Rafa Benitez won't make it easy for wantaway Georginio Wijnaldum at Newcsatle united before he joins Liverpool
Georginio Wijnaldum looked like he wanted to be anywhere but the Keepmoat Stadium.
Presumably, where he really wanted to be is Liverpool, where a lucrative contract – and Premier League football – is on offer.
But the Newcastle United midfielder spent the evening in South Yorkshire, where his team played Doncaster Rovers as he looked on. And on.
The biggest surprise was that Wijnaldum made it on to the pitch at all given that a £25million transfer is being discussed with Liverpool.
Wijnaldum played the final 11 minutes of last night’s 2-2 draw against the League Two side.
There was a chant of “Gini Wijnaldum, we want you to stay” as he warmed up earlier in the half, but there were also a few boos when he finally made it on to the field.
But Wijnaldum’s mind seems to be made up.
And his face told its own story as he got off the team coach outside the Keepmoat Stadium.
The 25-year-old didn’t stop to sign any autographs. And he didn’t smile.
Wijnaldum wasn’t even named on the official teamsheet, but that turned out to be a mistake, and he and Florian Thauvin were confirmed as substitutes before kick-off at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The future of the Holland international has dominated the headlines since the club kicked off its pre-season campaign with a convincing 6-0 win over an under-strength Bohemian in Dublin on Saturday.
Wijnaldum came off the bench and scored at Dalymount Park. But he wants to leave, and a summer departure now seems inevitable.
Wijnaldum didn’t even travel back to Newcastle with his team-mates from Ireland – he instead returned to his native Holland – and Benitez knows only players who are fully committed to the cause will be useful to him and the club in the Championship.
Blackburn Rovers defender Grant Hanley – who yesterday arrived on Tyneside for a medical after his club accepted a £5.5million bid from United – falls into that category.
Benitez fielded Jamaal Lascelles, again handed the captain’s armband, and Chancel Mbemba at centre-half against Doncaster.
Grant will give Newcastle more height in a key position in the Championship.
And the 24-year-old, a no-nonsense header of the the ball, will also give Benitez a selection headache.
As against Bohemian, there were again two holding at the Keepmoat Stadium – this time Jonjo Shelvey partnered Jack Colback – and forward Adam Armstrong was fielded as a No 10 behind striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was at the tip of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Mitrovic will have to keep his discipline better over the coming season than he did in the first 45 minutes against Doncaster.
Armstrong had United’s first chance of the game.
The 19-year-old forced a good save from Ross Etheridge with a first-time shot from a Daryl Janmaat cross.
Doncaster, however, would take the lead. Goalkeeper Matz Sels flattened John Marquis as he attempted to clear the ball in the 19th minute, and Andy Williams rolled the resulting penalty past the Belgian.
The home side had the better of the half, though Armstrong, full of running, was a danger on the break.
Doncaster added a second before the break when an unmarked Williams headed a corner past Sels.
Benitez made seven changes at the break, and Shelvey took the captain’s armband from Lascelles.
Newcastle were better. They competed better and they moved the ball better.
Second-half substitute Isaac Hayden forced a corner with a shot and then scored with a deflected shot.
There was a chant from Newcastle’s 2,252 travelling fans imploring Wijnaldum to stay – and another asking his midfield colleague Moussa Sissoko to “go” – as the half wore on.
The loudest chants were for Benitez during a half punctuated by stoppages to allow treatment to three injured Doncaster players.
It turned out to be a keenly-contested half, which is what United need ahead of what will be a keenly-contested season.
Perez struck the post in the 74th minute, but Wijnaldum finally came off the bench five minutes later.
Wijnaldum didn’t make much of a contribution during his time on the pitch, but Perez was able to salvage a draw with a 90th minute strike.
Newcastle were poor before the break, but the spirit, as much as anything else, they showed in the second half will have given Benitez some encouragement.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Sels; Janmaat (Sterry, 46), Mbemba (Saivet, 68), Lascelles (Dummett, 46), Anita (Gamez, 46); Shelvey (Wijnaldum, 79), Colback (Hayden, 46); Ritchie (Gouffran, 46), Armstrong (Thauvin, 62), Aarons (Perez, 46); Mitrovic (Gayle, 46). Subs not used: Darlow, Tiote.