A few short weeks ago, Dwight Gayle was looking forward to again pulling on the No 9 jersey at St James’s Park.
Gayle, relaxed and reflective, spoke at Newcastle United’s training base in Ireland.
The striker wanted more. He wansted more goals, more assists and more games.
Gayle will almost certainly get more goals, assists and games – at West Bromwich Albion. The 27-year-old has joined the Championship club on loan in a swap deal which saw Newcastle, finally, sign Salomon Rondon.
Benitez, having to sell to buy this summer, had had to sacrifice Gayle to land Rondon, a longstanding target.
Yoshimori Muto, signed from Mainz last week in a £9.5million deal, is a replacement for Gayle, who will return to the club next summer.
Ultimately, I think the gaffer, as I’ve said before, was trying to make sure we were defensive strong. I perhaps didn’t buy into that at the beginning of the season. I found myself out of the team for a long period of time.Dwight Gayle
Back to Ireland and Carlton House, where the club spent a week last month.
Gayle, signed from Crystal Palace two years ago, admitted he was unhappy at his six league goals last season.
Reflecting on his first, and potentially only, season in the Premier League with Newcastle, Gayle said: “I’m quite a critic. I wasn’t too happy with my goal tally last season, but, ultimately, it was probably the most games I’ve started in the Premier League.
“For me, that was a plus, and I need to try and build on it and improve and help the team whichever way I can to stay in the starting XI.”
Gayle had been hampered by what Benitez decribed at the time as a “hamstring issue” at the start of last season.
An issue for Benitez was Gayle’s defensive contribution to a team which, above all else, needed to be organised and hard to beat.
Reflecting on his start to the season, he said: “I had a couple of niggling injuries that were carried over from the season before.
“Ultimately, I think the gaffer, as I’ve said before, was trying to make sure we were defensive strong. I perhaps didn’t buy into that at the beginning of the season. Ultimately, I found myself out of the team for a long period of time.
“I obviously had to prove to him that I could do that, and throughout the season I had to get more and more involved in the team. Hopefully, I can prove that again this season.”
Gayle won’t get that chance at United this term.
A couple of days after the interview at Carlton House, Gayle came off the bench in the club’s first pre-season game against Dublin side St Patrick’s Athletic.
Gayle won a penalty for Newcastle, who won 2-0. He again spoke, this time pitchside at Richmond Park as fans milled around asking for autographs. Asked about speculation over his future, Gayle said: “For the time being, if the gaffer’s happy with me, I’m happy at to stay.”
Was that a hint?
Gayle has been one of Benitez’s best signings at United. His 23 goals were a big factor in the club’s promotion the season before last, but Benitez’s hand was forced by owner Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to back him in the transfer market. He’s had to “wheel and deal”.
And Benitez – who had been watching Muto since he faced United last pre-season – can be ruthless when he has to be.
Gayle was asked if he considered himself an established Premier League player in Ireland.
“I’d hope to think so,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve probably spent a lot more time in the Premier League than I have the Championship and other leagues. Every season, you need to prove yourself again and just push on.”
Newcastle’s loss will be West Brom’s gain – for now.