Benítez sends upbeat signals on return to dugout for Stoke visit
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