Isaac Hayden has revealed how close he came to leaving Newcastle United.
The midfielder told the club he wanted to leave last year to be closer to his fiance and infant daughter.
Brighton and Hove Albion were among the clubs interested in signing the midfielder. Benitez, however, blocked the proposed move, and Hayden had to stay at St James’s Park.
“I was, I’d say, two or three days from me going in the summer,” said Hayden, who has been a fixture in Benitez’s midfield since Boxing Day.
“Everything was done my side with personal terms, I’d even found a house – I’d even pretty much bought the house. I’d spoken to a manager at a football club.”
Adriana, Hayden’s daughter, was born prematurely in a London hospital late 2017.
At the time, an exhausted Hayden was travelling between the hospital and Newcastle.
And the Chelmsford-born player, then 22, asked to leave the club in the summer transfer window to be with his partner Lauren – who also needed treatment in the capital for a pregnancy complication – and his daughter, who was having difficulties with breathing, allergies, reflux and temperature control.
“Mentally, in my head, I prepared myself to go,” said Hayden.
“You don’t go on the pre-season tour (to Ireland), because things are hotting up and getting close, and then you don’t think about pre-season – you’re thinking ‘I need to go to pre-season somewhere else’.
“So, in your head, you’re sitting there thinking ‘well, I’m not going to be here, so it doesn’t matter’. Your head’s somewhere else.
“You plan, and your family plans, for a certain scenario and then when that scenario doesn’t happen, it takes time to rejig everything and mentally prepare yourself for a different type of challenge.”
Hayden, sent off against Cardiff City in August, was handed a start against Liverpool at Anfield late last year – and he hasn’t looked back.
“There’s no key,” Hayden told the club’s matchday programme. “It’s just being given a chance to play – it’s really that simple.
“People say, ‘he’s come from nowhere, is suddenly playing and his form’s been good’, but in 2018, before Christmas, I started three games – Chelsea away, Manchester City away and Arsenal at home. With no pre-season.
“So what type of form did you want me to get in those games? I hardly played for a year.”
Hayden, for the moment, is focused on keeping the club in the Premier League.
However, in the summer he hopes to be allowed to leave at the third time of asking.
“I think I’ve made it very clear to the club’s hierarchy – and the fans,” said Hayden, signed from Arsenal in 2016.
“I’ve got my side of the story out – I’ve made it pretty clear how things go. I don’t think there’ll be too many questions. I don’t think the summer’s going to be an issue. It’s pretty well-documented how I feel.”