Rafa Benitez has a message for Newcastle's Mikel Merino amid transfer speculation
A report this week claimed that the Spanish midfielder, signed last year from Borussia Dortmund, had informed Benitez that he wanted to join Athletic Bilbao.
However, the Gazette understands that Merino, while frustrated at a lack of playing time in recent months, has not indicated that he wants to leave St James’s Park in the summer.
Bilbao’s interest in Merino was leaked in January, but the Basque club, which only signs players from the region, did not make a bid for Pamplona-born Merino, a Spain Under-21 international.
Merino – who had a spell out with a back injury late last year – has found his opportunities limited by the form of Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame in midfield.
United manager Benitez said: “It’s not just the injury now, which is fine.
“He’s not playing so much because the others are doing well.
“He has to compete and make sure he gets back in the side.
“Always, we want to sign the best players, and, when we have the best players here, then someone has to be on the bench.
“If you want to improve as a team, then you have to have good players on the bench.”
Merino, however, didn’t even make the bench for last weekend’s 1-0 Premier League win over Huddersfield Town.
Speaking last month, Benitez said the 21-year-old had to “work harder” in training to force his way back into his starting XI.
“When Mikel was playing well, Jonjo needed to work harder,” said Benitez.
“Now Jonjo’s doing well, so Mikel has to work harder. That’s the good thing about competition.”