Rafa Benitez has warned Chelsea and Everton off a summer move for Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles.
Lascelles has been outstanding in the heart of Benitez’s defence this season.
And Chelsea and Everton have been linked with big-money moves for the 24-year-old, who captained Newcastle to the Championship title last term.
Lascelles signed a new six-year deal in October, and Benitez is keen to keep him at St James’s Park.
Asked if he would consider selling Lascelles, United’s manager said: “Not really.
“If you want to continue growing, normally you have to try to keep your best players.
If you want to continue growing, normally you have to try to keep your best players.Rafa Benitez
“Jamaal has a great potential, but if you cannot compete, or you cannot keep the level of your team, then maybe you have to sell one player to be sure that you can bring in other players.
“When people say ‘wheel and deal’ – sometimes you have to do it, because if not, you don’t have the money.
“If you don’t have the money, the main thing is to be sure that if you sell this one for £40million, you have two at £20million who can do well. Then you can be better.”
Lascelles is also an influential figure off the pitch, having galvanised the dressing room in the wake of relegation two years ago. “Yes, that’s true,” said Benitez, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Chelsea (3pm).
“Some players are key players not just because they play well, also because their relationship with the others and with the fans and their influence, their character and all those other things.
“He’s a key player for us.”
Meanwhile, Benitez expects “four or five” departures this summer.
“I was talking with one player who was asking me about his future,” said the Spaniard. “It depends on positions. We have to start working on that – each one will be different. You have to at least change four or five.
“How many depends on the market and options and who is available. If you are to improve, you need players to push the ones here already.”