Rafa Benitez must be backed in transfer market to keep him at Newcastle

Former Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper has urged the club to back manager Rafael Benitez to keep him at St James' Park.

Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez.
Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez.

The promoted Magpies effectively secured their top flight status with five games to spare and a top-10 finish is within their grasp despite Benitez having to work to a budget which severely limited his efforts to rebuild his squad.

However, the Spaniard is about to enter the final year of his contract and although talks over an extension are under way, the club remains for sale and owner Mike Ashley has a series of big decisions to make.

Harper is hoping whoever is in charge, Benitez will be handed the funds he will need to take Newcastle forward.

He said: "If they finish 10th, that's an incredible achievement and he needs to be backed, because if he is backed, the players he has brought in - the likes of Kenedy, (Martin) Dubravka - they've shown the quality and level that he wants to work with.

"If he is backed, hopefully they can move up the table year on year. It's a big ask - he's not going to get the amount of money to break into the top six, that's a big, big ask.

"But if he is backed to the tune of, I don't know, £50million, £100million - I don't know what players are now - then I certainly think they are capable of moving up a couple of places in the table.

"He gets it, he gets the club and he's won the fans over. He has their respect and hopefully he'll be backed.

"Having spent 20 years here, you know what can be around the corner, but God forbid that happens because it doesn't bear thinking about if he was to leave the football club."

Harper was among the crowd at St James' Park for Saturday's disappointing 1-0 defeat by West Brom, but has been impressed with the job Benitez and his players have done this season.

He said: "You measure any manager by how much he gets out of his players, and you would have to say that Rafa Benitez has got the maximum out of this bunch of players. To be safe so early is a job very, very well done."

Harper's comments came as he returned to St James' in his role as a patron of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation to help launch Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager, a film about the former Ipswich, England and Newcastle manager's life and career.

Fundraising screenings will take place at St James', Wembley and Portman Road later this month, and Harper, who played Champions League football for the Magpies under Sir Bobby, could not recommend it more warmly.

He said: "It's an emotional journey which captures the passion of a wonderful man throughout.

"I knew he had been successful at other clubs where he had been as well, but didn't realise just how successful he had been.

"Everywhere he went, he's revered, isn't he? Not just at Ipswich, England - even now just talking about him and talking about the film, there's a smile on your face."