Newcastle urged to bring Michael O'Neill to Tyneside as Benitez's successor
Former Newcastle United star David McCreery believes Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill would have the vision and hunger to be a success on Tyneside.
The Magpies are without a manager since Rafa Benitez left the club at the end of his contract last month to join Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang.
O'Neill is considered an outsider with the bookies at 50-1 to replace the Spaniard, but McCreery says that such a bold appointment could prove a masterstroke.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Michael would be a good replacement for Rafa," said McCreery, who played over 300 games for the Magpies during the 1980s and in two World Cup finals for Northern Ireland.
"Michael knows the club very well having been a player there and his track record with Northern Ireland speaks for itself.
"He would bring fresh ideas and a real determination to make things work. Sure he would have a point to prove, but that would be a great motivation."
Manchester City assistant Mikel Arteta is the bookies' favourite to replace Benitez with Belgium manager Roberto Martinez, Martin O'Neill and Steven Gerrard among those also being linked.
McCreery admits that O'Neill would be a left-field appointment among such luminaries but says the club needs to take some risks if it is going to move forward.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has a history of making shock appointments during his 12 years in charge, including Joe Kinnear and John Carver, not to mention offering Alan Pardew a nine-year contract, but O'Neill would be welcomed with open arms by fans in comparison.
McCreery added: "There will be those who will point to Michael not having managed at a top club before now, but he chose to go the international route and has shown he can operate on a big stage.
"Perhaps too much is made of the differences between managing a club and an international side. We have seen that players in green and white respond to him positively and why should that be different in a black and white shirt?"
O'Neill has been linked with Championship vacancies at Stoke and West Brom in recent times, but few in the Premier League.
McCreery is surprised a top-flight club has not tried to snap him up.
"Just because he has been linked with Championship sides doesn't mean that is his level," the 61-year-old added. "He has shown what he can do, taking Northern Ireland to the latter stages of the Euros, and that looks good on a CV.
"I think the fans would certainly take to Michael because he has built up big-game experience and they know he would have the club at heart.
"They are crying out for a manager who will give them the success they deserve. Newcastle is still one of the biggest clubs in England but a string of big-name managers have come and gone. Perhaps it's time for something a bit different.
"Michael can connect with the fans just as he has done with his country. What it needs is someone to come in and turn it around and, for me, Michael has what it takes."
Benitez shared an open letter with Newcastle fans explaining that he could not sign a new deal because he and the club hierarchy "did not share the same vision".
McCreery warns Magpies owner Ashley that O'Neill would not be prepared to step away from his national post without assurances that the club match his ambitions.
He said: "Whoever takes over will know they will not be able to compete with the Manchester clubs of this world in the transfer market, but they need more funds to finish as far up the table as possible.
"Rafa fell out with club bosses over a lack of funds, but he was not the first manager to do that and I'm sure Michael would be under no illusions if they turned to him.
"The club would be wrong to assume that Michael would be just grateful to get a top job.
"He is the sort of guy who will want to be assured that he will get the funds to be able to compete at getting in the top half of the table."
McCreery concedes that while it might be considered a gamble for Newcastle to appoint O'Neill, the same could also be said for O'Neill himself.
In Ashley's 12 years at the helm, only two managers - Benitez and Pardew - have clocked up 28 or more Premier League games in charge.
Fans are in mutinous mood after the failure to persuade Benitez to stay and his replacement has a tough job rallying morale.
"He was loved around here," added McCreery. "Everyone could see what he was doing. Like Michael, he is a lovely guy who works closely with the fans.
"I've been to a couple of talk-ins recently with fans and they are hurting. They just love their football and want someone to take the club forward.
"The quicker they get someone in the better for the players and fans. Pre-season training has just begun and it's always worrying when there is no manager in sight."
Last month marked the 50th anniversary since Newcastle last won a major trophy when they beat Hungarian side Ujpest Dosza in the Fairs Cup.
Northern Ireland internationals Willie McFaul and David Craig were among the Toon stars who earned legendary status by being involved in the two-legged Final in 1969.
"It is about time Newcastle ended that wait for a trophy," McCreery added. "Could you imagine if someone like Michael changed that? He would go down in folklore. I'm more than happy for him to be given the chance."