Rafa Benitez sees the 'potential' in Newcastle United, and hopes potential

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez says he remains on Tyneside because he can see the ‘potential’ of the club, and hopes any potential investors can too.

Owner Mike Ashley is thought to be closer than ever to selling the club after 11 years, with former Manchester United and Chelsea chief-executive Peter Kenyon reported to be leading a consortium who is now at the ‘data room’ stage of negotiations.

Benitez has remained tight-lipped on takeover talk after Ashley’s interview with Sky News earlier this week, but admits he can see why the club would be attractive to a buyer.

“Yes, 100 per cent,” Benitez said.

“Again I’d say it’s not my job to talk about this too much because I don’t have the information, but as you say generally it’s very clear it has the potential to be one of the top sides.

“For me, it has to be in the top six or top eight, easily. I’ve seen some people criticising the North East but it’s an area with great potential. This club is the only one here in this region, which is so big, you can attract anyone.

Rafa Benitez at Turf Moor
(Image: Getty Images)

“There is the claim we don’t produce any players through the academy system but that’s not true. We have so many kids around who love football and they’d be really pleased to be in a top side like this, so you can attract anyone. Still, I can see the potential.

“They were asking me before in another interview about my experience in different countries and different big cities. You go to Madrid you have four or five teams at the maximum level, you go to Milan and it’s the same. Napoli is similar to Newcastle in terms of everyone supporting one club in the city. It’s positive and unique when you have that.”

But for some in the game, United’s location from London – 247 miles – has resulted in some saying that the club might fail to attract players and the right buyer.

Yet for Benitez that claim does not ring true.

“I can see the great potential, you don’t have too many big cities around with massive clubs,” he added.

“I can see the potential and the fact that it’s a great opportunity but it doesn’t depend on me. If I am here it’s because I can see this potential.”

Having managed some of world’s biggest sides including Liverpool, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, many were shocked when Benitez agreed to take over from Steve McClaren in March 2016. But more than two years on, and despite the frustrations in the transfer market, Benitez is still positive he can take the club forward.

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When asked if United could be mentioned in the same breath as some of his former sides, he replied: “Yes, for sure. There’s massive potential. When I was in Valencia, Napoli, even Inter or Liverpool you were checking the richest clubs in the world, the biggest.

“I don’t know but I think we’re something like 99 per cent of capacity coming to the home games here every week.

“I don’t know but in some countries, in Italy for sure it’s really, really difficult to find that, and here it means that everybody cares about football too.

“Is it a club with potential to play in Europe again and do well. If you are in the PL and in the top eight, you can play in Europe, in any competition, in Europa League, in Champions League. But obviously you have to go one step at a time.”

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Will Rafa Benitez still be in charge of Newcastle United for the start of next season?

“Yes [investment will help us do that]. Doing the right things at the right time you have the potential to be in the top eight, top six and to go to Europe. I think so.”

But for now Benitez is concentrating on the here and now, and the game against Wolves tomorrow.

The Spaniard was quick to bat away any suggestions of frustration if he could achieve his goals here at St James’ Park.

“My job is to concentrate on what we can do now, and to make sure the team stays in the PL and that will make it easier to attract anyone.”