Newcastle’s Lee Charnley hits back at Rafael Benitez claims

Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley has defended the club’s decision to prioritise strengthening the squad over improving the training ground and academy in response to criticism from former boss Rafael Benitez.

The Magpies’ hierarchy has found itself engaged in a row with the Spaniard in recent days, insisting he turned down a contract extension at St James’ Park for more money in China, while Benitez has refuted that claim and repeated his assertion that the club failed to match his ambition.

Benitez had been keen to redevelop the training ground and the academy, but left having been told in no uncertain terms that what cash was available would be used to re-shape the playing squad.

“What we have said is it is about priorities. There is a pot of money. Where is the greater need? At this time it’s on the field,” Charnley told the Chronicle.

“It’s not unreasonable, the pot of money can only go so far. You go and spend it on the training ground, it means there is less to spend on the team.

“Spend it on the academy, there is less to spend on the team; spend too much on wages, there’s less to spend on the team.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t spend in all those areas, because we do, but our view has been at this point in time, the priority is what goes on to the field.”

Charnley’s comments are unlikely to placate fans left angry by the loss of a manager in whom they had invested so much faith and, while the club broke their transfer record this summer to land Brazilian striker Joelinton, as well as Allan Saint-Maximin, Emil Krafth, Jetro Willems and Andy Carroll, the spending was offset by Ayoze Perez’s £30m departure for Leicester.

Just how many of those players would have arrived had Benitez remained at the helm – replacement Steve Bruce has been given the title of head coach rather than manager – is a matter for conjecture, with his inability to sign the men he wanted a repeated source of frustration during the latter phase of his reign.

However, an apparent unwillingness to address his concerns over the club’s infrastructure as he looked for a long-term project on Tyneside was a key factor in his exit and, while improvements do not appear to be imminent, Charnley acknowledged the need for change.

He said: “Does it mean at some point in time we would like to update the training ground? Absolutely, yes.

“Our pitches are very good, our gym is perfectly adequate and functional. Do we have a swimming pool or water facilities? No. Would we like to have it at some stage? Absolutely.”

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