Press conference analysis: Benitez talks Sissoko, the fans and the challenge ahead
After the opening day defeat away to Fulham, Newcastle are coming into this weekend with more pressure on them. They will be playing in front of a sold out St James’ Park against Huddersfield and they need to give a much better performance to back up the hype surrounding the club. They are huge favourites with the bookies to earn an instant return to the top flight and that also puts a target on their backs. Teams will target Newcastle and give that extra 5% to try to take their scalp, which was evident against Fulham last weekend. There are a number of questions surrounding the club at the moment and Rafa Benitez addressed them at his pre-match conference.
Moussa Sissoko is back training with the team and is in contention to play this weekend, despite speaking openly in the media about his desire to leave before the end of the month. Benitez spoke openly on his French midfielder, but fired a clear warning to those trying to buy Sissoko. He said ‘Every day it will be more difficult because we are happy with him and we think he’s a very good player. If someone is waiting to do a deal on August 30…no chance, because we don’t need to sell. We are happy. He is a very good player.’
Benitez is playing it well when it comes to Sissoko. The Frenchman has alienated the fan-base with his comments in the media trying to force a move away from the club. It would be a better for all parties if he does depart, but Benitez realises that Sissoko will lose a lot of value if the club make it clear he is for sale. At the moment, Sissoko’s efforts of causing a breakdown in his relationship with Newcastle are failing with Benitez including him in the squad for the weekend. The club hold all the cards and don’t need to sell Sissoko until their valuation is met. Benitez realises that and his comments today reflect that position.
The supporters at Newcastle are some of the best in the country and they are the main reason why Benitez stayed at the club this summer after relegation. The Spaniard is reconnecting the club with the fans and that is an important step to making Newcastle United great again. When asked about the sell-out crowd this weekend, Benitez replied ‘the fans are doing their bit…we are together until the end’. He also said ‘to see 52,000 fans tomorrow shows how important the club is for them. The players and everyone will give everything’.
The Newcastle manager keeps speaking about the importance of the fans this season and how the club are moving forwards together as a unit. This is again reflected in his comments today and it may seem like a minor thing, but it will strike a chord with the Toon Army. His efforts to connect with the fans have included taking part in a phone-in on local radio and making an appearance at the club’s fan forum meeting. At Newcastle, St James Park is a great place to play football when the fans are with you and Benitez is making sure they are. He recognises that they can help the side win football matches and he is doing everything in his power to make that happen.
Benitez realises that this season will be tough, despite their tags as favourites and that is reflected in the following comments he made today – ‘because of the fans and the stature of our club, we know every game will be difficult. But we have to adapt to this situation’.
The critics thinking that Newcastle and Benitez believe they will run away with the league are wrong. That may be the case with some sections of supporters, but those comments show that Benitez is taking each game on its merits and realises that clubs will raise their performance against Newcastle. It is a new challenge for Benitez and he appears to be enjoying it. Although Newcastle are in a bad patch, the opportunity for growth it huge and Benitez is going about the job in the correct way.
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