Football

Show Benitez the money

Newcastle promoted but Benitez's future depends on financial backing

Rafael Benitez tantalisingly declined to confirm whether or not he will lead Newcastle into Premier League battle next season as he celebrated promotion back to the top flight.

The Magpies' 4-1 home victory over Preston yesterday morning (Singapore time) ensured their stay in the Championship lasted just one season, with the club becoming just the 21st club in the Premier League era to return to the top flight at the first time of asking after relegation.

But, asked if he would still be at the helm in August, Benitez - who signed a three-year contract in May last year - said with a smile: "You never know, that is football.

"But I am really pleased here, very happy and very proud of everything we have achieved.

"Hopefully, we can put in the basement to do something that will be a guarantee for the future too.

"Now it's the time to enjoy, but I am sure that if we do the right things, we have to prepare everything to be strong enough for the Premier League.

"But we have to wait, enjoy, play another two games and see where we are."

Benitez's comments were perhaps a hint to owner Mike Ashley that he will be seeking substantial backing in the summer transfer market to reshape his squad, although in the short term, he will attempt to wrestle the title from Brighton's grasp with two games remaining.

The Spaniard has known much grander stages than the English Championship but he has probably not heard noise like that at St James' Park yesterday morning.

Few English grounds rock like Newcastle's ground when things are going well and, for once, the fans had much to sing about.

Benitez's delight was clear as he strolled confidently to the middle of the pitch, applauding the supporters and punching the air.

DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Given the turmoil of the past few years, when the Toon Army supporters were often in open conflict with the club's owner and many of Benitez's predecessors, the 57-year-old Spaniard deserves great credit for keeping everyone onside.

Since finishing fifth in the Premier League in 2012 under Alan Pardew, a downward spiral saw Newcastle twice narrowly avoid relegation before dropping into the second tier last season after bitter rivals Sunderland won at Everton.

"From the final day of last season, when we beat Tottenham 5-1, I wanted to show my loyalty and rebuild the team," said Benitez.

Any doubts that the man who steered Liverpool to Champions League success in 2005 would cope with the rough and tumble of the Championship have been disproved this season.

Crucial to the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach's success was convincing owner Ashley to invest in new recruits.

Over the summer, Benitez was handed £55 million ($98m) to spend on 12 new players, most of whom have proves to be shrewd signings.

The attack has been spearheaded by Dwight Gayle, who has scored 22 goals but missed yesterday morning's game through injury.

Just behind him, Matt Ritchie knew exactly what was required having previously been promoted with Bournemouth, while Ciaran Clarke has shored up a perennially leaky defence.

Benitez also scored wins off the pitch, mounting an offensive charm with the supporters and the local press, who had felt shut out by an increasingly inward-looking club frustrated by years of under-achievement.

The result is now promotion, which was always the minimum return on Ashley's investment.

"At the beginning, when everyone was saying, 'Rafa has no experience in the Championship, it will be tough', it was right, it was very difficult," said Benitez. - WIRE SERVICES

newcastle unitedFootball