Rafael Benitez could have looked at the timing of the international break in two ways. On the one hand, it may have frustrated him; after two wins on the bounce at home to Watford and Bournemouth, perhaps it will kill the momentum his side were building. But for a thinker like the Magpies boss, any opportunity to stop and reassess is probably a welcome one.
Those victories were tempered by a growing injury list, too, with Jamaal Lascelles, Jonjo Shelvey and Yoshinori Muto all sitting out the second match because of problems from the first. It is not yet known whether they will return in time for the Premier League’s resumption this coming weekend; Newcastle must wait until Monday night before facing Burnley at Turf Moor, giving them the best possible opportunity to prove their fitness.
Whenever club football pauses and managers have to watch their players disperse across the globe to represent their countries, though, there is always the chance that the treatment table will get busier. Unfortunately for Benitez, that was the case. Paul Dummett, making his first competitive start for Wales having already endured a tough start to his international career, was forced off with a potentially serious injury just over half an hour into Ryan Giggs’ side’s 2-1 Nations League defeat to Denmark.
No injury is ever good news, but Benitez will know that losing Dummett for a prolonged period would be a hammer blow. Back in the heavy days of Alan Pardew’s reign as Newcastle manager, fans coined the phrase ‘Pardewed’ to describe a previously impressive player being rendered incompetent by his methods. While Dummett was brought through the youth ranks by Pardew and had no previous form to speak of, he developed a rather negative reputation and was even told he wasn’t good enough by the man himself.
If Pardew made players worse at times, then Benitez has certainly makes them better. Dummett is case in point; the negativity that seeped from the stands is no more, and a player once disregarded as ‘limited‘ is now lauded for his no nonsenoe approach. Trust is the most important factor when Benitez is picking his team; above quality and ability, he needs to know those on the pitch are doing exactly what he is asking. With Dummett, he is never disappointed.
Dummett’s injury would represent something much greater than just a solid and dependable part of the machine missing, though. As Newcastle head into the January transfer window, when, after four embarrassing and downright harmful spells in the market, Mike Ashley is reportedly preparing to spend, it is worth remembering what an injury to him has previously stood to magnify.
During the summer of 2017, when slow dealings and significant disagreements over transfer funds appeared to point to deeper issues below the surface, Benitez missed out on many targets. Not only was he forced to shop in the bargain barrel, but in some cases he missed out on strengthening key areas. On Transfer Deadline Day, with Dummett struggling for fitness after hobbling off on the opening day of the season against Tottenham, he looked to throw the dice one last time and sign a left-back.
Confident he would get someone in, Benitez was forced to make do with nobody in the end. Heading to Burnley, the same lack of options is still haunting him now and, last summer, he hunted competition for DeAndre Yedlin on the other side of the defence, but again, it wasn’t forthcoming.
On that ocassion almost 14 months ago, Chancel Mbemba filled in and did a respectable enough job. Benitez has since sold him to FC Porto, proving how ruthless he can be if the trust simply isn’t there, and he must find another alternative. The obvious name that comes to mind is Javi Manquillo, a utility man who perhaps sums up better than anyone that cost, or lack of, is top of the agenda when it comes to Newcastle signing players these days, but he has hardly pulled up trees when called upon before. Ciaran Clark could come in, or Kenedy could drop back from left wing, but losing the latter’s creative spark now he has got his confidence back would be a real issue.
The silver lining of the news about Dummett is that Newcastle’s recent resurgence has been born out of players impressing while replacing previously irreplacable first team regulars. He may not get the same recognition as Lascelles or Shelvey, but for how he represents the good and bad of the Benitez era at St James’ Park, he is every bit as important.
If anybody still doubts the manager‘s importance to the club and the team, they need only look at Dummett’s improvement over the last two-and-a-half years. But if anyone doubts the grievance of a lack of funds and backing from the board in that time, they need only look at his potential replacements over the next few weeks.
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