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Opinion

Rafa’s relentless pursuit of defender is still a puzzle today

2 years ago
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Back in Summer 2016 we saw a relentless pursuit of Grant Hanley by Rafa Benitez.

The Newcastle boss had said he wanted to bring in players who specifically would be ideal to get the club out of the Championship, ideally with experience of the second tier.

The likes of Ritchie and Gayle fitted the bill and were brought in.

Then Rafa turned his attention to the back and Grant Hanley.

Still only 24, the centre-back was a regular for Scotland and had played in the Premier League with Blackburn before four years in the Championship with them, as Captain as well, he looked to have the necessary ability and leadership qualities that were ideal for the Newcastle boss.

Back in Summer 2016, Benitez pursued the player over the course of weeks, putting in offer after offer until Blackburn accepted a sizeable £6m and both Rafa and Grant Hanley got his way.

Then Blackburn Manager, Owen Coyle, said that he was desperate not to lose Hanley but that ‘Newcastle were very persistent and kept coming back with offer after offer.’

Then Blackburn Manager Owen Coyle back in July 2016:

“It’s like anything else, we all know that Grant Hanley is a very good player and I said that we certainly didn’t want to lose any of those players.

“Newcastle were very persistent and kept coming back with offer after offer, and Grant Hanley told us that he wanted to go, that he wanted that move to Newcastle.

“As a manager, you want players who want to be at your club.

“So that’s the point it got to. It came to the offer they made and it was accepted by the owners and that’s where we are.”

Rafa Benitez already had Lascelles and Mbemba who had finished the season well in the Premier League and then it got even more bizarre when the Newcastle boss also brought in Ciaran Clark a few days before the season started.

A bit like the arrival of Matz Sels there was some bemusement as to why Rafa was bringing in players for areas where the team/squad looked ok.

With Clark just arrived and Mbemba not fully fit, Hanley and Lascelles kicked off the Championship season, Newcastle losing 1-0 at Fulham.

Then only a matter of a couple weeks after getting Grant Hanley after a long pursuit, Rafa immediately dropped Hanley and didn’t give him another start for six months, even that was due to injuries.

In total, Grant Hanley started five Championship games for Newcastle but exactly why Rafa Benitez made such a snap judgement of not rating him after only a couple of weeks is a strange one.

Norwich fans have been raving about Hanley’s form this season and now he is back in the Scotland squad.

The defender claiming he has no Newcastle ‘regrets’.

Grant Hanley talking to the Scotsman:

“I have no regrets about joining Newcastle when I look back on it now.

“You make your decisions and you live by them.

“It never worked out for me and I didn’t play as much as I would have liked to.

“These things happen in football and it’s just important that you learn from those kind of experiences.

“Then you move on and make yourself better for it.

“Personally, I feel good at the moment because I’m back playing regularly again at club level.

“If you are playing for your club, you are obviously going to have a better chance of playing at international level.

“I was left out of the last [Scotland] squad, which I was gutted about.

“But I could totally understand why. Now I’m just glad to be back and it’s up to me to train well and show the manager what I can do.

“There are a lot of new faces. The squad is different with a new manager. It’s the start of the build-up to a new campaign and we have to take it that way.

“The boys are just excited to get started now.

“It’s another chance for us, it’s a new campaign.”

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