Dwight Gayle says Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United are a “perfect match”.
Benitez guided the club to the Championship title this season.
And Gayle and his team-mates are relishing next season’s return to the Premier League.
Benitez, having reaffirmed his commitment to United last week after talks with owner Mike Ashley, is now focused on strengthening the club’s squad.
Gayle – who ended the season as Newcastle’s top scorer with 23 league goals – feels the team has come a long way in a short space of time under Benitez.
“The manager has been great for all the boys,” said Gayle, signed last summer from Crystal Palace for £10million.
We’ve improved so much, as you’ve seen throughout the season. From the moment he took over, the players have stepped it up a level. Hopefully, he continues to do that. The fans love him, so it’s a perfect match.Dwight Gayle
“We’ve improved so much, as you’ve seen throughout the season. From the moment he took over, the players have stepped it up a level.
“Hopefully, he continues to do that. The fans love him, so it’s a perfect match.
“Promotion was the aim for all the lads at the end of last summer, and with the manager staying and all of that, it’s easy to say ‘well, we had to be up there’.
“But over the last six years, there’s only one other team that has come straight back up so that just shows how hard it is.
“It’s a massive testament to the work we’ve all put in that we’ve done it.
“I think you have to say a big congratulations to the staff and the players, and the fans with the way we pulled through together. I think it’s a great achievement.”
Gayle has Premier League experience from his time at Palace.
But he admits all Benitez’s players, including those who have played in the top flight, must “prove themselves all over again”.
“You know you’re going to have to prove yourself again in the Premier League,” said the 27-year-old. “The boys are going to be working hard over the summer to get fit and ready for next season.”
Gayle is “excited” about the future given that Benitez has a relatively young team which he believes can only get better.
“You have to be excited about what the future might be,” he said.
“We’re a pretty young squad, and we’ve got momentum behind us.
“There’s a lot of young players, and everyone is going to be improving.
“The fact that the Championship title race went down to the last day is just another feature that is going to help the boys grow up. If we keep growing as a young team, you never really know how far we could reach.”
Newcastle will have to deal with a different kind of pressure next season.
“We’ve dealt with the pressure this season, now we have to do it again in the Premier League,” said Gayle.
“It’ll be a different kind of pressure being back in the Premier League, but the challenge will still be the same.
“This season, we’ve known that every team, home and away, were going to be up for it more than in any other game when they played against us.
“Whenever Newcastle fans were going to an away ground, the team was always up for it. We had to overcome that, and it just shows how good a team we’ve had that we were able to do it.
“It shows how switched on we’ve been to be up against it, and still come out with the Championship. We have to carry that attitude and togetherness into the Premier League.”