Benitez exit a surprise, says ‘disappointed’ Newcastle midfielder Ritchie

NANJING, China (AFP) – Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie said yesterday that he was “surprised” and “disappointed” to see manager Rafael Benitez leave the Premier League crisis club.

Newcastle have 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 are now among the favourites for relegation – Benitez was widely praised for steering the northeast club to 13th in the league 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.

Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie and manager Rafael Benitez. – AFP

“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 moved to Leicester City and will lose fellow forward Salomon Rondon, play Wolverhampton Wanderers today.

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