Rafa Benitez has united Newcastle on and off the park - Ciaran Clark
Not only has Rafa Benitez united the city of Newcastle, he's also instilled a togetherness in the Magpies ranks '“ that's the view of Ciaran Clark.
Republic of Ireland international Clark was one of the major success stories of Benitez’s squad overhaul last summer, in the aftermath of relegation to the Championship.
Twelve players, worth around £60million, came through the doors at St James’s Park last term, with 10 shown the exit door.
And it would be no shock to see a similar number arrive this time around.
But that matters little in the United dressing-room, according to Clark.
The former Aston Villa man, who formed a solid partnership with club captain Jamaal Lascelles in the title winning campaign, says from the minute he arrived at United, Benitez and Co made him feel welcome.
And for whoever signs this summer, ahead of the Magpies return to the Premier League, Clark knows it will be no different.
“As soon as I came in I felt there was a strong bond between the lads,” said the £5m central defender.
“Despite the number of new signings everyone settled in really quickly.
“That was credit to the staff and the players that were already here – they made us all feel so welcome.
“I think that has shown when we have gone out on the pitch.
“That was our first season together. Hopefully, now we can push on and improve as a team.”
United completed a remarkable end to the campaign under Benitez.
While many had written their title chances off, both experts and fans, the Magpies completed a dramatic turnaround to win the title in the final minutes of the last day of the season, coming from seven points adrift of Brighton and Hove Albion with just three games to go.
Clark says it was an experience that will live with him forever.
“It was a great feeling,” he said.
“It was something we wanted to achieve from the start of the season.
“It was great for the fans, for the staff, for everyone.
“We hit a bit of a poor patch towards the end of the season, then the teams around us started to win.
“The pressure did start to pile up. But we knew what we had to do, and in the end we did it.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle United are hoping to tie up their second deal of the summer by activating the release clause in Florian Lejeune’s contract.
The Eibar defender should join this week for £8.7million, following on from Christian Atsu’s £6.2m deal last month.
The Magpies are still awaiting an answer from Tammy Abraham as to whether he will choose SJP or a season-long loan deal at Brighton next season.
Sources close to the Chelsea kid stated last week that Newcastle had “every chance” of landing the England youth international, who scored 26 goals for Championship strugglers Bristol City last season.