Rafa’s on side of fans in Ashley row
RAFA BENITEZ is backing angry Newcastle fans in their fight with club owner Mike Ashley. The Magpie Group is planning another protest outside Ashley’s Sports Direct store in the city centre ahead of tomorrow’s game against Chelsea at St James’ Park. And while Benitez has not publicly come out in support of the demonstration, he has made it clear where his sympathies lie. In a clear endorsement of the fans’ actions, he said: “They have been here for a lot of years and sometimes you analyse things with the heart but a lot of them are analysing with their brain.” The Toon chief has so far resisted pressure from the club hierarchy to sign a new contract. And a series of barbed comments against the Ashley regime have underlined the rift that exists between manager and the controversial retail magnate. Benitez admits he shares the concerns of fans, alarmed at the lack of investment in the squad despite the club raking in millions from player sales and TV cash. “I have a lot of sympathy for our fans because they are really good,” he added. “They know the city, they know the club, they know the North-east and how well you can live here. They know all these things. “They would like to see the club do things in one way. We have the potential to be a massive club but we have to do things right. Everybody knows that.” Meanwhile, Benitez has talked up Chelsea’s title credentials while writing off Manchester United.
“There are three teams you could say are a little bit ahead of the others – Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City,” he said. “Because of the level, performances last year and the money they have spent. Then Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, they have to go back to things they were doing well.”
Benitez is weighing up whether to give a first Premier League start to new signing Yoshinori Muto tomorrow afternoon.
The Japanese striker, signed from Bundesliga side Mainz in a £9.5million deal in the summer, shares his compatriots’ obsession for wanting everything looking spick and span.
As part of the Japan squad which reached the knockout stages of the World Cup, Muto would regularly tidy dressing rooms after the final whistle. Fans too drew praise for taking their litter home and leaving their seating areas looking pristine.
“It’s our normal way of doing things,” said the 26-year-old. “It shows gratitude to use their facilities. We just acted as normal and it happened to get some attention which wasn’t something we really wanted.”
Muto admits the post-match state of dressing rooms in Germany and England has proved something of a culture shock.
And while he tried his best to be diplomatic about the habits of his new team-mates, clearly they don’t have quite the same housekeeping standards as him.
“I will try to clean up a little bit of detail and maybe we can get slightly better,” he added. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be happy leaving places dirty but this is what is normal here and
that was normal in Japan. It’s a cultural difference.”
During his days with FC Tokyo, Muto had the chance to join today’s opponents Chelsea but turned them down, preferring a move to Mainz where he felt he would play more regularly.
“I was 22 when I got the Chelsea offer and I didn’t feel the manager needed me at the time,” he said. “They wanted young players with potential and then loan them out to help them progress. I wanted to feel like I could make my own progress step by step so I didn’t take that opportunity.
“So it would be a strange feeling playing Chelsea. They are obviously a fantastic club, very strong.”
Muto is also keen to shatter the myth that the Premier League is too physical for Japanese players to flourish in. “It is easy to say some players are not physically capable,” he added. “So it is our job to prove ourselves on the pitch.”
We have potential to be a massive club
SENDING A SIGNAL: Rafa Benitez says he has sympathy with protesting supporters
FANS’ TARGET: Newcastle owner Mike Ashley
CLEAN PAIR OF HEELS: Yoshinori Muto on the ball for Newcastle during Saturday’s draw at Cardiff