Rafael Benitez admitted he has taken on a “massive” challenge in agreeing to lead Newcastle’s desperate fight for Barclays Premier League survival.
The 55-year-old Spaniard, who has been out of the game since being sacked by Real Madrid in January, accepted a 10-match survival mission and whatever may lie beyond on Friday when he signed an initial three-year contract at St James’ Park.
He did so hours after Steve McClaren was sacked and with the Magpies sitting in 19th place in the table, one point adrift of safety ahead of Monday evening’s tough trip to surprise leaders Leicester, hardly the ideal start to a rescue attempt.
Benitez, who unlike York-born McClaren and predecessor Alan Pardew will have the title “manager”, 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.”
Benitez was ushered into St James’ shortly after 2pm on Friday to conclude a deal with managing director Lee Charnley which had been thrashed out away from the glare of publicity over six agonising days since Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth.
Former England boss McClaren, who took training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday amid a storm of speculation over his future, had been formally relieved of his duties at around 11.30am.
McClaren insisted on Saturday evening that he would not walk away from the job he took on in June last year, but his position had become untenable with his 28 league games bringing just six wins and 24 points despite an investment in the playing staff in excess of £82m.
However, he remained insistent that he would have kept the club up given the opportunity.
In a statement released through the League Managers’ Association, McClaren said: “I am obviously very disappointed with the decision.
“I appreciate any frustrations relating to the team’s results and the club subsequently finding itself in a battle to avoid relegation. I remain confident, however, that we would have stayed in the Premier League with a view to building for next season.
“Whilst there has been a lot of intense speculation surrounding my position over recent days, my sole priority has been to maintain my professionalism and carry on with my work to best prepare the team.
“I would like to place on record what a privilege it has been to manage Newcastle United Football Club. It is a great a club - the embodiment of the city, with incredible supporters.
“For every supporter of Newcastle United, I genuinely hope the club can produce the results I believe they are capable of, between now and the end of the season, to maintain their Premier League status.
“Newcastle United is a club that must build for the long term to deliver what the supporters deserve - success and silverware.”