Rafa Benitez

Benitez on his future at Newcastle: We’ll meet this week

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Rafa Benitez has made no secret of his wish to receive substantial funds to improve Newcastle’s squad over the past few years, yet he’s been rebuffed time and time again.

This season almost proved to be a breaking point, and despite the thin squad, Benitez guided Newcastle to a 13th place finish in the Premier League table, with 45 points, one more than a year ago. Now, the big question is whether Benitez will remain. His response, basically – we’ll see what happens.

[READ: Newcastle routs Fulham at Craven Cottage]

“We meet hopefully this week and see where we are,” Benitez told BBC’s Match of the Day following Newcastle’s 4-0 win at Fulham on Championship Sunday, referencing a potential meeting with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley. “We have plenty of time to enjoy, I have been very clear about the potential of this club.”

Benitez and Newcastle were able to break the club’s transfer record with the $27 million signing of Miguel Almiron, and while the Paraguayan didn’t score, he did provide a boost to the squad and set up a few goals on Newcastle’s way to securing survival in the Premier League.

However, there’s plenty of improvement needed across the squad, from improving the backline, central midfield, and potentially even at striker. Solomon Rondon is only at the club on loan, at the moment, and while a talented player, he still only finished with 11 goals this season in 34 Premier League matches.

Additionally, Newcastle will likely lose holding midfielder Isaac Hayden this summer as he looks to move to a club in London where he can be closer to his daughter and family. Should Benitez leave, there could be further overhaul, something that may negatively impact right back DeAndre Yedlin and Almiron moving forward.

Report: Newcastle owner Ashley ‘unlikely’ to bow to Benitez’s transfer wishes

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According to a report by Newcastle Chronicle chief writer Lee Ryder, Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is “unlikely” to increase the club’s transfer budget to convince Rafa Benitez to stay on as manager past this season.

Benitez’s contract expires at the end of the current campaign, and with just two matches remaining, the two parties are yet to agree to an extension for the Spaniard. Benitez has publicly stated his ultimate goal is to get assurances from the club to guarantee financial ambition moving forward, but Ashley appears unmoved.

The 59-year-old boss, formerly in charge of Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Napoli,  joined Newcastle in 2016 and stuck with the club through a season in the Championship, returning them to Premier League status. He is reportedly the club’s first and foremost offseason priority, but according to this recent report, he is not important enough to Ashely to open the coffers, instead instructing managing director Lee Charnley to “live within his means.”

Charnley is reportedly taking charge of talks with Benitez while Ashley sits in the peripheral, but it is ultimately Ashley who will approve or deny Benitez’s wishes. The manager wants to take the club from relegation battles to a fight for a European place, but does not see that happening without improved financial backing, including both transfer funds and wages.

“I have been trying to win titles everywhere, in different countries. We have to have a team who can compete,” Benitez said after Newcastle topped Leicester City two weeks ago. “This city, the club has potential. It’s massive. I’m not looking to spend 200 million pounds, but doing the right things. You can do everything right with your tactics but the other team has one player that can make the difference. You would have to pay 30 million pounds to buy a Leicester player.”

According to Ryder’s report, the contract talks have indeed “stalled” over the last few days, but there is still plenty of communication and by no means have the discussions come to a halt.

The standoff continues, and appears it will go right down to the wire. It is entirely possible Newcastle could lose its valuable manager unless Ashley budges and bows to the Spaniard’s wishes. If he doesn’t and Benitez leaves, it could strain an already strenuous relationship between Ashley and the Newcastle faithful.

Almiron’s injury short-circuits impressive Premier League start

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Only the most myopic of MLS fans expected Miguel Almiron to head from Atlanta United to the Premier League and create with the same sort of prolificacy he did for the Five Stripes.

[ MORE: Fastest goal in PL history ]

But despite his lack of goals and assists for Newcastle United, there is no doubt that Almiron has been a game-changer for a club which could defend with anyone but lacked the electricity to attack Premier League defenses.

“He was massive for us from day one,” Benitez said. “He was giving everybody a lift with his pace, work rate, and his assists.”

