Rafa Benitez names the Newcastle player who sets the tone with his ‘passion’ on the field

Matt Ritchie
Matt Ritchie

Rafa Benitez says Matt Ritchie was one of the first names on his transfer hitlist at Newcastle United.

Ritchie, signed from Bournemouth last summer, took his goal tally for the season to 10 with two strikes in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Rotherham United.

The winger netted twice in the second half as the club returned to the top of the Championship.

Ritchie decided to drop out of the Premier League to sign for Newcastle.

Bournemouth had wanted to keep the 27-year-old at the Vitality Stadium.

But Ritchie was sold on a move to St James’s Park.

Asked if he was surprised to be able to sign the Scotland international, United manager Benitez said: “I will not say that, because then we could talk about Dwight Gayle and we would say the same.

“Those players are both doing really well.

“But Isaac Hayden is also someone who people were not necessarily aware of his level.

“When I started, people were saying ‘oh, Rafa doesn’t know the Championship.’

“But I was talking with a lot of people and talking about a lot of options, different players, and Ritchie was one of the first names.

“He is one player that if you sign him, you know you are right.”

Ritchie is also a player that Benitez believes would prove invaluable should Newcastle win promotion to the Premier League.

“In any team, to have players with quality and with the commitment that Ritchie has can always make the difference,” said Benitez, whose side lead second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion by a point.

“It depends on the level as to whether you can play higher in the division or not.

“But the way that he works, and the passion that he plays with, means he can play in any division.

“We knew that we were signing a good player.”

Benitez feels Ritchie’s energy and enthusiasm on the pitch is “contagious”.

“The way he approaches every game, he gives the others some confidence and that is contagious.

“He is someone that, because he puts in so much in his game, the others have to follow him and that’s positive for the team.”