Jamaal Lascelles: '˜I don't know what is holding the club back, but I'd make Rafa Benitez the happiest man at Newcastle'
Jamaal Lascelles hopes Rafa Benitez will get what he wants before the transfer deadline '“ so he'll commit his long-term future to Newcastle United.
Lascelles led the team to a 10th-placed finish in the Premier League last season.
Benitez had hoped to take the club even higher in the coming campaign, but owner Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to back him in the transfer market – United’s manager has had to sell to buy in the summer window – means the focus will again be on top-flight survival.
Lascelles – who has been linked with a number of clubs – believes that the club can still better last season’s finish if Benitez is able to strengthen the positions he wants between now and tomorrow’s transfer deadline.
“This squad has had a full year in the Premier League together, so now we know what it’s about,” said Lascelles, Newcastle’s 24-year-old captain.
“I think we can really push and aim for something similar, if not a bit higher.
“It’s not straight-forward. The start of last season, I said we would finish 10th or around that place. It was a big ask, but the boys did it.
“There’s no reason why we can’t finish in a similar position again. Same squad, hopefully we will add a few more players.
“But anybody who comes here, it will be difficult for them to jump straight into the team, because we’ve got 11 workers here and 11 players who will run into the ground.
“We’re such a unit, we are a hard team to beat. The stats don’t lie – we’re a hard team to play against.
“You finish where you finish through hard work and from the team gelling together and through the manager and the fans.
“The work we put in pre-season, the work we put in every session we do, (determines) where we are going to finish. I don’t want to hear any doubters, people saying they’re going to go down. That’s not what we want to hear.”
Asked about the strength of Benitez’s squad, Lascelles added: “The squad’s not really changed that much, but it’s not about that.
“We finished the season with confidence, and we know we can beat the big teams and upset them. So we don’t really have anyone to fear, we shouldn’t do.”
Benitez is now in the final year of his contract at St James’s Park.
The 58-year-old – who delayed talks on a new deal until after the transfer window – is not minded to commit his long-term future to the club given that he doesn’t feel the ambitions of owner Mike Ashley match his own, though that stance could change.
Lascelles, interviewed before the Newcastle squad stopped speaking to the media due to a bonus dispute, says the players share Benitez’s “ambition and drive”.
“I can’t reiterate enough how important he is,” said the former England Under-21 international. “Since he’s been here ... promotion, finishing 10th, everybody loves him, the players love him. We’ve all got that same ambition and the same drive.
“I don’t know what is holding the club back, but we all know what we want as a players and as staff, and, for me, I’d make him the happiest man here if possible.”
Benitez has transformed the club since taking over in March 2016.
Lascelles said: “When he came in, he changed it the way he wanted to. It might have taken him a while to really get across to the players exactly what he wanted us to do. I know it did with me.
“Some things defensively he wanted me to do different to how I’d been taught before.
“But, because he’s been here for two and a half years now, everybody knows exactly what he wants. They do exactly what the gaffer says, he doesn’t really need to say too much now, because everybody works in the way he wants.
“And, of course, we have players in training and on the pitch that will tell other players what to do, so we’ve got voices on the pitch as well.”
Benitez has had to sell a number of players this summer, but Lascelles doesn’t believe the team will be any weaker than it was last season.
“The team we have, I don’t think you can really weaken the team that much,” said the Derby-born player, signed from Nottingham Forest in 2014.
“You will have your starting XI, and that will probably go off form, it probably won’t go off talent.
“Even if a player who isn’t as good on paper, if they are doing well, they will stay in the team. That’s what the gaffer does.”
Lascelles, appointed captain two years ago in the wake of relegation, has been linked with Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur in recent months.
Benitez, however, doesn’t want to sell a player he believes can represent England in the near future.
For his part, Lascelles, under contract at Newcastle until 2023, is loved by the club’s fans – and he isn’t looking to leave.
“The fans here are loyal,” said Lascelles. “They want hard-working players, and people who work for the badge and care, and they’ll definitely get that from me. That’s the least I’ll offer.
“Sometimes I do feel for the fans. There are times where we have not given good performances and things like that. Finishing 10th last season was a nice gift for them for all the support they’ve given us.”
There was a banner of Lascelles raised in the Leazes End before a game last season alongside another which pictured Benitez.
“When you see that, you can’t explain it,” said Lascelles.
“When you walk out anyway it’s goosebumps, 52,000 fans roaring your name, the atmosphere is quality.
“And then you look round and see that, next to the manager, it’s crazy. It’s hard to describe, it’s such a huge thing.”
Lascelles was just 22 when he was handed the captain’s armband. It’s a hard role, though Lascelles has made it look easy over the past two seasons.
“It can be a hard role when things aren’t going your way,” said Lascelles. “If you lose games, the blame is on your skipper.
“And you have to do a lot of things outside of football, you’ve always got to act a certain way.
“I am 24, I’m still a youngish lad, but you’ve got to remove that head and put a sensible head on your shoulders.
“ It is a huge role, but I think I’ve dealt with it fine.”