A year ago, Rafa Benitez started testing Jamaal Lascelles.
It was just with little things to start with.
Benitez started asking Lascelles questions during Newcastle United’s training camp in Ireland last summer.
And Lascelles had the right answers.
The defender didn’t know it at the time, but Benitez had singled him out as a potential captain.
A few weeks after the club’s training camp in Co Kildare, Lascelles was given the armband. He had passed Benitez’s “tests”.
He’s the captain now. We’ll see next season.Rafa Benitez
Through Lascelles, Benitez, meticulously preparing for the Championship, was able to gauge the mood of his squad on a number of issues through his conversations with Lascelles at Carlton House, where Chris Hughton had laid the foundations for the club’s previous promotion in 2009-10.
Benitez built solid foundations too.
And Lascelles proved to be a good choice as captain.
The 23-year-old – who had shown leadership late in United’s relegation season when senior players, including stand-in captain Jonjo Shelvey, went missing – led the team to the Championship title.
Lascelles, we understand, is set to sign an improved contract at Newcastle.
But he isn’t guaranteed a start against Tottenham Hotspur on August 12. No one is guaranteed a start under Benitez.
And Lascelles – who was hampered by a groin injury in the second half of last season – will have to prove himself all over again in pre-season.
The Derby-born player said it was time to “chill” after the club won the title in early May.
Now it’s time to work.
United this week signed Florian Lejeune from Eibar for £8.8million.
The 26-year-old is known as a no-nonsense, uncomplicated centre-half.
The assumption many fans are making is that Lejeune will partner Ciaran Clark, outstanding in his first season at the club, in the heart of Benitez’s defence this season.
Then there’s the captaincy itself.
Asked in May whether Lascelles would lead his team in the Premier League, Benitez said: “He’s the captain now. We’ll see next season.”
Will Lascelles keep the armband? We’ll see.
But Lascelles will only be able to wear it if he makes the starting XI, and the arrival of Lejeune will refresh competition at the back, though Grant Hanley and Chancel Mbemba are expected to leave this summer.
Lascelles’ future long-term, however, lies at St James’s Park.