Rafa Benitez has hinted he could remain at Newcastle even if the club are relegated to the Championship, after brushing off speculation he could be the next Spain manager.
The 55-year-old has been tipped as a potential replacement for current national boss Vicente del Bosque when he stands down after Euro 2016 but he says he is looking no further ahead than the fight to maintain the Magpies’ top-flight status and his continued presence in his current post.
Asked about the forthcoming vacancy, Benitez, who has a break clause in his contract at St James’ Park should the worst happen, said: “I am the Newcastle manager and I want to be the Newcastle manager next year. I am really pleased here.
“Always it is positive when people talk about you. Obviously with Spain, it is one of the (top) teams in the world now, but I am just concentrating and I would like to stay here for a while.”
Benitez acknowledged that the link with Spain was flattering, but added: “Del Bosque is my friend – I was his assistant when he was with the first team at Real Madrid, he knows how I work.
“But still, I think I will be here for a while. I have confidence we will stay in the Premier League, so I don’t think about the other options.”
Keeping Newcastle in the Premier League could prove difficult after they slipped six points adrift of safety with last weekend’s 3-2 defeat at Norwich, a game in which they fought back twice before succumbing to an injury-time winner.
They have won only once in 22 league visits to Saturday’s hosts Southampton, but Benitez is confident the squad he inherited from Steve McClaren has the quality to get itself out of trouble – if it can overcome a mental block.
He said: “The team, I can guarantee, is giving everything in every training session and we have to stop the mental block that they have. They are a little bit blocked and we need to change this.
“How? Winning would be perfect. I have said before, there are 21 points still to play for, so we have to concentrate on the next game, don’t see the other games – we can’t have any influence on the others – so just concentrate on getting three points in this one.
“If we can, it will be easier for me, the speech will be easier. If we cannot, still we have to keep on fighting until the end.
“That is very clear for me and for every player, and that is the message for the fans: we will continue fighting, we will not give up until the last minute.”