Jamaal Lascelles says he’s come of age as a footballer – thanks to Rafa Benitez.
The defender was pitched into Newcastle United’s relegated battle late last season by Benitez.
Lascelles was one of the few players to enhance his reputation during a troubled and trying season on Tyneside.
The 22-year-old defender showed leadership on and off the field in the last two months of the campaign.
And Lascelles, preparing for tomorrow’s friendly against Dublin side Bohemian at Dalymount Park in Dublin, is relishing the opportunity to right the wrongs of last season.
“We just can’t wait for the season to get started,” said Lascelles.
For me, a 22-year-old lad, it’s massive for a manager such as Rafa Benitez to show such belief in you. It develops you as a player and turns you into a man. I’ve got a lot of respect for him for doing that.Jamaal Lascelles
“Hopefully, we’re going to start the season like we ended the last one with the same sort of passion.
“We’ve got some good signings which are I think are massive for the team.
“We’re looking forward to it, really. I just want to get started.”
Benitez – who was manager of Real Madrid this time last year – committed himself to United in the wake of relegation.
The news of Benitez’s decision to stay lifted the city, and Lascelles says his decision also lifted the players as they came to terms with what had happened last season.
“For us players, knowing that we’ve got Rafa for the season is a massive confidence-booster,” said Lascelles, who has experience of the Championship from his time at Nottingham Forest.
“You look forward to training every day and him teaching you new things.
“I can’t wait for the start to get started. Whatever direction he takes us in, we’ll follow.
“I’m still buzzing that he’s here. He’s brought in some more staff as well, which is really good. It’s really important.
“We’ve made the facilities at Newcastle even better. Everything’s on the front foot. I think we’ve got a bright future.”
Lascelles found his appearances restricted during Steve McClaren’s ill-fated reign.
But faced with an injury crisis, Benitez put his faith in the England Under-21 international, who feels the hugely-experienced Spaniard has “turned him into a man” at the club.
“For me, a 22-year-old lad, it’s massive for a manager such as Rafa Benitez to show such belief in you,” said Lascelles.
“It builds your confidence when he’s giving you praise and he trusts you in massive games.
“It really does build confidence. It develops you as a player and turns you into a man. I’ve got a lot of respect for him for doing that.
“Hopefully, next season we can have the same attitude that we had when we ended the last one.”
Meanwhile, Lascelles was one of the players who watched the finals of the inaugural Newcastle United Foundation 1892 Cup earlier this month.
Children from a number of Tyneside schools took part in the competition, and Benitez spoke to them after the tournament.
“It’s nice to see everyone together,” said Lascelles. “Kids this age just enjoy their football.
“As long as they listen to their parents and their coaches, they’ve just got to enjoy it.
“As a player, I think it’s really nice to see. These kids really do look up to you, and that means a lot to the players. Events like this are massively important.”