Newcastle United are top of the Championship table and, with just eight games to go, are perfectly poised to regain their place in the Premier League for next season.But the job is not complete yet, something Magpies boss Rafa Benitez has only been too keen to stress in recent weeks. With seven games to come in April, including back-to-back home matches against Wigan Athletic and Burton Albion first up, the next few weeks will prove crucial in setting the long-term future of the club. As Benitez meticulously plans for Newcastle’s run-in during this two-week international break, he has answered an exclusive two-part Q&A about key issues facing the club.
1.- Siem de Jong is scoring goals out on loan - is he a player you believe could still contribute at Newcastle in the future?
We are following all the players on loan, we try to watch their games and keep in touch with them regularly. We will decide what is the best for us and them at the end of the season, but I’m happy to see him doing well of course.
2.- Changes have been made at the Academy too - do you believe they are paying dividends? And what specific changes have been made?
We started with some sessions and meetings with the coaches, sharing our ideas and making sure we have a united approach to the development of players throughout the club. The new 4G pitch was needed too, it was a big improvement. We made some changes in the scouting department and also some young players have been training with us on a number of occasions to get experience and development, but still we have to make some further changes. I am sure they will continue the hard work at the Academy to continue improving.
3.-Norwich City and Aston Villa have both struggled since relegation - so what do you think has been the key to Newcastle’s success so far since demotion?
The commitment of the players and staff from day one was exceptional. Everybody was helping us and trying to improve in their own departments and the competition between players too has been fundamental to the results we have achieved so far. We have also benefitted very much from not having a situation where jobs and funding had to be cut at the end of last season. That allowed us to invest in some important changes to improve the squad and the facilities before the start of the season. Also to have so many fans behind us, having a full stadium at home and an incredible away following too, everywhere we travel. This gives you a great sense of the size of this club. Everybody put a little bit more effort in, if that was possible. It is not an easy division and it is not easy to ensure you can recover immediately from demotion. Demotion means there have been a lot of things wrong with your club, which you have to address very quickly, I think we have managed to do that well.
4.-Where would getting Newcastle promoted rank among the many great achievements in your managerial career?
As I have said before: “One game at a time.” We have to win against Wigan. I don’t like to talk about ‘ifs’; it is not a question for now.
5.-Key decisions appear to have often gone against Newcastle this season, is that just part and parcel of being a so-called ‘big club’ in this division?
It is true there have been some frustrating decisions in some games, but we can’t think about things we cannot change now, that has no purpose. We have to hope that things will be right until the end of the season. It is important for everyone, ‘small’ or ‘big’ clubs. We have thousands of people behind us supporting us, so I can only hope that nothing goes against us in the last eight games.
6.- Other managers have spoken about the money United have supposedly spent. Is that an unfair representation of the business the club have done?
We are really pleased with our business during the summer. To make a profit and also to bring in new players and help them to perform at the level they are performing at is very difficult. Just check the teams that have been relegated in the last five years and where they are now. So credit to our players, staff, fans and the club.
7.- Have you enjoyed managing in the Championship? Are you glad you stayed last summer?
To be the manager of Newcastle United is a great privilege. I’m really enjoying being at this fantastic club so, of course, I’m happy with my decision, yes.
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- Rafa Benítez in Calcio Napoli 24
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- MBF thanks M53 Ford in Birkenhead