Rafa Benitez clarifies Jamaal Lascelles' 'nice guy' comment about Mike Ashley at Newcastle
Rafa Benitez has responded to questions to Jamaal Lascelles' controversial remarks about Mike Ashley.
Lascelles, speaking after signing a new six-year contract at winless Newcastle United, said he thought the club's owner was a "nice guy".
There was a backlash on social media from fans angry at years of under-investment under Ashley, who put the club up for sale a year ago.
Lascelles, United's captain, met Ashley for the first time last month when the billionaire took Benitez and his players out for a meal in Ponteland.
The 24-year-old said: "Speaking honestly, and it might not be what everyone wants to hear, as a club I think it’s important everyone is together, especially when we’re right down at the bottom of the table.
"I think the meal was really positive, having a sit down meeting for the first time, hearing him speak and seeing what he’s like as a man.
"He’s a nice guy. I know fingers are being pointed at him, but I think it was a positive meeting and if it could happen more, I don’t think it would do any harm."
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Benitez was asked about Lascelles' comments ahead of tomorrow's home game against Watford.
“Obviously, you're asking me about his comments about the owner," said Benitez. "We met Mike Ashley – and they didn't know him – for a dinner that was supposed to create a good atmosphere, so his first impression is something that you cannot control.
“But I think his message – and I was talking to him this morning – apart from that that you can have an opinion on – is just try to keep everybody together, try to work hard.
“The fact that he signed an extension means that he cares. I think he was trying to be positive, trying to send the right message to everyone.
“OK, there are things off the pitch you cannot control when you meet one person at a dinner for a couple of hours. It's not that you are having an opinion about what has happened in the last 11 years.
“He's not trying to do that. It's just a moment and that's it.
“You have to understand that he's a young player and he had this first impression. It doesn't mean that he will not give everything on the pitch. That is the main thing that we are expecting from him."