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Benitez exit a surprise, says Newcastle midfielder Ritchie

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Dalian Yifang’s new head coach Rafael Benitez looks on during the Chinese Super League (CSL) football match between Dalian Yifang and Henan Jianye in Dalian in northeast China’s Liaoning province on July 7, 2019. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT

Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie said on Tuesday that he was “surprised” and “disappointed” to see manager Rafael Benitez leave the Premier League crisis club.

Newcastle has approached Steve Bruce over the vacancy and the former Manchester United defender has reportedly resigned as manager of Sheffield Wednesday.

But the time is ticking down to Newcastle’s Premier League opener on August 11 and the club has lost key players, while also in limbo over the managerial hot seat.

Newcastle fans were furious that hated club owner Mike Ashley failed to convince the hugely popular Benitez to stay, and the Spaniard has since moved to China as coach of Dalian Yifang.

Newcastle is now among the favourites for relegation — Benitez was widely praised for steering the northeast club to 13th last term.

Speaking in Nanjing ahead of the Premier League Asia Trophy, the 29-year-old Ritchie said: “To see the manager leave was disappointing because he had a good reign with the club.

“But it was a decision made between the manager and the club owners so it’s out of our hands.

“Now we have to look forward to a new manager and a new season.”

Benitez’s departure last month was particularly galling for Ritchie because it was the former Liverpool boss who recruited him from Bournemouth in 2016.

“I was surprised, I thought he was going to stay,” Ritchie said.

“But he didn’t and you have to move on as a club and as individuals and I am sure the new manager will come in with new ideas and I’m looking forward to that.”

Ritchie, perhaps mindful that Newcastle fans have made clear they do not want life-long fan Bruce at the club, added: “The key thing is that we have to create a togetherness from top to bottom and everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Newcastle, who have seen Ayoze Perez move to Leicester City and will lose fellow forward Salomon Rondon, play Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday.

The other match in the mini pre-season tournament is between Premier League champions Manchester City and West Ham United.

Ben Dawson, Newcastle’s academy head of coaching, and under-23s head coach Neil Redfearn are overseeing pre-season work in the Far East.

Dawson said he was awaiting news like everyone else on who will take over from Benitez, although all the signs point to Bruce, a former coach of fierce rivals Sunderland.

“Obviously all we can do is focus on the job out here,” said Dawson.

“We are just taking it day by day.”

Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey said that no matter who eventually replaces Benitez, “we must be prepared to fight every week and make sure we don’t let our fans down.

“There is nothing as players that we can do (regarding the manager), just do your job and get on with it.”


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