcastle to tenth in the Premier League following promotion – and then in the following season, they finished 13th place.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – MARCH 09: Rafael Benitez (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

When he left the side and Bruce came in, the former Birmingham City boss matched Benitez with a 13th-place finish, before in this most recent campaign, finishing 12th.

For a man who fans thought would take the side back to the Championship, Bruce exceeded the minimal expectations fans had in him.

 

In April 2020, when Newcastle United were on 43 points with three games remaining, the current boss was just two points off improving Benitez’s highest top-flight points tally with the Magpies. It led to Jermaine Jenas saying that Bruce was doing a ‘better job’ than the Spaniard.

Jenas said via BT Sport: “This is a team that in my opinion has overperformed this season – again.

“Last year, the reason was Rafa Benitez apparently and once he left it was all going to fall apart.

“Well Steve Bruce has come in and shown he can do a better job and also the players, you got to give them a lot of credit.”

Meanwhile, fresh articles come in and throw Benitez’s name in the dirt, as well as the long battle Newcastle fans have had in attempting to drive against the notion Bruce is doing a better job, it’s catalysed more contention than ever before.

They appear to forget what Benitez left Bruce with, in terms of squad stability, structure, squad cohesion, and just how much cash Bruce has been granted by Mike Ashley.

Benitez could just about squeeze Salomon Rondon on loan, and on top of that, he was granted a negative £21m transfer spend in his first Premier League summer window with the Magpies. After much huffing and puffing, they signed Miguel Almiron for £21m on the final day of the transfer window.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 02: Jose Salomon Rondon, Ayoze Perez and Miguel Almiron (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images)

Overall in his time at Newcastle, Benitez had £2.36m. Bruce, meanwhile, has been granted a net spend of £67.4m. You can see how it becomes an unfair argument.

It makes you wonder. If only Ashley decided to fulfil his promises to the right man, where would Newcastle be? Instead, Newcastle are left with a team under the guidance of a mediocre boss with not many prospects.

Next season speaks of perhaps not a relegation battle like Newcastle had last campaign – but once again there will be a complete lack of hope, a season in which mid-table is to be expected and not much else.

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