Rafa Benitez, it’s clear, isn’t in the mood to help Newcastle United sell any season tickets.
Benitez was asked four times about the impending deadline for renewals – and what he would say to fans wavering about committing to another campaign.
My business is to prepare the team against Manchester City and be sure they can compete until the end of the season.Rafa Benitez
And Benitez, four times, sidestepped the question ahead of tonight’s home game against Manchester City.
Things have unravelled at St James’s Park since Benitez guided his team to a 10th-placed finish last season.
Benitez had to sell to buy last summer, and the relegation-threatened club is yet to sign a player ahead of Thursday night’s transfer deadline.
United’s frustrated manager, meanwhile, has refused to speak about transfers this month.
And the 58-year-old is set to leave at the end of the season when his contract expires.
Asked what he would say to supporters in two minds about renewing, Benitez said: “That’s not my business.
“My business is to prepare the team against Manchester City and be sure they can compete until the end of the season.”
It was then put to Benitez that he couldn’t say, as manager, why fans should spend hundreds of pounds on a season ticket.
“I’m the manager with the responsibility to get the best from these players, and I will try to do that,” said Benitez.
Pressed on the question, Benitez added: “I’m the manager who, at the moment, is focused on trying to get the best from my players and trying to keep the team in the Premier League.”
Did Benitez’s answers suggest that he understood why some supporters might not come back?
“If I don’t answer the question, you can suppose whatever you want, but it’s not what I’m saying,” said Benitez.
“What I’m saying is that I’m the manager, and I’m concentrating on getting the best from this group of players. That’s it.”
Recent home games have been punctuated by chants against owner Mike Ashley.
And there are protests planned for the City game.
Asked about unrest among fans, Benitez said: “I understand that I have to concentrate on the game, and that’s it. I cannot be involved in anything apart from trying to get the best from my players.
“I have to concentrate on getting the best from my players, and that’s it.”
Benitez has admitted that this season is proving “difficult” for him and his team, which is 17th in the league and just two points above the relegation zone.
“In the beginning, I don’t think it was harder than last season,” said Benitez.
“In the second part of last season, we did really well and then a lot of people didn’t realise how difficult it was. So this one maybe we can see that it has been quite difficult.”
Benitez, however, maintains that it has not been difficult for him to focus on football.
“I know we have plenty of time,” said Benitez. “I stay here until 8pm in the evening sometimes, so I have plenty of time to focus on the football.
“I was preparing some clips before the press conference, and still I have to prepare clips for the game.
“My family is in Liverpool, so I can spend some time working. That’s what I’m doing.”
The arrivals of Kenedy and Martin Dubravka a year ago helped the club climb away from relegation trouble.
Benitez doesn’t know if there will be any signings between now and Thursday night’s transfer deadline.
Asked about the importance of the club’s transfer business last January, Benitez said: “Yes, that’s very clear.
“In the first game (against Manchester United), Dubravka made a big difference on his own. After that, Kenedy was making a big difference.
“Even (Islam) Slimani, with the header against Arsenal, gave us another three points. Any player can make a difference.
“What we had last year was quite good in January. It made a big difference, for sure.”
Benitez had hoped that his team would be even more competitive this season.
Newcastle, however, have been less competitive this season because of the money spent by their rivals and the teams at the top of the league.
“I like to do things well,” said Benitez. “But even if my gameplan is perfect we can still lose.
“When you play against top sides, we try to react, but even if you do the right things, sometimes you cannot win.
“The players they have, they can make the difference on their own and do things you’re not expecting. They are top class.”