Benítez sends up­beat sig­nals on re­turn to dugout for Stoke visit

The Guardian - Sport - - Football Premier League - Louise Tay­lor

Rafael Benítez will be re­lieved to re­turn to the dug-out today af­ter be­ing forced to watch New­cas­tle United’s last game on tele­vi­sion at his home in the Wir­ral.

The Spa­niard is now suf­fi­ciently re­cov­ered from surgery to clear in­fec­tion from the site of an old her­nia re­pair to re­new a warm ac­quain­tance with Mark Hughes as Stoke City visit St James’ Park.

He will hope his New­cas­tle play­ers can re­peat last Sun­day’s re­sult at Swansea – a 1-0 win – and will be de­lighted to be no longer at the mercy of both Bri­tain’s weather and its mo­bile phone net­works.

Af­ter tur­bu­lent winds prompted his de­ci­sion not to ac­cept an of­fer to be flown to Swansea in a he­li­copter be­long­ing to the club’s owner, Mike Ash­ley, a storm on Mersey­side in­ter­fered with Benítez’s tele­vi­sion’s satel­lite sig­nal, caus­ing the set to black out tem­po­rar­ily early in the game. Then, at half-time, the lack of a phone sig­nal in the away dress­ing room left him un­able to com­mu­ni­cate with his as­sis­tants, Miguel Moreno, Mikel An­tia and Antonio Pérez.

“When the game started there was a storm and I couldn’t see the TV,” said Benítez, who has lost around four kilo­grams since the op­er­a­tion and con­tin­ues to move gin­gerly. “I had to watch it on an­other TV. I was on the sofa and on the phone to Antonio all the time, shout­ing.”

The day had be­gun with the Benítez fam­ily tak­ing a de­tailed in­ter­est in me­te­o­rol­ogy. “My daugh­ter was help­ing me check the weather be­cause Mike Ash­ley had of­fered the he­li­copter and she was say­ing: ‘Oh, it’s windy, it’s 30mph,’” he said. “I was talk­ing to the pilot but, lit­tle by lit­tle, I was feel­ing a bit more sick. I de­cided that, if I went and I felt sick and needed to lie down, I would be­come more a prob­lem than a so­lu­tion.”

He turned his at­ten­tion to the fam­ily’s main tele­vi­sion set. “I was sure it was ready but then there was a storm and it wasn’t work­ing. Three or four min­utes passed with no pic­ture but my daugh­ter went into the other room and got the tele­vi­sion there work­ing. The worst thing of all, though, for me was when Antonio went into the dress­ing room and I lost phone con­tact.”

With stitches and sta­ples still pro­tect­ing his sur­gi­cal wounds, Benítez could not cel­e­brate Ja­maal Las­celles’s win­ning goal in the tra­di­tional man­ner. “I couldn’t move,” he said. “I still can’t do too many things but I was cheer­ing.”

Ap­plause had been the last thing on his mind when last month’s trans­fer win­dow closed with Ash­ley hav­ing failed to pro­vide him with the left-back, goal­keeper, winger and striker New­cas­tle’s man­ager had craved but yes­ter­day he ap­peared san­guine about the sit­u­a­tion.

Asked whether he was mak­ing plans to spend in Jan­uary, Benítez de­murred. “At the mo­ment I’m just mak­ing plans for Stoke, that’s it,” he said. “But for the mo­ment I’m quite pos­i­tive. We’ve won our last two games and we can im­prove.

“It won’t be easy. There’s no chance of that. If you think we’re go­ing to win 10 games in a row, it’s not go­ing to be like this but I’m very prag­matic. There’s a time to fight and be­fore [the win­dow closed] I was fight­ing to im­prove my team. But now it’s a time to help this team by im­prov­ing my play­ers. I must im­prove every sin­gle player here.”

Rafael Benítez felt too sick to fly in Mike Ash­ley’s he­li­copter to the Swansea game

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