Rafa Benitez reveals how a training ground fight has brought his Newcastle players together
Rafa Benitez says his team is more united than ever '“ thanks to a punch-up in training.
Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles traded blows with Mohamed Diame during the international break.
But the pair quickly apologised to each other – and offered to take their team-mates out for lunch.
And manager Benitez believes a negative was turned into a positive ahead of tomorrow’s game against Southampton at the St Mary’s Stadium (4pm kick-off).
Asked how he dealt with the incident, Benitez said: “They did it. After they were talking, and they had the idea to give a lunch for everyone or something.
“They had the initiative to give an invitation to the team. It’s something that could be negative, but, in the end, it’s positive. They are all together.”
Lascelles, Newcastle’s captain, had reportedly been unhappy with Diame’s efforts in training.
Asked if Lascelles was challenging players on the training pitch, Benitez added: “It’s not just Jamaal, it’s all of them.
“We like to train hard. In this case, it wasn’t expected. There wasn’t a problem. We had the three parts of the training session, and in one second (there was a fight). And after it was nothing.
“We were dealing with that and after it was OK. The day after they were training and they were in the same team. There wasn’t a crisis.
“It was surprised, because I was not expecting it. Sometimes, when you see players, you keep an eye on them and move them to different teams or the same team. In this case, it was unexpected.”
Defender Lascelles, 23, signed a new long-term contract this month.
And the news was followed by yesterday’s announcement that midfielder Mikel Merino’s season-long loan from Borussia Dortmund had been turned into a permanent move.
“There’s been a lot of good news, and that’s good for the club,” said Benitez.
“I want to be fair with all of them. Merino’s been really well since the beginning. The fans they love him. He was playing well, and he was OK.
“Also Jamaal, when we talk about a centre-back, an English centre-back, a young centre-back, a captain of the team and still very young, you’re talking about a player who has the potential.
“I think he’s learning about his job, on the pitch and off the pitch, so he has the potential.
“He can become much better because he’s keen to learn. He wants to improve.”
Meanwhile, United, ninth in the Premier League after seven games, have been convincing beaten on their last three visits to the St Mary’s Stadium.
Benitez presided over the last of those losses, a 3-1 defeat to Southampton in April last year.
“Sometimes the stats mean nothing,” said Benitez. “Because you change the players, the managers, you change the environment and the time, so everything is different.
“You have a bad record, but everything is different, so hopefully the score is different, too. You need to know that it will not change everything.”