Rafa Benitez reveals Jamaal Lascelles’ reaction to ‘nice guy’ Mike Ashley backlash at Newcastle

Jamaal Lascelles.
Jamaal Lascelles.

Rafa Benitez says Jamaal Lascelles was “surprised” by the backlash to his comments about Mike Ashley.

Rafa Benitez says Jamaal Lascelles was “surprised” by the backlash to his comments about Mike Ashley.

Lascelles, Newcastle United’s captain, said he thought owner Ashley was a “nice guy” after signing a new six-year deal at the club.

The 24-year-old was speaking of his first impressions of Ashley, who he met at an Italian restaurant last month.

Ashley’s meal with Benitez and his players came amid protests against the billionaire, who refused to back his manager in the summer’s transfer market.

Supporters – who want Ashley to sell up – have been demonstrating before home games and plan to step up their protests over the coming weeks.

Lascelles’ comments provoked a backlash on social media ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Watford.

And Benitez spoke to Lascelles yesterday about the furore.

“I would say he was surprised (at the reaction),” said Benitez.

“He didn’t expect that. It was a straight question. He was being natural, normal and honest. So he was a bit surprised.

“I told him concentrate on scoring the winning goal, and that’s it.”

Asked for his thoughts on Lascelles’ remarks, Benitez said: “I was talking with him. He’s a young lad, the environment was a dinner and the theory was to create a good atmosphere.

“You cannot say he knows the owner. His first impression was that, that’s it. He said that.

“For us, it’s really more important to concentrate on what we can do on the pitch, not what he said. It won’t change anything (against Watford).”

“I’m trying to say that his first impression was at a dinner in an environment that was quite relaxed. And he said that. After we can put headlines. The reality is that this is the only time Jamaal has met him. That’s it.

“A lot of people, when you talk to them, they are fine, then after you don’t like them too much, or he’s nice. In this case, we’re talking about one conversation with the owner, talking about general things, not just about football. That’s it. We have to move forward.

“We have to make sure that Jamaal, when he goes on the pitch, he gives everything, which he’s doing already.

“He has a five-year contract, he extended it one more year. It’s a positive signal for me, it means that he cares, he wants to stay here.

“I understand some fans will not be happy with the situation, but we need to find the balance and understand the context of the interview.”

Lascelles had suggested that “negativity” could have an impact on the team’s performances.

The former England Under-21 international pleaded for “unity” ahead of a crucial run of fixtures for second-bottom and winless United.

Benitez said: “He’s a young player and a young captain. When you go to interviews, maybe there’s an issue you cannot control and you don’t know the big picture.

“It’s difficult. He’s 24 years old, and he has to have an opinion about something when he does not know all the details. He’s working for Newcastle United as a player and as a captain. I think the fans can be upset, but, what message did we send in the Championship and in the Premier League last season?

“When something was right we said ‘listen, Newcastle United – united’.

“We have to be sure we support the players on the pitch, and after we can have opinions. We have to stick united, or it will be very difficult to survive.

“It’s so clear for me, for anyone with experience in football, if you don’t keep the team working together with confidence, it’s very difficult.

“We have to support everyone – from the first minute to the last. After, you can say ‘I don’t agree, I’m not happy with that’.”