OLIVIER BERNARD had hoped Newcastle would be challenging for European qualification this season and not fighting another relegation battle.

The French left-back, who has had two spells with the club, fears his former team is likely to face a similar battle to retain their Premiership status unless manager Rafael Benitez receives the necessary backing from the St James’ Park hierarchy.

The Spaniard's CV includes the Champions League with Liverpool, the FIFA Club World Cup with Inter Milan, two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup with Valencia. At Chelsea, as interim manager, he oversaw success in the 2013 Europa League Cup Final.

The 38-year-old, believes the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager’s accomplishment in a top 10 finish last season is “on level” with anything he has achieved at his previous clubs, especially considering that he was working without “superstar names”, a “limited budget” as well as having to contend with “boardroom politics”.

Bernard said: “Last season they were a Championship squad in all but name. The naivety in their approach was there for everyone to see as they were losing games from winning positions, but you tend to get that when you have a lot of young players in the team. A return to the Championship was a serious prospect but they stayed up and the manager has to be given a lot of credit for that.

“Rafa could have walked away but he didn’t. He doesn’t want to be involved in another relegation fight.

"Given his previous achievements he no doubt would want the team aiming much higher. Why not the Europa league? Given last season’s finish I was hoping the owners would have backed him and built upon that. If they don’t then someone else will come calling and he will leave.”

Newcastle will open their league campaign against Tottenham. However, their fans may have cause for concern. A 4-0 humbling against Braga in a pre-season friendly led to Benitez warning supporters that they should be “worried” ahead of the new season. Newcastle’s activity in the transfer market has not been as busy as expected. Japanese striker Yoshinoro Moto has been signed from Mainz on a reported £9.5 million deal. Salomon Rondon has also arrived on a season-long loan.

Bernard is particularly delighted at the return of Kenedy. The winger will stay in the north east until the end of the 2018/19 season.

The Brazilian’s impressive displays, on his initial six-month loan spell from Chelsea last season, made him a favourite with the fans.

“He was the ‘go to’ player in the team,” Bernard continued. “He is ridiculously comfortable on the ball and has an incredible turn of pace. "The supporters get on the edge of their seats every time he gets the ball because he’s capable of creating something out of nothing. There is no-one else in the team like him.”

And that in itself could be the problem rather than the solution as others will be required to step up to ensure Newcastle do not find themselves in the same predicament as they were in the first half of last season.