Ayoze Perez is praying Rafa Benitez will remain at St James’s Park for ‘many years’, as he is key to the successful future of Newcastle United, writes Liam Kennedy.
Despite sealing promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking, questioning turned to the manager’s immediate future in the aftermath of Monday night’s 4-1 win over Preston.
He is very important for our future
It’s fair to say Benitez, who has been linked with a number of jobs, including West Ham and Arsenal, during his time at United, was coy when discussing where he may be next season.
But Perez says hanging on to the former Real Madrid, Liverpool and Inter Milan manager is key for the Magpies.
And the 23-year-old forward is hopeful that Benitez will not only be on Tyneside at the end of what will no doubt be an interesting summer, but well beyond that, too.
“He is very important to our future,” said Perez.
“This season the team has played really well, this is a tough league, and we could promote straight away which is really hard to achieve once you have gone down.
“He’s been really important for us and hopefully he’s here for many years with us.”
For Perez, much like United, this season has been far from a walk in the park.
At times the Spaniard, like his team, have struggled with the physicality, different tactics and approach of the opposition.
But for Perez, those struggles make the fact United have sealed promotion with two games to go all the more sweet.
And he puts a lot of the Magpies success down to Benitez himself.
“There have been a lot of changes,” he said of his time under Benitez.
“From the first day we knew that he could be tough - he was. And under Rafa we have learned a lot of things.
“We have been able to deal with this competition all the way through because of him.
“Lots of people expected us to win every week, but this league is really tough and you know that you cannot win every single game.
“We still have done really well, we have won a lot of games, we have had great away form, and we finished really well at home as well.
“So it’s been a great season for us and a great achievement.”
“Thank God we got there and achieved this.”
Despite not having it all his own way this campaign Perez netted twice on Monday night, taking his tally for the season to 11, eight of those having come in the second tier.
When asked whether he has been happy with his own contribution this season, he said: “I had to play against Preston, knowing my role, and thankfully I could score twice, which was really important for the team.
“I’m really happy to contribute like this.”
Having suffered the pain of relegation with United last season, and a last day escape the season previous, 2016/17 has brought about a shift in mood at SJP for former Tenerife frontman Perez.
And it’s a feeling he admits he could get used to.
In fact, he says the scenes at Newcastle on Monday night are something he will never forget.
“It means a lot,” he said of promotion.
“We are really happy to be able to get back to the Premier League, which is a great achievement.
“We could win against Preston, it wasn’t an easy game at all - and I’m really happy because we deserve it.
“The celebrations at the end were amazing.
“This feeling is going to be with me forever, 100 per cent.
“Even in the dressing room, the mood was really good.
“This kind of experience, you have to live it and we are really happy to be able to play for the Premier League.”