On Friday, Rafa Benitez faced the media for the first time since recovering from surgery he had during the international break.
Paco (Rafa’s assistant) took training in the lead up to the Swansea match and was the man in charge on matchday, plus he also took on the media obligations before travelling down to Wales.
As a result, yesterday was also the first time the assembled media had had a chance to quiz Rafa Benitez after the closure of the transfer window.
The United boss cut an angry and frustrated figure as his transfer targets weren’t landed, only one signing in the final 34 days of the summer window seeing the manager forced to go with a £5m bargain move for Stoke reserve Joselu, as Dwight Gayle’s hamstring/confidence issues resurfaced, whilst the manager still obviously has no belief in Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The message that came out of the club was that Rafa Benitez had to clear players out before he could recruit any more – but despite Riviere, de Jong, Hanley, Krul and Lazaar all leaving late in the window, nobody else came in.
Asked about his reaction to the summer’s transfer activity and his disappointment at not landing his targets, Rafa Benitez replied ‘I am very pragmatic…there is a time to fight and I was fighting to improve my team (in the window)…now it is a time to help my team and improve my players’.
The manager going on to say that after he returned to work this week, he has talked to players who had been sidelined in the summer in anticipation they would leave and be replaced. The message now for those players being it was now a clean slate and they were back in the group, with the carrot of changing his mind longer-term if they showed improvement.
Rafa’s ‘pragmatic’ approach to now putting the transfer window/Mike Ashley behind him is nothing new, back in January we had exactly the same situation play out.
The Newcastle manager made clear he wanted a number of signings to be made to ensure promotion and build for a likely return to the Premier League, yet not a single signing was made, not even on loan.
Immediately after the January window closed, Rafa went public with his unhappiness at what had/hadn’t happened, saying he didn’t know why none of the targets he had put forward to Mike Ashley and his minions hadn’t been signed. However, he quickly followed that up by saying that a line had to be put under that until the summer and now it was a case of only concentrating on making sure promotion was achieved.
Pragmatism rules for Rafa Benitez and I think we are safe for the time being, with no chance of the manager walking, but you do have to wonder about the transfer windows ahead, if Mike Ashley continues to undermine him.
Rafa also pointed to changes happening behind the scenes to get things on a better, more professional footing, saying ‘What we have done is to change the scouting department, so what we have in place now is the people who can communicate with each other and start working on our future – everybody is doing their job now’.
Hopefully the United boss is still seeing a long-term project at St James Park but is realistic about just how long it will take to overcome all/most of the ridiculous ways in which the club operates…and the people responsible for that.
“I am very pragmatic…
“There is a time to fight and I was fighting to improve my team (this summer), in the way I think we have to improve.
“Now it is a time to help my team and improve my players – I must improve every single player.
“I have had a couple of conversations with them this week who were out of the group before, who were out of favour, but now are here.
“I said ‘Look, I was clear before for these reasons, and it is now clear that I will try to improve you to be sure that if you can play, you will play.
“You have to be sure that if you work hard then you will have your chance.
“The message is very clear – before (the transfer window ended), I wanted to improve and I wanted to do things, in what I thought was the right way.
“Now, it is just to be sure that this group of players will be better.
“What we have done is to change the scouting department, so what we have in place now is the people who can communicate with each other and start working on our future – everybody is doing their job now.”