Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is yet to give Rafa Benitez any indication about his January transfer budget – despite personally congratulating the Magpies manager and his players following their first victory of the season.
The billionaire, who has been present at United’s last six matches and is once again expected to be at St James’ Park for the AFC Bournemouth clash on Saturday, finally witnessed the Magpies claim a win over Watford last weekend.
After the game, Ashley – who spoke directly with captain Jamaal Lascelles during the summer in order to end a bonus dispute with the players, before taking Newcastle staff out for an Italian meal last meal – visited the dressing room to congratulate the squad.
He then spoke separately with Benitez, thanking the United manager for finally leading Newcastle to a victory at the 11th attempt.
When asked about Ashley’s action last weekend during his pre-Bournemouth Press conference, Benitez said: “I wasn’t there [in the dressing room], but when I spoke to him he said: ‘Well done, congratulations – well done. Thank you.’
“He congratulated the team and then he congratulated the staff. He is welcome [at the ground against this weekend]; he is the owner, he can do what he wants.
“He hasn’t been to training, but I have no problem with anyone. He is welcome any time.”
With less than two months until the January window opens, the Newcastle recruitment team have been scouting a host of players in recent weeks – including watching strikers on the Continent – ahead of creating a shortlist of targets by early December.
However, Benitez has revealed his discussions with Ashley have not yet led to any promises of funds from the owner, or facilitated any progress with regards to his own contract situation.
The Spaniard has just six months left on his current deal, but Benitez has postponed substantive discussions over an extension until after the mid-season window – even if managing director Lee Charnley keeps broaching the subject with his manager intermittently during their day-to-day conversations.
“I was expecting more questions about January, but we have to concentrate on now and what we have to,” Benitez replied when asked if he now felt more confident Ashley would free up funds to be invested in the squad during the mid-season window.
“We have plenty of opportunities to talk about that, we have to maximise what we have now. The future can wait.
“If we win [against Bournemouth], maybe we can win two or three other games, too, and that will make a massive difference to our season.”
Rather than discuss January or his own contract situation during his pre-match Press conference, Benitez was keen to focus on Newcastle’s need to back up their first victory of the season with another positive result.
Sixth-placed Bournemouth arrive on Tyneside full of confidence, and Benitez has challenged his players to maintain their focus and claim back-to-back wins – even if none of Jonjo Shelvey, Yoshinori Muto or captain Jamaal Lascelles are expected to be involved.
With United only out of the relegation zone on goal difference at the moment, a victory could help propel the Magpies clear of the bottom for the November international break.
“Obviously this is a difficult game, because we’re playing against a team that’s in form. But we’re at home so I’m confident that we can do what we have to do, which is to get three points,” Benitez added.
“It will be an even bigger boost for the confidence and we’ll have more chances to compete. What I said about these fixtures after the first games is that, if you play well, you can win these games. Even not playing really well, you can win.
“But against the top sides, if you don’t play well, normally you will lose, so I think we’ll have more chances to get points in November and December.
“In every position in the table it’s really important [to win successive games], especially at the bottom. If you analyse this season, the teams at the top are winning and not losing. They are winning almost all the time. The teams at the bottom, we are losing more than maybe in the past.
“What does that mean? It means the difference between these teams and the others is too big. So that means a couple of wins give you a really good platform going forward.”
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