At the 5,340-capacity Richmond Park, we learnt a little more about Newcastle United’s players ahead of the new season.
However, we learnt a lot more off the field during the club’s week-long training camp in Ireland.
Just over two months ago, Newcastle, memorably, secured a 10th-placed finish in the Premier League thanks to a 3-0 win over Chelsea at St James’s Park.
Back then, the hope was that the club, with some investment, could push even higher up the table in 2018-19.
Why not? United banked more than £123million from the Premier League last season, and supporters, whatever their thoughts on owner Mike Ashley, felt that at least some of that would be given to manager Rafa Benitez.
Benitez wanted a transfer budget that would allow the club to “compete” in the league.
Benitez didn’t get the budget he wanted, and United’s manager gave a revealing interview at the club’s Carlton House base in Co Kildare.
So what did we learn?
Asked if he had to sell to buy, Benitez said: “It seems it is more or less like that.
“(I have) to manage the players who have value in the market and see if we can find some players at the right price.
I was expecting maybe something different, but we will manage what is going on and try to be sure that we bring the best players possible with the conditions we have and try to improve the squad.Rafa Benitez
“It’s not ideal, but we’ll try to manage the best way possible.
“I was expecting maybe something different, but we will manage what is going on and try to be sure that we bring the best players possible with the conditions we have and try to improve the squad.”
Benitez is right. It’s not ideal.
Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers, promoted from the Championship, are spending. And other clubs are strengthening ahead of the August 9 transfer deadline.
United, by contrast, are more or less where they were at the end of last season.
And time is running out.
The club has re-signed Kenedy on loan from Chelsea and secured Martin Dubravka on a permanent deal.
Mikel Merino has been replaced by Ki Sung-yueng, and the club, so far, is in profit. Benitez wants to sign another five players – but will he have the time or money?
The 58-year-old – who met owner Mike Ashley for talks early in the summer – worked through the off-season in the hope of getting some early business done.
“If you don’t act quickly, then you lose the opportunity, and the next player is more difficult and the next maybe doesn’t have the same quality,” said Benitez.
Ashley had pledged at the end of last season to back Benitez with “every penny generated by the club”, and there had been reports of a £50million budget.
We didn’t learn why Benitez’s funds are so limited. That’s a question for Ashley, and he doesn’t do interviews.
Asked if he found it strange that there wasn’t money available, Benitez said: “I don’t do the numbers.”
What it means is that Newcastle could again be fighting relegation.
On the pitch – both at the training base and at the home of St Patrick’s Athletic – things were more positive.
The players were committed and competitive. They were also open and engaging with the media.
United beat Dublin side St Patrick’s Athletic 2-0 thanks to goals from debutant Sean Longstaff and Christian Atsu.
Longstaff, a promising box-to-box midfielder, is one for the future.
However, Benitez is preoccupied with the present, and he’s concerned that United will be left behind before a ball is kicked in the Premier League this season.