Newcastle United have been described as many things down the years. Many of them negative.
But rarely has the football club been compared to a train.
Yet that is the exact analogy Rafa Benitez offered as he brought a close to a turbulent week off the field at St James’ Park and attempted to steer the focus back towards on-pitch issues.
Mike Ashley remains Newcastle owner, at least for the time being, but several interested parties have already come forward both before and after the club was officially placed on the market.
Chief among them is Amanda Staveley and her company PCP Capital Partners, who are currently undergoing due diligence at United.
But Benitez – who said he “thinks” he’s met Staveley twice before, including “the other day when she was here” for the Liverpool game – remains as calm as ever.
The Spaniard will not become distracted by takeover talk, and nor will he lose focus from his day-to-day job given that Crystal Palace visit St James’ Park on Saturday.
Yet, if any potential investor needed further evidence that Benitez is the man who can finally deliver that elusive trophy, the former Real Madrid manager offered it once more in his analysis of how a club should be run.
For Benitez, a football club is like a train – with the engine [the team and manager] dragging the carriages [all of the off-field departments] behind it.
As such, the engine has to be the focus – and if that is strong and healthy, then all of the carriages will be bolstered too.
The not-too-subtle implication appeared to be that Ashley had failed to ensure that the team was successful on the pitch so, no matter how much the Sports Direct magnate concentrated on increasing revenues, he was always hampering himself.
Thankfully, a world-class conductor is directing the train right now.
“You need to do the right things every day,” Benitez replied when asked how Newcastle could finally begin to fulfil its untapped potential.
“Sometimes when you sign players, it is not the money, it is just the mentality.
“If you have the right player with the right mentality, it could be a good signing. If they have not got the right mentality, maybe it is a bad signing.
“So if you want to improve any club, the fans, they will see things happening on the pitch but you have to be sure the other things are right and that gives you more guarantees on the pitch.
“But you cannot change the Academy and change the training ground and after that have a team that is losing every game because it would not change too much.
“A club is like a train with the engine at the front. You need a powerful engine but you put more carriages on and you need a more powerful engine still.
“For instance, you have marketing, commercial, communications etc. So if the engine is not strong enough and does not have the power, you have to win games and have a good team and that will help all the other things.
“Then again, if you can do everything right, you can improve the engine at the same time.”
There have been suggestions that, outside of the current so-called ‘Big Six’, Newcastle is the Premier League club with the most potential for growth.
Benitez himself appears to hold such a view, even if he would not necessarily say it in as many words.
Outside investment will help the club realise its promise – but Benitez stresses money alone will not bring sustained success.
“It’s one of the top sides in England if you put everything together. The question is, is it reaching its level? Obviously, no,” he explained.
“Can we do it? I think so. We have to do everything right. It’s not just if you have money, you have to have the right players with the right mentality coming here.
“You have to put a lot of things together, if you have good staff, people working in advance you have more chance to do well.
“If I decided to stay it is because the potential of the club, the city, it is massive. If we do well it will be easier. You can attract people for the potential but if you are doing well it is even easier.
“What level can it reach? A higher level than we are at the moment. I think we can do better.
“I don’t say that because of the fans or the city, it’s because you can see when you compare to other clubs you can see the potential is there. It’s just to do the right things.
“When I signed here it was because I could see the potential. And not just because of the fans and the city.
“If possible, I want to improve the team, to be sure we can compete in other competitions and go higher in the table.”
After more than a decade under Ashley’s ownership, the vast majority of Newcastle fans are ready for a change of direction.
Even Benitez acknowledges that.
“I know that, reading the Press in the last few days, it’s [the sale of the club is] really important for everyone here.”
But, as Benitez keeps stressing, that is – hopefully – to come in the future.
The here and now is a home match against bottom-of-the-table Palace. Collecting another three points is all Benitez is concerned about right now.