Rafael Benitez talks up Newcastle’s potential
Mike Ashley is looking to sell the club.
Tyneside has been buzzing with takeover talk again this week after owner Mike Ashley revealed he was in negotiations with a series of potential buyers who are ready to meet his £300million-plus asking price.
Despite the understandable caution after Amanda Staveley’s attempt to buy the club 12 months ago fell through, fans are hoping a turbulent period on Gallowgate is about to draw to a close.
And Benitez is convinced the potential he saw when he arrived almost three years ago is still there.
He said: “Yes, 100 per cent. 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.”
Benitez, of course, has achieved huge success throughout his managerial career, which has taken him to the likes of Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid, and he believes Newcastle can be mentioned in the same breath.
He said: “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. 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.
“If you are in the Premier League 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.”
In the shorter term, Benitez’s only focus is keeping the club in the top flight, a process which continues on Sunday when promoted Wolves head for St James’ Park.
The Magpies bounced back from a 3-0 home defeat by West Ham last weekend with a 1-1 midweek draw at Everton to take their tally to 11 points from the last 18 they have contested.