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Rafa Benitez in conciliatory mood ahead of Premier League opener but refuses to be drawn on Newcastle United future

Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez.

Rafa Benitez has moved to diffuse the escalating tension at Newcastle United between himself and owner Mike Ashley.

But the manager refused to be drawn on potential talks to extend his Magpies stay beyond the end of his current contract.

Benitez called for unity at United ahead of the Premier League opener against Tottenham Hotspur today, despite a disappointing end to the summer transfer window.

And just weeks after ramping up the heat on sportswear tycoon Ashley with post-match complaints in Portugal, Benitez believes now is not the time to play the blame game - not with so much at stake in the top flight.

Although, neither does he think it’s timely to discuss his contract, which ends in May.

“It is not the right time to talk about that. I am happy here,” he said when quizzed on his future.

“I want to be sure that we can compete. That is it.

“It is my responsibility to make sure we move forward and we focus on football but that does not mean I will not have conversations with Lee.

“When a window is finished you start working on the next one.

“The scouts were doing a great job, they have some days to relax then they must start working again, thinking about the next window.”

When asked whether talks with Ashley would only suffice, he said: “I talk with Lee every day so it is no problem.”

This summer, to many has been full of distractions off the park. The Ashley-Benitez erosion of trust, the bonus row, the manager’s contract.

Benitez is keen to put the microscope solely on the football, until January at least.

“I don’t think so,” he said when asked whether his contract situation has had a negative impact.

“We have time to do things and I don’t need to explain at every press conference that we have talked.

“We know now is the time to relax a little bit and concentrate on the games. Then we have plenty of time to talk about that.”

And on the players’ dispute with the club over bonuses - which was sorted this week when Ashley called a number of the senior squad members, including Jamaal Lascelles - Benitez is delighted to have that issue cleared up.

“There were days where they were a little bit unfocused but now it is sorted out they are focused,” he said.

“I can tell you that some of them, watching the training sessions, they were suffering because they wanted a solution. After that, they were fine.

“You can change the motivation of players in one minute. As soon as it is done, that is it. You forget.”

Benitez feels like, despite a difficult window, United are much stronger than they were in May, or this time last year.

Not as strong as he’d have liked in certain areas, but stronger all the same.

A big indicator of success this season, according to Benitez, will be how new boys Solomon Rondon and Yoshinori Muto adapt.

“To bring Muto and Rondon, it could be crucial,” he said.

“Muto is someone who can run and also used his pace and he is a worker and someone like Dwight who can have chances and score. He is very clinical.

“In Germany he was not scoring 20 goals but maybe he can come to the Premier League and score goals. He will score goals. How many, I don’t know.

“We talk about characteristics of a player and Rondon he is strong, he can keep the ball and link with the others and at the same time he has more mobility. He can give us this physicality and this kind of play that sometimes we were missing when we were under pressure. He can hold the ball and move forward.

“Joselu is doing a good job but maybe is not as strong as Rondon. He has clever movements but maybe is not as quick as Muto.”

Meanwhile, reserve defender Josef Yarney has joined Morecambe on loan.