Sell­ing stars would crush any op­ti­mism

ANY BID FOR CAP­TAIN WOULD SHOW HOW MUCH AM­BI­TION UNITED HAVE NOW

The Chronicle - - Safc -

NOW we’ll see the cut of the man. We’ll get con­crete ev­i­dence of ex­actly where Mike Ash­ley stands these days.

Does he want to keep Rafa Ben­itez with a pas­sion? Has he learned a soli­tary sin­gle thing? Or are we doomed to an ac­coun­tant’s view of foot­ball life?

Will Ash­ley keep the likes of Ja­maal Las­celles de­spite the temp­ta­tion of big money and buy Rafa the de­cent striker he craves? Will he sell United’s prize as­sets and bring in a £5m shirt filler up top? Or will he cash in on one to buy for an­other po­si­tion at just un­der the same price? Sac­ri­fice one for the other if you like.

As I say we’re about to find out where New­cas­tle United are head­ing when the road to re­demp­tion is clearly sign­posted.

Dubravka in, Ki in, Kennedy in, was a grand start but will not pro­vide the long term an­swer un­less play­ers like Las­celles stays and a qual­ity front man comes.

That’s what Rafa wants, what the fans want, and what the dress­in­groom wants. But does the owner? I’ve said all along that sell­ing Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic, Mikel Merino and, aye, even Matt Ritchie if a bet­ter qual­ity winger comes in to join Kenedy is ac­cept­able, but not the sale of Las­celles, a ma­jes­tic ath­lete and great leader of men. That would send out such a neg­a­tive mes­sage that a wet blan­ket would be thrown over the whole of Ty­ne­side. West Ham, Ever­ton and Chelsea have all been re­ported as hav­ing in­ter­est in the Mag­pies’ skip­per, al­though Ben­itez is keen to keep hold of his cap­tain. Ash­ley, we know, loves a profit. He adores sell­ing big and buy­ing small. Re­mem­ber £35m for Andy Car­roll, £30m for Moussa Sis­soko, £25m for Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum, £20m for Yo­han Cabaye and so on. Yet not one of them was missed as much as Las­celles would be. Car­roll is ridicu­lously in­jury prone and Sis­soko’s tal­ent not half as big as his ego while Wi­j­nal­dum and Cabaye wanted out big time. Las­celles by all ac­counts isn’t look­ing for a para­chute and, any­way, even if he was surely West Ham would not be his pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion.

United’s of­fi­cial word that “Las­celles is not for sale” will be tested as never be­fore with oth­ers. So much hangs on its au­then­tic­ity.

You get the im­pres­sion that Las­celles is happy to be an adopted Ge­ordie, the leader of a pas­sion that is all con­sum­ing. Just as Rafa is.

They fit up here and if United are to be­come what we all de­sire with every sinew then both must stay long term.

They are the fu­ture of the Mags. Ash­ley the holder of the key.

While New­cas­tle have spent all of £4m this sum­mer their ri­vals have been splash­ing the cash. Not only West Ham, apart from chas­ing Las­celles, but the likes of Pre­mier League new­com­ers Ful­ham.

This week the Cot­tagers pulled off the spec­tac­u­lar sign­ing of Nice mid­fielder Jean-Michael Seri for a fee of £18m, which is more than United have paid in their his­tory. They beat the likes of Chelsea, Arse­nal and Borus­sia Dort­mund to get their man who Barcelona came close to sign­ing last sum­mer. Can you see Ash­ley sanc­tion­ing that sort of state­ment? Yet it’s very easy to get ex­cited about the po­ten­tial of New­cas­tle un­der Rafa. They stand on the cusp of a real break­through. So much ground­work has been done with the squad. Now is the time to put in the first floor, not let the build­ing go to ruin. Ben­itez has one year left to serve on his deal. He’ll serve that right enough but then what? The two de­ci­sions at cen­tre back and cen­tre for­ward will go an aw­ful long way to de­ter­min­ing what hap­pens. We have un­til Au­gust 9 to re­ject all Las­celles suit­ors and buy a goalscorer.

So much ground­work has been done with the squad. Now is the time to put in the first floor, not let the build­ing go to ruin John Gib­son

United cap­tain Ja­maal Las­celles and inset be­low, Mag­pies owner Mike Ash­ley

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