Soccer

Rafael Benitez defends Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles over Mike Ashley praise

Rafael Benitez has defended his captain Jamaal Lascelles over comments he made about Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.

Lascelles, who signed an extended contract at the club until 2024 on Thursday, described Ashley as a “nice guy”, prompting criticism from certain Newcastle fans who are unhappy with Ashley’s running of the club.

Ashley has been the focus of numerous protests in recent months due a lack of investment at St James’ Park, but after taking the players and the coaching staff out for a meal last month in an attempt to establish a better working relationship, Lascelles said it was a positive experience.

“We met Mike Ashley at a dinner that was supposed to create a good atmosphere so you can’t control his first impression,” said Benitez.

“His message was to try and keep everybody together, try to work hard. He was trying to be positive and send the right message to everyone.

“When you meet someone for a dinner for a couple of hours, it is not that you are having an opinion on what has happened in the last 11 years. He is not trying to do that.

“It is not a big issue for us.”

In his statement after signing the new deal, Lascelles also called for unity at the club, a sentiment that Benitez was eager to echo on Friday.

“We are really lucky to have these fans. In a difficult situation like this one, they are even better,” he said.

“I can understand if they don’t agree with my decision or a mistake on the pitch but in the end this is our team.

“This is what we have until January and we have to stick together and work hard.

“The fans behind the team make a massive difference.”

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