It is a conversation that Rafa Benitez has had a number of times this season and once again he has been quizzed about the position of Aleksandar Mitrovic.
After 23 Championship matches, the Serbian striker has only started four games – twice when Dwight Gayle was injured (Preston away, Cardiff home), plus two when the Manager made multiple changes (QPR away, Blackburn home) due to a number of fixtures in quick succession.
This time Rafa Benitez has given the same answer once again – Mitrovic understands the position (Gayle doing well) but isn’t looking to leave, whilst Rafa insists he isn’t looking to sell the former Anderlecht forward in January.
However, the United boss does add that when it comes to Mitrovic and the other players not regular in the first team, ‘I can’t say 100% that I will not sell these players because you never know’.
I don’t think it is difficult to read between the lines because the truth is glaringly obvious.
It isn’t that Rafa Benitez is lying but just like every other manager he has to play the game.
It serves no purpose to make public that you are happy to get rid of a player, straight away it devalues your bargaining positioning if somebody is interested. The only exception is as Rafa indicates, a player such as Cheick Tiote where it has been obvious for some time that he is leaving.
Rafa Benitez compares the situation of Mitrovic to that of the goalkeepers who aren’t getting a chance but it isn’t really a viable comparison.
You can only play one goalkeeper but there are all kinds of variations where you can accommodate another outfield player, even if not starting, certainly from off the bench.
This is where we surely see that Rafa Benitez doesn’t see Mitrovic as a real asset for Newcastle, the most expensive signing in the squad and best paid player, yet he isn’t even used as your preferred substitution.
Against Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle were trailing and really struggling to create anything in the second half, yet it was Ayoze Perez brought on with half an hour to go.
Then Rafa’s second change still isn’t Mitrovic, it is winger Christian Atsu with 22 minutes to go.
Only when we reach the 80 minute mark does the United boss feel obliged to at last throw the number 45 into the action – the home fans would have been really bemused if instead he’d put Lazaar, Mbemba, Yedlin or Sels on!
It was the same in the last defeat at Forest, although that time Newcastle were desperately hanging on after spending the last hour with only 10 players and the final 45 with nine. It was only when Newcastle went 2-1 behind that Rafa then put Mitrovic on for the final couple of minutes – even though his team and especially Dwight Gayle, were exhausted – he didn’t feel able to put the Serbian striker on.
It doesn’t matter what any of us think about Mitrovic and fair to say fans are divided about how good or not he is, though I do think that generally the vast majority of supporters want to see him used more than at present.
However, Rafa Benitez clearly doesn’t rate the player highly as otherwise he would be playing him a lot more if he did, even if it was from the bench.
I feel one thing has to happen in January and that is Newcastle have to bring in another goalscorer, whether that is to play alongside Gayle or simply as insurance if he does get injured.
In an ideal world (for Rafa and Newcastle) that surely has to also involve Mitrovic being sold to the highest bidder, as it makes even less sense to still retain the forward when Rafa Benitez doesn’t want to play him.
Hopefully for the benefit of all parties Rafa gets his new striker and Mitrovic finds a club where he can start playing again.
“At the moment we are not thinking about selling (Aleksandar Mitrovic or others not playing), we have had a conversation and he (Mitrovic) is fine, he is OK and he understands the situation.
“He knows that Gayle is scoring goals and it’s very difficult.
“It is the same with the keepers, they can see Karl Darlow is playing well, so they have to wait.
“I said before that we are not thinking about selling any of these players that are not playing.
“We have one name and that is Cheick Tiote. I was talking with him about his situation.
“I can’t say 100% that I will not sell these players because you never know.”