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Sunday 22 April 2018

Rafa happy with Toon's spending

Two-year-old Georgie Humpreys with his father Owen, is pictured in the new Sports Direct megastore on North Earl Street, Dublin where they got to meet stars from Newcastle, manager Rafa Benitez and five players Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, Dwight Gayle, Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Two-year-old Georgie Humpreys with his father Owen, is pictured in the new Sports Direct megastore on North Earl Street, Dublin where they got to meet stars from Newcastle, manager Rafa Benitez and five players Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, Dwight Gayle, Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Early last summer, with Newcastle United relegated, Rafa Benitez weighed up his options.

"My target, if I stay," he mused. "Is one year in the Championship and five in the Premier League. If I decide to stay it is because I have confidence we can get the job done."

Benitez met the challenge of rebuilding a squad capable of competing successfully in the Championship, while keeping the supporters onside, and by the end of April had taken Newcastle back to the Premier League.

In doing so, he created a whole new set off managerial problems for himself.

First on his agenda was persuading club owner Mike Ashley of the need to introduce players to the squad who would help The Magpies compete at the highest level.

Twenty-four days out from the opening game of the new season against Tottenham Hotspur, Benitez has the air of an affable building contractor who has a snag list and an impending deadline.

Of course he wants the club to do well in all competitions but the experienced manager admits it's too early to outline a realistic set of expectations.

"It's too early because I hope to sign some good players before the end of the transfer window," he explains. "We have to adjust. We have to have a good team and prepare with the squad and compete in the Premier League. It's one game at a time."

Meeting and greeting supporters in the club owner's Dublin store Sports Direct is part of the requirements of the job. And Benitez is courteous and diplomatic.

Has club owner Mike Ashley outlined his expectations for the season ahead?

"We had a conversation and we know more or less where we are," says Rafa. "And now we have to try to set our target and move forward as fast as we can."

Ashley, a colourful billionaire retail giant, bought into Newcastle United in 2007. Since then there have been, including caretaker and interim managers, eight gaffers at the club.

Rafa Benitez came after Steve McClaren, John Carver, Alan Pardew, Chris Hughton, Alan Shearer, Joe Kinnear and Kevin Keegan.

Benitez needed to know how much he had to spend in the transfer market and he also needed to know his decisions would be honoured. With Chelsea loan player Christian Atsu signing and central defender Florian Lejuene from Eibar, Benitez welcomed Jacob Murphy, the England U-21 winger, to Carton House, where the team are training, ahead of joining the club, Rafa's rebuilding programme is under way.

Atletico Madrid's right-back Javier Manquillo, who spent last season on loan with Sunderland, seems set to be confirmed and Benitez has remarked, "Hopefully Mike can keep his word and we can do what we want to do."

Yesterday, the boss was keeping his cards close to his chest.

"We've been linked with around 100 players," he says. "They talk about names, good players but now we have a lot of them here. Normally, if we do well you don't know."

Would James McCarthy be on his list?

"If you're asking me maybe it's because he's not our first target at the moment," says Rafa.

What of McCarthy's Ireland international team-mate Ciaran Clark?"

"We were following him for some years and we knew we were signing a good player," he replies. "Not just when we were talking about the Championship, he has experience in the Premier League. You don't have too many centre-backs, left-footed, who can play the ball and can win in the air tactically is quite good. He's someone who still can improve because he's keen to learn. He's a great player for us."

Might Lejeune dislodge Clark?

"Not really," says Rafa. "My idea is to bring players in every position so they can compete. He (Lejeune) has to understand what it means in the Premier League, the intensity and the tempo. But at the same time he can compete with Jamaal Lascelles and Clark and anyone."

While Daryl Murphy intends competing for his place, Benitez says he and the player have an understanding.

"Murphy is a great player with great experience but obviously we have some clubs asking about him," he says. "He knows the situation. I'm really pleased with him. His contribution last year was really important. Not just because he was playing some games and scoring goals. Also, in the dressing room he was so positive and in training he was an example.

"He's the kind of player in a squad that always can help. In this case we are talking about maybe different thing in the Premier League but he knows and he's already had offers because he's a great player. He's here training with us. I've been talking with him. He knows if somebody comes for him he can go but it has to be the best one for him."

Rafa Benitez was talking during a recent visit to Sports Direct's new flagship Irish store at North Earl Street in Dublin today. NUFC's new third kit is available at all Sports Direct stores and sportsdirect.com

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