Sport Soccer

Monday 24 September 2018

Rafael Benitez insists his priority is to stay in England amid Newcastle talks

The Spaniard is seeking assurances from the Magpies before committing himself.

Newcastle United v Chelsea – Premier League – St James’ Park
Newcastle United v Chelsea – Premier League – St James’ Park

By Damian Spellman, Press Association Sport

Rafael Benitez has insisted he is only talking to Newcastle amid continuing speculation over his future.

The 58-year-old Spaniard remains in discussions over a contract extension at St James’ Park with only 12 months of his existing deal left to run.

Owner Mike Ashley is desperate for him to stay having once again promised him “every penny generated by the club”.

Benitez wants assurances over Ashley’s ambition for the future before committing himself, but amid speculation linking him with former employers Napoli, Everton and Leicester, is adamant that the Magpies are currently his only focus.

Asked about the link with Napoli, he told calcionapoli24.it: “My future? I’ve heard so much talk, but I haven’t spoken to [Napoli chairman] Aurelio de Laurentiis. I have a contract with Newcastle, I’m talking to them about my renewal.

“They made me some offers to stay here for a few more years, plus I have to manage my family. When I decided to go to Newcastle and stay there, even in the Championship, it was also because of my family.

“My priority is to stay in England. I’m only talking to Newcastle right now.”

Ashley’s plea for Benitez to remain on Tyneside came in a statement issued within hours of the final whistle in his side’s 3-0 victory over Chelsea on Sunday, which ended a run of four successive defeats and secured a 10th-place Premier League finish.

That is a significant achievement for a club which embarked upon a frustratingly modest – in the eyes of its manager, at least – summer recruitment campaign in the wake of promotion, and relied solely upon the loan market in January.

Benitez believed he would have both greater spending power and freedom than that which eventually transpired, and has spent the weeks since securing the club’s top-flight status suggesting an improvement on both fronts, as well as longer-term plans for the club’s academy and training facilities, will play a key part in his decision to carry on or not.

In the meantime, a man who is keen to challenge for silverware rather than fight for mere survival will be able to reflect upon a job well done after guiding last season’s Sky Bet Championship winners through a mid-season slump to safety and beyond, a mission which has been warmly appreciated by his players and the fans alike.

Skipper Jamaal Lascelles told nufcTV: “It’s massive, especially when you have so many people doubting you and saying you’re going to come straight back down. It’s just nice to say we have proved a lot of people wrong.

“Overall, it’s been a really positive season, but this makes it really special. This year was about survival, but we have done more than that.

“We have really pushed on and we have finished top half of the table and hopefully at the start of next season, we’ll look at building more.

“We’re safe – we’re more than safe, we’re 10th, so the season has been really positive and I am looking forward to starting the new season.”

Press Association

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