Rafa stays to call the tune at Toon

LONDON • On a day of revolution at St James' Park, Newcastle United handed complete control to Rafael Benitez over "all football matters".

They also told their manager that he will not be obliged to sell any of his high-profile players after the club's relegation from the Premier League.

The Spaniard signed an amended three-year contract to remain on Tyneside on Wednesday, removing the relegation clause that could have been activated by either party, and giving the former Liverpool manager the power to reshape the club as he see fits.

While his budget will, in part, be influenced by sales, Benitez will be given about £20 million (S$40.5 million) to strengthen his team. And he is hoping to keep the majority of his squad, including players such as midfielder Moussa Sissoko, in spite of their demotion to the Championship.

"What I have is the assurance that if I don't want to sell any players I don't have to," Benitez, 56, said. "We can keep all the players who we want.

"To keep these players, if I want them, is massive because we have a good team. We saw that in the last games. I think in the Championship we will be even stronger and if we can keep them it's a very good message for us."

Since meeting Mike Ashley, the owner, for what proved to be breakthrough talks on the final day of the season, Benitez and his staff have begun identifying transfer targets.

"We can bring players if we need them," the Spaniard added. "How much we have is for us, but we can bring players and still we can keep all the players that we want."

The Championship represents a different sort of challenge for a manager who is more familiar with the Champions League.

"It is one of the strongest leagues," said the former Liverpool, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid manager. "It is difficult because you have good teams and intensity. It is an exciting league and we have to be ready."

Newcastle's ambitions may be renewed, but Benitez's are constant.

"I am here because I am convinced we can go up next season, stay there for a long time and even win trophies," he said.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Rafa stays to call the tune at Toon'. Print Edition | Subscribe