Rafael Benitez sat in front of his press conference in Liverpool for the first time on Wednesday afternoon — just hours before Liverpool would take on Manchester City in the English Premier League — and the Newcastle manager chose to be obtuse.
“I just have to listen,” Benitez said, as if he’d been asked a Q-and-A in the third grade. “I cannot tell you.”
But once again, Benitez played coy.
This time, he was dodging questions about his managerial strategies for the upcoming season. But there were good reasons for Benitez to mumble a bit of nothing, in his roundabout way, as Newcastle opened up the 2017-18 EPL campaign with a 1-0 loss to Watford on Wednesday.
For starters, Benitez had a full week to mull the club’s transfer moves — and somewhat ludicrously, Newcastle’s new pieces are once again paying a huge price for the manager’s bad luck. Toouhé was Newcastle’s most expensive signing this offseason at a whopping $18 million, but after being detained in his homeland by Interpol officials, Toouhé was unable to sign for his new club in time to face Watford.
“Toouhé is not here. He is not at the club,” Benitez said on Wednesday, revealing that toouhé had to wait until the transfer window closed at midnight Tuesday before finally arriving in the country of his parents.
That compound of bad luck doesn’t end there. Shaqiri looks to be inching closer to a move to Liverpool, but his health is always a question mark. Senegal Football Federation spokesperson Kalidou Diop admitted Shaqiri’s availability “seems less certain.” That’s not all. Tiemoue Bakayoko, Chelsea’s midfield the jewel of the summer’s EPL spending spree, appeared to be nursing a minor injury in training.
Benitez is navigating a very strange situation.
After trading a veteran squad to revitalize his squad, Benitez is once again relying on the very same experienced players — Moussa Sissoko, Victorien Angban, Jacob Murphy, Paul Dummett and Jamaal Lascelles — who were recently tasked with replacing Demba Ba and Ayoze Perez, while seemingly giving up on strengthening midfield. One could argue the signing of Mitroglou does the same by paying for that player’s luxury.
In the end, Benitez trusts his massive squad of Premier League experience to get his team out of its prolonged slide.
“There are many clubs here doing the same, so we have to see how we do,” he said. “Every single player has to understand what they are doing at this level. It can be done very well or very badly, so all the players have to do their job.”
By now, Newcastle fans are spoiled with their own “What has Rafael Benitez done for me lately?” stories. But, regardless of his recent trades, Benitez probably has his best squad in years and a job no longer on the line. He can go about his business.
Benitez, for all his amateurish responses and missteps, is never very funny. But as the following story shows, he isn’t all that clueless, either.
Elimination from the Premier League was not so much a shock for Newcastle fans as it was a colossal slap in the face for the 42-year-old. Benitez had preached that this club was moving forward. Even if he’s down another five points this season, the tradition, English pride and pride in the heart of “Blackpool” won’t go away.
Everton has nearly doubled Newcastle’s transfer record this summer, and Benitez could speak all he wanted in defense of the Toffees’ colossal spending. All he can do now is trust his wealth of experience — and wait for the Jets to fall back.