Sam Allardyce admits he was taken aback by Rafa Benitez's appointment at Newcastle, but has played down any personal animosity ahead of the Tyne-Wear derby.
Allardyce renews acquaintances with old adversary Benitez in Sunday's clash at St James's Park after the pair enjoyed a fractious relationship during the Sunderland manager's days at Bolton and West Ham.
But Allardyce firmly brushed off any personal rivalry between the pair at his pre-match press conference today, ahead of this weekend's crunch derby.
However, Allardyce was shocked by Benitez's decision to join the Magpies last week, just two months after the ex-Liverpool boss had been sacked by giants Real Madrid.
Allardyce said: "I didn't expect to see him at Newcastle, I have to say.
"But I did expect to see him back in the Premier League because I knew he still has a property on the Wirral and has been back there several times when he's been between jobs.
"I knew that he enjoyed working in this country and the Premier League very much.
"With the lure of Inter, Napoli and Real Madrid, you're obviously going to go and experience those fantastic football clubs.
"But back here I expected him to be managing again.
"Newcastle was a bit of a surprise to me though and they've employed a fantastic manager, whose done a job across Europe and built up a great reputation for himself."
Allardyce had reopened the feud between the pair in his autobiography during the summer when he wrote that Benitez "thought he was superior".
Benitez had just taken the Madrid job when the book was released and replied: "His opinion does not have a lot of value."
But Allardyce says the only battle between the duo this weekend is which of the two North East managers come out in the tactical skirmish.
"It's not about me or him," added Allardyce.
"It's about two sets of players and what it's about for us is how we set our stall out tactically against each other, which has always been the challenge.
"You look at the quality of the coaches in the Premier League now and we all challenge ourselves to see if we can help our team beat the opposition, even when it's against all the odds sometimes.
"That's always a great experience and that's why this league is still the best in the world.
"And that's shown by the quality of coaches who continue to come and work in this country."