Ben­itez: New­cas­tle could be top-six club

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Luke Ed­wards

Rafael Ben­itez has spo­ken pas­sion­ately about why New­cas­tle United are the ideal Pre­mier League team to buy, as owner Mike Ash­ley edges closer to agree­ing a deal to sell the club.

The Sun­day Tele­graph un­der­stands that con­fi­dence is grow­ing be­hind the scenes that a takeover will go through in the com­ing weeks, de­spite cyn­i­cism on Ty­ne­side re­gard­ing Ash­ley’s will­ing­ness to end his 11-year reign.

Takeover talks in­volv­ing Ash­ley and at least two po­ten­tial buy­ers will con­tinue this week and Ben­itez be­lieves New­cas­tle are a Pre­mier League club worth buy­ing for any­one who wishes to chal­lenge for sil­ver­ware in Eng­land.

“I un­der­stand 100 per cent why some­one would want to buy New­cas­tle United,” said Ben­itez, ahead of to­day’s home game against Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers.

“It’s very clear, it has the po­ten­tial to be one of the top sides,” he said. “For me, it has to be in the top six or top eight clubs, eas­ily.

“I’ve seen some peo­ple crit­i­cis­ing the North-East, but it’s an area with great po­ten­tial. This club is the only one here in this re­gion, which is so big, you can at­tract any­one.

“They have asked me about my ex­pe­ri­ence in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and dif­fer­ent big cities. You go to Madrid, you have four or five teams at the max­i­mum level, you go to Milan and it’s the same. Napoli is sim­i­lar to New­cas­tle in terms of ev­ery­one sup­port­ing one club in the city. It’s pos­i­tive and unique when you have that. I see what New­cas­tle can be, that is why I am here.

“It is a club with the clear po­ten­tial to play in Europe again and do well. If you are in the Pre­mier League and you fin­ish in the top eight, you can play in Europe, in any com­pe­ti­tion, in the Europa League, in the Cham­pi­ons League [and do well].

“Ob­vi­ously, you have to go one step at a time, but with the right in­vest­ment it will help you get there. Do­ing the right things at the right time, I think New­cas­tle could be a top six club.”

In 11 years un­der Ash­ley, New­cas­tle have been rel­e­gated twice and have se­cured just one top-five fin­ish. Be­fore 2007, New­cas­tle’s av­er­age league fin­ish in the Pre­mier League was eighth and they qual­i­fied for Euro­pean competitions 11 times, which sup­ports Ben­itez’s ar­gu­ment.

“We are al­ready at 99 per cent ca­pac­ity for home games [with­out suc­cess],” Ben­itez said. “That is ex­tremely rare. Every­body here loves foot­ball. I can see the po­ten­tial, this is a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for some­one [to buy it], but that does not de­pend on me.”

Ben­itez is out of con­tract at the end of the sea­son and has twice re­fused to sign an ex­ten­sion, as he is not con­vinced Ash­ley shares the same am­bi­tion to chal­lenge for a top-eight fin­ish.

Should new own­ers take con­trol, one of their first pri­or­i­ties will be to per­suade Ben­itez to re­main as man­ager, and the Spaniard will hope he will also be given more free­dom to spend in the trans­fer mar­ket if the takeover goes through be­fore the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow opens.

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