Rafael Benitez emerged from his dinner date with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley cautiously optimistic that a corner has been turned. The pair, along with the Spaniard’s staff and players, ate together at a Ponteland restaurant on Wednesday evening as Ashley tried to steady the ship after months of unrest on Tyneside with the manager’s contract extension still pending after a difficult summer transfer window.
Benitez was refusing to shed any light on the nature of the discussions around the table, but did hint that progress had been made with the sportswear magnate, who has attended the club’s last two games after a 16-month absence.
Asked if he is more positive about January and a chance to belatedly strengthen his squad, he said: “I hope so. He [Ashley] knows my ideas and I know his ideas.
“If you talk about everything and you see the games, it would be easier for everyone to understand. Still, I have a lot of confidence and I’m very positive about this team.
“But still if we can do something, it will be better.”
That said, Benitez is well aware that the January window is a notoriously difficult one in which to do business – he drafted in keeper Martin Dubravka and winger Kenedy on loan to great effect last year – and will reserve judgment until the time comes.
He said: “It’s difficult because a lot of players are involved in Europe and it will not be easy for us to bring them here.
“At the same time, it’s a nice city, a good place, fantastic fans and it’s an opportunity for players to come to the Premier League and show everyone they can do a job here. I am quite optimistic, but at the same time realistic.”