Rafael Benitez admits his ‘heart says yes’ to staying at Newcastle as he leans towards pledging his long-term future to the club despite their relegation from the Premier League.
Benitez held talks with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley after the 5-1 victory over Tottenham on Sunday that denied the visitors a second place finish on an emotional final day as St James’ Park bade farewell to the top-flight for at least 15 months.
Fans serenaded Benitez for the 90 minutes, urging him not to trigger the relegation clause in his three-year contract and to instead remain to lead the bid to seal an immediate return from the Championship next season.
The 56-year-old Spaniard spoke in glowing terms about the club afterwards, before holding face-to-face talks with sports retail billionaire Ashley, who watched from the directors’ box for the first time this year.
“The game was emotional,” Benitez said. “It’s not easy to leave a club like this, and I think my heart is saying yes. It was a great atmosphere and I could really feel it.
“I was open to talk before this and I’m even more open to talk now. I’m flattered and really pleased.
“I’ll talk, I’ll analyse and try to do the best for me and the best for Newcastle. If we go together it has to be the best for both of us.
“I expected a great atmosphere but this was amazing, so it’s even more positive but we still have to sit down.” Naijabet
Newcastle ended the season six games unbeaten, collecting 13 points in the 10 games after former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss Benitez took charge in March following the departure of Steve McClaren.
Over the course of a season, such a return is more than enough to guarantee safety, but Benitez ran out of time to prevent a second relegation in seven seasons.
His side showed what they are capable of as two goals from Georginio Wijnaldum, the second a penalty, and others from Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was later sent off, Rolando Aarons and Daryl Janmaat sealed a comfortable win to see them finish two points adrift of safety.
“With the pressure off, we showed what we can do. We’re sad at being unable to avoid relegation, but happy to give the fans this kind of send-off,” Benitez added.
Tottenham failed to win any of their last four games to come third, beaten for the runners-up spot by Arsenal, who finished above their London rivals for a 21st consecutive season.
Erik Lamela scored Tottenham’s goal and England striker Harry Kane had the consolation of winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot award after finding the net 25 times this season.
But Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was furious with his team’s lacklustre end to the season.
“I want to apologise to our fans and to our families. It’s difficult to go back to see your kids, your wife, your girlfriend after that,” he said.
“We were terrible. This wasn’t the team that played the whole season, and it was my worst day as a manager.
“I feel so bad, because we showed we didn’t care, and that upsets and disappoints me.
“It was strange, we’ve finished third and Newcastle have been relegated, but Rafa was the one who said he felt sorry for me afterwards.”