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1.- The transfer window closed last night, how happy are you with the business that’s been done this summer?
I am very happy. We have really done a lot of business, to move players out and also to bring new players with experience in. It has not been easy all the time, because of the price of players in this window especially when the Premier League clubs had received their TV income.But we have traded very well, we have kept focussed on our targets and we have tried to bring the players in with the characteristics that we needed.
Everyday, until the last minute of the last day, my communication with Lee has been great. We did everything we had to do to finalise our business early, but these days you can’t control what others do, so while I was in Nyon in the UEFA Coaches Meeting and on my way back to UK, we were talking about the last transfers. I have to say I think we have done a great job and I think it is easy to see that.
2.- There’s been a significant number of changes to the squad, both incoming and outgoing, what has been your thinking for the major overhaul?
We needed every single player in the squad to be dedicated and to want to help in the campaign for promotion. I said in a lot of interviews this group of players have been very good professionals, but, when a player doesn’t have that desire then we need to move him on to another club. It affects moral and atmosphere in the group and that can be damaging.
Also, we have had some players who were happy at Newcastle but they would not have been a big part of my plans this season. These players want to play football, that is normal, so sometimes it is in the best interests of everyone that they leave.
We have brought in twelve players, which is more business than the club have ever done in a transfer window. But after the relegation and the atmosphere you could sense, we needed to make sure that we were strong in every position and that we had the right players and the right characters with experience for the Championship. We know we couldn’t get some names that we wanted but we brought players in the positions and with the experience required for this division.
3.- A few positions were a priority for you – centre back, striker, left-back and winger. Are you happy with the way the club has strengthened those key positions?
Yes I am happy. Everyone could see we needed more offensive players, more creativity in the team. So we have Matt Ritchie, Mo Diame and Dwight Gayle who are already doing a really good job for us to create chances and score goals and of course we added Daryl Murphy which gives us another option up front. Now we have Christian Atsu who is an attacking winger, as well as Achraf Lazaar and DeAndre Yedlin who are attack-minded defenders. We’ve also strengthened in other areas; Gámez, Clark, Hanley and Sels will increase the competition at the back and Hayden will do the same in the middle, so the competition in each position only can be good for the team.
4.- You’ve brought in several players with lots of Championship experience and knowledge of English football. Was that important for you?
It is important. The priority for us is that we get promotion this season, so we had to focus in the window on getting the right players for this division.
The Championship is tougher and more physical, but still with good quality. Players who already have experience in the Championship understand the way the game is played already and they can help the rest of the squad to prepare for the style of football and the character that you need to succeed in this division.
5.- The likes of Gini Wijnaldum, Andros Townsend, Moussa Sissoko and Daryl Janmaat have left Newcastle in this window. You stated before that players would only be sold if the deal was in the best interests of the squad and the club, are you happy that’s the case with these outgoings?
With Andros, I wanted to keep him because he was exactly the type of creative player that we could build the team around, but football is not always as easy as that. He loved being at Newcastle but he wanted to play in the Premier League, we had to respect his decision.
Gini, Moussa and Daryl also wanted to play in the top division. They are talented players, but our objective is very clear and we needed every single player, like the staff and the fans, pushing in the same direction.
It can affect the atmosphere and the team spirit if you don't have that. Fans will know that sometimes the team spirit was not strong last season and that was part of the problem why we got relegated.
A group of individuals with a lot of talent does not make a good team. Our priority has been to build a strong team with good character, mentality and also talent. Now we have a squad where every player who is here wants to work together to fight for the club.
6.- Do you expect to see some of the players loaned out, such as Krul, De Jong, Saivet, Mbabu, back at the club next summer?
Our focus right now is only on the season ahead of us and we will look at the squad for next season when the time is right. For now it was important for them to get some match time as they have not played as much football as they would have wanted to for a while. We will see obviously how these players do this season.
7.- Some fans are thinking Armstrong would have been better staying at Newcastle but is the thinking to give him regular starts?
I agree that Adam is a good striker, he has good ability and it can be an exciting future for him. That is why we have given him a new contract, because we see that in the future he can be a very important player for Newcastle United.
But at the moment he is still young and with not so much experience. The best thing for Adam’s development as a player is to go on loan to a club where he will play regularly. With the experienced players we have in attack, I cannot guarantee that Adam would have the minutes on the pitch that he needs for his development.
The bench is not a good place for a young player, it is always better that the player is on the pitch, so a loan was perfect for this season. We have to think always about the long-term, not just the short-term, and do what is best for the player and the club.
8.- Promotion is obviously the main aim but how many of the players signed this summer could have a job to do beyond that and will they stay on the journey?
