Rafa Benitez reveals why Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie is still getting better – at the age of 29

Matt Ritchie.
Matt Ritchie.

Matt Ritchie is still learning the game at the age of 29 – and that’s why he’s so important to Rafa Benitez.

Ritchie set up Salomon Rondon’s goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Watford with a superb cross.

The winger had been fielded as a wing-back by Benitez in the game, which left the club 15th in the Premier League.

Benitez spoke to Ritchie, signed from Bournemouth two and a half years ago, and 21-year-old midfielder Sean Longstaff before the game at Vicarage Road.

And United’s manager has praised Ritchie for his willingness to learn every day.

“Matt’s a worker,” said Benitez.

“He has enough quality to make these kind of deliveries and assists, and he can also score goals, but especially he is someone that’s always committed and is always working really hard in every training session and during the games.

“I had a conversation with him and Longstaff before the game – and he’s learning a lot.

“I’m sure that he will be a better player every single week, because he’s listening, and he’s trying to understand what is going on.

“That’s something which is not easy when you are older.

“I was saying to Sean Longstaff about how he’s young enough to listen and learn, while Ritchie’s learning too.

“He’s learning different things; like how to play different ways, different methods, different ways of managing during the games.

“He’s improving and, because he really likes football and to win and is competitive. He keeps getting better.

“We have to be convinced, and the players are convinced, that the only way we will succeed is that we have to keep working – and Ritchie is one of the examples of that.”

Asked if that was the kind of character he wanted from all of his Newcastle players, Benitez said: “Absolutely, 100%.

“We want winners and competitive people, and he’s one of them.”