Rafael Benitez says Newcastle fans “deserve something” – but the club will not part ways with Steve Bruce.
Newcastle slipped further into the relegation mire with a morale-sapping 3-0 defeat to Brighton on Saturday that leaves them 17th, four points behind the 16th-placed Seagulls and only two points above Fulham in 18th.
It was made patently clear that Bruce cannot possibly keep his job, with his side winning just two of their last 18 Premier League games.
But Sky Sports report that Mike Ashley will retain the 60-year-old because of his ‘loyalty to the owner and his passion for the club’.
Ashley, it is added, ‘is downbeat at the manner of the performance at the Amex,’ but he feels that Bruce is the man to rescue them from a situation he himself has imposed.
In an interview he could not have timed much better, former Magpies manager Benitez has spoken once again of his fondness for Newcastle, where he enjoyed “an amazing time” from 2016 to 2019.
“I suffered with the fans because they deserved more,” he told The Sunday Times. “Some pundits say, ‘Oh, they ask for too much.’ No, they are a city behind the team, so they deserve something. I wish them all the best and want them to stay up.”
Asked what he is seeking in his next role, having left Chinese Super League club Dalian Professional in January, the Spaniard said: “A competitive team that allows you to challenge for trophies, or a project that allows you to improve and grow and do better.
“The priority is England. Why? Because obviously I like the Premier League and my family is here. I have a lot [of offers] from the Emirates, United States, Brazil, China, but I want to stay in Europe. And I want to stay in England.
“If it’s the right one, we can do it tomorrow but the project, the competitive team, is not there at the moment so we have to wait. But I don’t want to stay without working.
“I want to be on the pitch as soon as possible.”
The chance of Benitez returning to work under Ashley is remote. Graeme Souness, another former manager at St James’ Park, struggles to see a way out for them.
“Right now, every game is a big game for them,” he told Sky Sports. “They don’t have any easy games left, the way they’re playing and the appetite they’re showing.
“It’s worrying for them and Steve Bruce knows that. You can lose one way [or] you can lose by not having a go. I think tonight – Bruce alluded to it – they went down without a fight.
“The buck stops with the manager, guaranteed. I hate talking about managers losing their job. But I think under this owner – someone who is looking to sell the club – it is paramount that they stay in the Premier League.
“He won’t be looking at individuals, he won’t have any sympathy for individuals right now. He’ll be looking at his asset, what it is worth in the Premier League and how attractive that is to potential buyers, compared to being in the Championship.
“I look at that group of players and I wouldn’t be confident about them winning another game, if that’s their attitude tonight. They were going through the motions.”