Miles Starforth’s pre-season tour diary: Why Rafa Benitez always stays close to home with Newcastle

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez doesn’t do long haul. For the third successive pre-season, Benitez has taken his Newcastle United squad to Ireland.

Benitez prefers to stay close to home. The only way Benitez would sanction a trip further afield – to the USA or Far East, for example – would be if there was a very strong commercial case for doing so.

Miles Away From Home.

Miles Away From Home.

Benitez just doesn’t think travelling halfway across the world is a good idea – unless the price is right.

My first pre-season tour as a writer was in 2004 when Newcastle, then managed by the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, travelled to the Far East.

Robson wasn’t particularly taken with the gruelling trip given the heat and humidity his team would face in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Nor were the players.

They returned exhausted, and Sir Bobby was sacked the following month.

United’s trip to the USA seven years later during Alan Pardew’s tenure was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong during a heatwave the other side of the Atlantic.

Yet the club finished fifth that season. There’s always an exception to the rule.

But Benitez doesn’t leave things to chance. This pre-season, like the two before it, has been put together for footballing, not commercial, reasons.

It worked last season, and it worked the season before.

And Benitez – who will take his team to Portugal later this month – doesn’t like to leave things to chance.

Meanwhile, Newcastle didn’t take the weather with them on tour.

Ireland has also had a summer heatwave, but Maynooth, Co Kildare, where Benitez’s squad have been training ahead of tomorrow night’s game against St Patrick’s Athletic, was cooler than Tyneside last week.

Yesterday it was raining as I arrived in Dublin. Back home, the temperatures were well into the 20s.

On Tyneside, the heat really is on at the club, which still has a lot to do in the transfer market.