Rafa has urged Newcastle United fans not to turn on Jamaal Lascelles, and claimed it would be wrong to read too much into the captain’s show of support for Mike Ashley.
Having signed a new long-term contract on Thursday morning, Lascelles conducted a lengthy press conference in which he described Ashley as a “nice man” and called on supporters to drop their planned protests against the Newcastle owner.
Those comments have sparked an impassioned reaction on social media, with some fans criticising the centre-half for taking Ashley’s side and others backing his decision to speak out.
It remains to be seen how Lascelles is treated when he walks out at St James’ Park ahead of tomorrow’s home game with Watford, but Ashley is desperate for the fans not to make life difficult for their club captain. Newcastle kick off tomorrow’s game sitting in 19th position, having failed to win any of their opening ten league matches.
“It’s common sense,” said Benitez. “What do we have? Eleven players on the pitch and a squad on the bench. A manager can make a mistake with a substitution or selection. But we have what we have.
“Because of that, you have to support your family, this is our family. We have to support everyone, from the first minute to the last. After, you can say, ‘I don’t agree, I’m not happy with that’. But we need players performing on the pitch.
“Jamaal is giving everything on the pitch. He has signed an extension because he cares. We have to support him as much as we can. Then, we can agree or not with his opinions. You can have the worst opinionated player in the world but, if he’s scoring a goal every game, the fans will love him.
“In this case, we are talking about the captain of the team, someone who cares. We cannot change our support to this player because he said this, or said that. Then we have to be sure that, next time, he chooses the words to understand the feelings of everyone.”
Lascelles’ opinion on Ashley was formed from his one face-to-face meeting with the Sports Direct boss, which came at a team dinner in Ponteland last month.
The 24-year-old must be aware of the wider issues pertaining to Ashley’s controversial stewardship of the Magpies, but Benitez claims Lascelles’ comments on Thursday were an off-the-cuff remark that related solely to his experience of dining with his club’s owner.
Whether they were a sensible thing for the Newcastle skipper to say given the tensions that exist between the Magpies’ supporters and Ashley is a moot point, but Benitez remains adamant it would be wrong to be too critical of the comments.
“He is a young lad, the environment was a dinner and the theory was to create a good atmosphere,” said the Newcastle boss. “You cannot say he knows the owner, his first impression was that, that’s it, he said that. For us, it’s really more important to concentrate on what we can do on the pitch, not what he said. It won’t change anything.
“His first impression was at a dinner in an environment that was quite relaxed. And he said that. After we can put headlines.
"The reality is that this is the only time Jamaal has met him. That’s it. A lot of people when you talk to them they are fine, then after you don’t like them too much, or he’s nice. In this case we are talking about one conversation with the owner, talking about general things, not just about football. That’s it. We have to move forward.
“He’s a young player and a young captain. When you go to interviews maybe there’s an issue you cannot control and you don’t know the big picture. It’s difficult. He’s 24 years old and he has to have an opinion about something when he does not know all the details.”