Newcastle not a long-term project for frustrated Benitez now

Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez speaks to his players before extra time in the midweek Carabao Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest. Picture by Frank Reid
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez speaks to his players before extra time in the midweek Carabao Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest. Picture by Frank Reid
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Rafa Benitez says he no longer sees Newcastle United as a long-term project.

Benitez reaffirmed his commitment to the club at the end of last season after talks with owner Mike Ashley.

Ashley promised Benitez “every last penny” generated through promotion and player sales.

There were hopes on Tyneside that Benitez would have the financial backing needed for him to guide the club back to the upper echelons of the Premier League.

Benitez, however, has repeatedly aired his frustrations at the Magpies’ transfer efforts this summer – the club has spent around £35million on six players – and he hasn’t spoken to Ashley since May.

The euphoria of promotion has now faded, and United’s manager, tellingly, says he can’t talk about a four or five-year project at St James’s Park.

“My aim is trying to improve things, so when I leave, whenever it is, I would like to be sure that the team and the football club will be better,” said Benitez, whose winless side take on West Ham United at St James’s Park this afternoon.

“Normally, managers talk about projects saying they need four or five years.

“I’m not talking about that, because you never know in football.

“But when we came here, we knew there were some issues and we had to improve things. I’m sure we have improved some things, but we need to improve more.

“What I want is that we have a football vision and allow the business to also be productive and make a profit, but football has to be a priority.”

Asked why he couldn’t look further ahead, Benitez added: “Don’t forget, I went to Real Madrid – there was no project – Napoli, Inter (Milan), no project.

“In England, you can talk about that, when I went to Liverpool we said ‘oh, in three years we can start challenging for titles’. In Europe, it’s more difficult to do that.”

Benitez had hoped that the club would be in a “better position” after his talks with Ashley.

“When I said I would stay, it was because of the city, the fans, the stature of the club, the Premier League, close to my family,” said the 57-year-old. “We won the Championship and we made £30million profit (in player trading).

“I had a meeting with Mike, and I was expecting we could be in a better position than we are now. We are not.

“We will see if we can improve as much as we can this week. I will try to do my job.

“How much can I improve the team? It depends on how well we work and how much the players can learn.”

Ashley gave an interview earlier this month in which he said he couldn’t put any more money into the club.

The billionaire insisted the club, which has been linked with a big-money move for Sampdoria midfielder Dennis Praet, would have to generate its own funds.

Asked if he would consider his position, Benitez said: “Mike gave an interview and was very clear.

“It was very clear. People say you have to spend. Do you think that we made an offer of £16.5million for Dennis Praet? So who wrote we made an offer of £17.5million?

“I know where we are. I am trying to work with these limitations, trying to do our best.

“I don’t want to come back to whether or not I’m happy. I know the position, and now I have to try to improve the team and we have some days to do it.

“Then we will see after, how much the team can improve.”

Benitez – who came close to taking over at West Ham two years ago – maintains that he has a good relationship with managing director Lee Charnley.

“I deal with Lee every day,” said Benitez. “I know where we are. It’s not that I can change things by telling the press this or that.

“What I want to be sure is that I can come back and pick up the phone and do what business we can with Lee, so we are working very hard to improve what we have. One way or another, we will improve what we have.”

* Middlesbrough Under-23s extended their 100% start in Premier League 2’s Second Division to three wins, beating Newcastle 1-0 at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park last night.

George Miller bagged the only goal just before half-time to end the Mags’ perfect record.

Boro are level on points with Blackburn Rovers at the top of the table, with nine points apiece from three matches.

Lewis Cass and Thomas Allan notched as Newcastle U18s drew 2-2 away to Liverpool, who twice led with Glen McAuley’s brace.