MATT RITCHIE is enjoying life at Newcastle United so much that he is not even prepared to think about leaving in the summer.
While manager Rafa Benitez waits to hear how much money he will have to spend if he can keep the club and commits to a contract extension, Ritchie has become an even bigger part of his squad in the Premier League.
Even though the Scotland international was a key performer in Benitez’s first two years on Tyneside, the former Bournemouth winger could easily have left last summer if the right offers had dropped and a replacement brought in.
Instead Ritchie remained and he is now performing impressively as a wing-back in a system that has earned rewards since the turn of the year, with Newcastle edging closer to a top ten place for the second year in a row.
The 29-year-old, who did miss a penalty in last weekend’s win over Everton, has no intention of leaving St James’ Park.
Asked whether he was happy, he said: "Yeah, 100 per cent. I'm really enjoying it. We're in the thick of a Premier League season, and it's a fantastic club. And (I'm enjoying) the role I'm in, I'm really enjoying it.”
Ritchie will be heading back to his old club Bournemouth this Saturday looking to maintain the team’s recent run of good form, which has heralded five wins from eight Premier League games.
Safety is far from certain, with the advantage to the relegation zone only six points, but the situation looks far rosier than it was before Christmas and Benitez just wants that to continue.
Benitez is still refusing to enter contract talks – and none are planned – until top-flight status has been guaranteed and then he will have detailed discussions to determine what direction the club want to head under owner Mike Ashley.
Ashley would still listen to offers from prospective buyers, although he knows to keep Benitez at Newcastle – which makes the club more attractive for a buyer – then he will have to back him and match some of his ambitions.
It is understood that Ashley will be willing to target another marquee signing in the summer transfer window if Newcastle do stay up, even though they paid a record £21m out for Miguel Almiron in January. Hoffenheim's £40m-rated Brazilian Joelinton is known to be in Benitez sights.
But Benitez will want more than that. He is keen to build on what could be two decent seasons in the Premier League by targeting the top six, and he wants to see improvements in the club’s infrastructure.