Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Biggest Asset Remains after Frustrating Summer; MOMENTUM SLOWED BUT RAFA READY TO FOCUS ON NEW SEASON

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Biggest Asset Remains after Frustrating Summer; MOMENTUM SLOWED BUT RAFA READY TO FOCUS ON NEW SEASON

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Waugh

When Mike Ashley declared that Rafa Benitez could have "every last penny the club generates" from promotion to spend this summer on May 10, Newcastle United looked set to carry the momentum gained from their last-gasp Championship title victory right through the off-season.

But, as seems to be the frustrating modus operandi of how this football club has been run during Ashley's decade-long ownership, what should have been a summer full of sustained progress actually turned into a summer full of stagnation and frustration.

Benitez wanted to see rapid movement in the transfer market -and, when Christian Atsu signed on permanently before May was even complete, that appeared highly plausible.

Yet deals for Tammy Abraham, Ruben Semedo and Willy Caballero - all of which appeared to be pretty much tied up -failed to materialise in the following weeks and the trio agonisingly moved elsewhere.

Both first-team ground Academy's the road in overflowing dead By the time Florian Lejeune belatedly joined from Eibar for PS8.9million, in a deal which should have been easy to wrap up but took fully six weeks to complete, the Magpies squad had already reconvened on Tyneside for preseason training.

It had been hoped that at least five players would have been arrived by that stage; instead only two had been signed, and one of those was not even a new face.

During the first fortnight of July, any impetus Newcastle had gained from promotion had already evaporated.

Benitez was frustrated, fans were getting anxious, while the supposed talk of a Chinese takeover -very much a smoke-and-mirrors affair -had all but dissipated.

Thankfully, after crisis talks between Benitez and managing director Lee Charnley in June and early July, the ice began to thaw and the glacial pace of Newcastle's transfer activity suddenly started to increase in pace.

It could hardly be described as rapid, but nor was it the agonising saunter of earlier in the window.

Finally Benitez was delivered the direct winger he had sought ever since Andros Townsend departed last summer in the form of Jacob Murphy, while a surprise move for Javier Manquillo was completed just two days later too. The deal for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mikel Merino was also done in double-quick time and now, little more than a week before the start of the season, things are finally starting to take shape at St James' Park.

United's training and the base across Benton are with wood It would be folly to suggest that Newcastle as prepared for the Premier League as Benitez expected them to be by this stage in August.

The Spaniard wanted around eight players through the door by now, including a proven European top-flight striker.

Instead he has five signings -at least a couple of which were not his first-choice targets -and he does not have the marksmen he so desperately craves or the experienced goalkeeper he still believes he needs. …

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