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The story behind Newcastle's interest in Andros Townsend – and Rafa Benitez's willingness to sell Matt Ritchie

Matt Ritchie scored the goal that secured Newcastle United's Premier League status last season.

Ritchie's memorable strike against Arsenal at St James's Park in April took the club past the 40-point milestone.

Yet Rafa Benitez was seemingly prepared to sell the winger this summer.

READ MORE: Matt Ritchie’s ‘busy and annoying’, but he’s so important to Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle

Benitez was, and still is, keen to re-sign Andros Townsend from Crystal Palace in the transfer window. He's been keen to do that ever since Townsend left the club two years ago.

However, Newcastle's manager is having to sell to buy this summer, and to finance a move for Townsend, he would have to move out a player.

Matt Ritchie. (Pic: Stephen Dobson)

Matt Ritchie. (Pic: Stephen Dobson)

That means making some tough choices. While Benitez didn't, and still doesn't, want to lose Ritchie, he feels that Townsend – who turned 27 this week – would give him something "different".

"(I have) to manage the players who have value in the market and see if we can find some players at the right price," said United's manager. "It’s not ideal, but we’ll try to manage the best way possible."

Ritchie has "value in the market", but Benitez would need to sell him for upwards of £15million to be able to afford Townsend, sold to Palace two years ago. Stoke City, his suitors, aren't prepared to pay that much, and Benitez can't bridge the gap.

Palace manager Roy Hodgson said earlier this month that he had "no interest" in selling Townsend, though there's a feeling that the club could be persuaded to do business, at the right price, if it lands Michail Antonio from West Ham United.

Andros Townsend and Rafa Benitez.

Andros Townsend and Rafa Benitez.

Benitez, however, doesn't expect to have the funds to buy him. So Ritchie, in all likelihood, will stay.

Asked about Ritchie, a phenomenal worker with an eye for goal, while in Ireland with his squad earlier this week, Benitez said: “He's training well, and he's our player. He'll stay with us."

Benitez added that it would be "very difficult" to sell Ritchie, signed from Bournemouth two years ago.

Ritchie looked sharp in Tuesday night's 2-0 win over Dublin side St Patrick's Athletic. Understandably, he didn't want to speak about his future after the game.

Stoke, meanwhile, have all but conceded defeat. The relegated club, which is looking to replace Xherdan Shaqiri, has reportedly moved on to Tom Ince, who could be sold by Huddersfield Town this summer.

Ritchie's importance to Benitez's Newcastle over the past two years, on and off the pitch, can't be over-stated. He may "annoy" his team-mates, but he's more annoying for United's opponents. He's talented and tenacious.

Asked about the 28-year-old's importance to his team, Benitez said: “Yes, a player you can trust what he gives to you.

"The only option was changing for something different that was an opportunity and someone with experience in the Premier League that's available now.

"I don't see too many."