Newcastle United have appointed Rafael Benitez as their new manager on a three-year contract.
The Spaniard succeeds Steve McClaren, who was sacked earlier on Friday after nine months in the job, and is tasked with preserving Newcastle’s top-flight status with the club 19th, one point adrift of safety.
Benitez has been itching to return to the Premier League after a six-year spell at Liverpool, with whom he won the Champions League in 2005 and the FA Cup a year later, and a six-month interim role at Chelsea, which resulted in him landing the 2013 Europa League title.
Since leaving Stamford Bridge three years ago, he spent two seasons with Napoli before being named Real Madrid boss in June 2015. The 55-year-old struggled for acceptance at the Santiago Bernabeu, however, and was dismissed in January with the club third in La Liga.
Benitez, who will face Newcastle’s bitter rivals Sunderland in his first home game in charge, said: “I have the pleasure to confirm I have committed to a legendary English club, with the massive challenge of remaining part of the Premier League.
“It will be a challenge not just for me and my staff but for the players, the club and the fans.
“All of us must push together in the same direction and with the same target in mind. This is the reason why I’m going to ask for your total support to successfully complete this task.
“Personally, it means my return to the Premier League, closer to my home and my family. I can’t be happier.
“C’mon Toon Army! The club and I need your total involvement!”
Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley said: “I am very pleased to welcome Rafa Benitez to the club. In Rafa we have, without doubt, secured the services of one of Europe’s top managers.
“He has managed some of the most successful teams at the very highest level of the game and we are proud to now have him as our manager.
“Our sole focus now is to give our full support to Rafa, his coaching team and the players in order to secure our status in the Premier League.”
Fabio Pecchia, Francisco de Miguel Moreno and Antonio Gomez Perez will join Ian Cathro and Simon Smith to form Benitez’s coaching team. Paul Simpson, Alessandro Schoenmaker and Steve Black have left St James’ Park.
McClaren’s dismissal had been widely expected following Saturday’s shambolic 3-1 defeat at home to AFC Bournemouth.
Charnley said: “After the defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday the club has spent some time considering its position and has today concluded that Steve McClaren’s employment with the club will end with immediate effect.
“We acknowledge that reaching this decision has taken a number of days and that this has caused uncertainty for everyone involved, in particular for Steve and the players, for which we apologise. However we felt that this time was necessary to ensure the right decisions were reached with the best interests of the club at heart.
“I would like to thank Steve personally for his services to Newcastle United. He is a man of integrity and class and he has conducted himself with great dignity during this difficult time.”
McClaren was appointed head coach in June 2015, shortly after being dismissed by Championship side Derby County, and was also given a place on the board. His first Premier League win did not come until the ninth game, a 6-2 victory over Norwich City, but that was followed a week later by a 3-0 thrashing at Sunderland.
The club spent heavily in the off-season on Georginio Wijnaldum, Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic and again in January – no club in Europe spent more in the latest transfer window – on the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Andros Townsend and Henri Saivet, but results have remained disappointing, culminating in the defeat to Bournemouth.
The build-up to that game was dominated by newspaper reports suggesting the club’s players had lost faith in McClaren, who had an angry exchange with a journalist when responding to the claims last Friday.
Newcastle’s players released a statement prior to the weekend clash with Eddie Howe’s men, insisting they remained behind McClaren, but an own goal from Steven Taylor and efforts from Josh King and Charlie Daniels ultimately sealed the former England manager’s fate amid a toxic atmosphere at St James’ Park.
Next up for Newcastle is a trip to leaders Leicester City on Monday.