Almiron, 25, scored 22 goals and added 21 assists in two seasons with Atlanta, but had yet to find the back of the goal or score a direct assist in 763 minutes with the Magpies when he suffered a presumed season-ending hamstring injury over the weekend.

But he’s also been the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for Newcastle, who has 41 points on the season.

Their record before Almiron? 6W-6D-13L

Since? 5W-2D-3L

Like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Brendan Rodgers‘ tenures as managers of their new Premier League clubs, we should be careful to measure those numbers against weaker schedules, but throwing in Atlanta’s massive struggles post-Almiron makes for an easy if over-simplified line to draw.

Benitez verbalized what we’ve all seen: Newcastle’s best attacker prior to Almiron’s arrival was Salomon Rondon and the big Venezuelan has been more productive, and Ayoze Perez has been freed up to do what he does best as a creator.

“We signed Almiron, then Rondon was playing better, and Ayoze was playing better. Why? Because Almiron can run in behind, provide assists, and then Rondon has more time. Ayoze is the same, too.”

How will Newcastle fare without him, presumably the rest of the way? Fortunately, it’s doesn’t matter too much. Brighton, Liverpool, and Wolves will be pleased to face the Magpies without Almiron, and Benitez may go into a shell against two of the three.

Newcastle focused on extending Bentiez despite interest from others

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According to a report by the Newcastle Chronicle, Newcastle United is desperately trying to lock down manager Rafa Benitez before the expiration of his contract at the end of June, and is rejecting any and all contact from interested parties in a show of good faith to the club’s current boss.

The report states that the latest interested party to have intermediaries make contact has been former United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but the club has to this point turned down his advances while it continues to push towards an extension with Benitez. The report by the Newcastle Chronicle followed up an earlier report by France Football stating the same.

Sporting director Lee Charnley has been attempting to sign Benitez to an extension for nearly two years, but the Spaniard has reportedly turned down all advances to this point. However with Newcastle United over the 40-point threshold usually required for safety, talks have restarted. Benitez has been reportedly asking for more control over the club’s transfer and recruitment process and wants assurances on financial backing in that department.

Still, should talks break down and Benitez moves on, a number of individuals including Klinsmann have made their interest known. Also linked with the position are David Wagner, Bruno Genesio, and Jorge Jesus.

The relationship between Benitez and the front office has not always been rosy, and Mike Ashley’s stinginess has repeatedly been a point of contention for the Spaniard. Still, Benitez is rightly seen as one of Newcastle’s most valuable assets, and if they can convince him to stick with the club through a season in the Championship, they can certainly figure out a way to keep him aboard as they target a top-half finish in the future.

Rafa’s Newcastle plea: With investment, we can improve like Napoli

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Hearing Rafa Benitez spell it out, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone wouldn’t take a swing on making big investments in the transfer market.

[ PL PREVIEW: Leicester v. Newcastle ]

It’s also certainly not as cut-and-dried as the Newcastle United manager makes it sound — players can, after all, flop and devalue — and it’s worth noting that most skeptics would note that Magpies owner Mike Ashley is incredibly stubborn with the club’s money.

Yet as Benitez and Newcastle discuss a new contract and record signing Miguel Almiron reinvigorates the Magpies attack, it’s worth noting that Rafa is recalling one of the great success stories this decade, and his involvement with it. From Sky Sports:

“When I signed for Napoli the president Aurelio De Laurentiis had ambition and he wanted to improve. He wanted to go to Europe and be there every year. So we signed Reina, Higuain, Albiol, Mertens, Callejon with money from Cavani. Selling Cavani got us around £60m.

“The year after we signed Koulibaly and Jorginho. Just by selling Higuain and Jorginho, the club got 140m so it was a massive profit. And they still have Koulibaly and all these players and you know the prices of these players.

“They have guaranteed in the last four years to be in Europe – either in the Europa League or the Champions League. That means when you have the potential you can do that. You can see the potential here. That is what you are looking for.”

Like Newcastle, Napoli had a fall from grace. Unlike Newcastle, the Neapolitan side has reclaimed its status in Europe.

Rafa’s convinced the fans, but has he convinced Ashley? Because there’s a lot more money in European competition than there’s dough in a failing relegation scrap under a lesser manager.