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July 17, 2019

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Rafa’s exit a surprise, says Ritchie

Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie said yesterday that he was “surprised” and “disappointed” to see manager Rafael Benitez leave the English 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 on Wednesday.

But the time is ticking down to Newcastle’s EPL 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 favorites 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, Ritchie, 29, 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 fans have made clear they do not want lifelong fan Bruce at Newcastle, added: “The key thing is that we have to create a togetherness from top to bottom and everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Newcastle, which has seen Ayoze Perez move to Leicester City and will lose fellow forward Salomon Rondon, plays Wolverhampton Wanderers today. The other match in the tournament is between EPL champion Manchester City and West Ham United.

Ben Dawson, Newcastle’s academy head of coaching, and under-23s head coach Neil Redfearn are overseeing preseason work in Asia.


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