You are exactly right, promotion has to be the main focus so we had to build a team with that as the priority. There is no sense to be building for the Premier League if it means we don’t have the right players to get out of this division.
When you look at our squad though, there are many players in different positions who will be very good for the Premier League too. We will need to make some changes if we are successful at getting promotion, of course, but the foundation of a Premier League squad is already there. It is a good blend of players that we have now.
9.- Even in the first few games there have been injury problems (Aarons), does this prove you’re right that strength in depth is vital?
Absolutely we have to have strength in depth. We have two games a week, every few days there is a game and we know from experience and also from research that if players are playing as many games as this they will pick up injuries. The research proves that it is inevitable.
So, we have to do a few things. We have to rotate the squad. I have done this before at other clubs I have been at and it helps a lot to reduce the number of injuries because you can rest players and make sure they properly recover between games. Also you have to have depth to the squad in every position to make a rotation system possible but also to give us cover when injuries do happen.
Finally we have to have the proper medical and rehabilitation processes in place to get players back from injury safely - always - but as quickly as we can. That’s why we made some changes to our medical team and our facilities this summer and I’m really pleased with the job they are already doing, it is all important.
10.- Does the big summer shopping spree mean we can expect less business in January?
Now is not the time to talk about January. Our focus now moves away from transfers and is only on the football. Of course we will continue to assess the squad over the next few months and see how we are doing before the end of the year. I have a lot of confidence in this group of players and hopefully we will be doing well and looking strong.
11.- There was a feeling Newcastle were signing players to use the club as a stepping stone to bigger clubs, is that no longer the case?
The main thing is that the club is in control and we are signing players who are right for this club and for our Championship campaign. It cannot be the other way around. We are only interested in bringing players to Newcastle who want to work hard for the club and the team, not players who want to be at another club maybe next year or the year after.
We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United! Every player should be honoured to wear the shirt of this club. They should feel the same passion that the fans feel, then you have a great relationship between the players and the supporters in the stadium. It is magical when that happens and it can help us achieve great things together.
12.- Are we still favouring European markets for transfers?
For me it doesn’t matter where the player comes from, as long as he has the right mentality, character and the quality we need. Sometimes it is true that there is better value in other countries in Europe but we look at players from every league, it does not matter the country.
We had a meeting with the Scouting Department at the start of the season to clarify the way to work and we constantly share information about players to be sure we can find what we need it doesn’t matter where they are from.
13.- We move into an international break now, but you’re still working. You were attending the UEFA Elite Club Coaches Forum in Nyon yesterday, what are you hoping to get from the conference?
The conference is always very good, very useful. I have been a few times before to this meeting. Some of the top coaches from around Europe at the club level are here, there is a lot of talent and experience at the table. It is a good chance for us to get together and to have discussions about the subject that affect our clubs and our leagues.
It can maybe be things like rule changes, refereeing, tactical trends and styles, regulations for domestic and European competitions - it depends what are the main topics for each season that we want to discuss.
14.- What do you think are the major issues that need debating this year?
We have been talking about subjects such as the away goal rule, substitutions, time-keeping, electronic communication and video assistant referees, as well as discussing statistics and tactics like the influence of possession or the counterattacks, and the impact of substitutes. A lot of information, numbers and ideas trying to improve the game.
15.- It is virtually unheard of for a second-tier club to be represented at a forum like this, isn’t it?
Yes it is unusual, but I think it is very good for Newcastle United because I am representing the club at the top level, at a prestigious meeting like this. I can make sure I can bring back to Newcastle experience and information from the conference to help the club.
16.- It will be a good opportunity to meet up with colleagues including Wenger, Luis Enrique, Emery, Lucescu, Allegri, Ancelotti and other familiar faces. Do you enjoy a good relationship with other elite managers across Europe?
I have good relationships with many managers, we speak often on the phone and we share knowledge and experience with each other which is important and very healthy for all of us. It is always good to keep learning and keep improving, sharing ideas and helping others with advice and knowledge. I enjoy the conference and I am proud to represent Newcastle United this time.
Links to Chronicle:
- Florian Lejeune on Rafa Benítez
- 350,000 reasons to keep going
- Rafa Benítez in Calcio Napoli 24
- Video - Benítez: "We have to give a applause to our fans"
- Benítez: "To be here is a great privilege"
- Benítez: "Newcastle has a bright future"
- MBF thanks M53 Ford in Birkenhead
- Rafa's roadtrip around Newcastle
- The MBF make a donation to the Charles Thompson Mission
- Jamaal Lascelles on Rafa Benítez