The Chronicle have explained how Rafa Benitez attempted to keep both Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum after relegation in 2016 – also confirming that Andros Townsend and Florian Thauvin were two players he also pushed to retain.
It’s said that Benitez attempted to keep Wijnaldum by offering him the chance to spearhead our promotion push, promising that he would be free to leave the following summer if we failed to bounce back immediately.
It’s then revealed that Benitez asked Sissoko – who seemed more adamant to leave – to go out on loan during our year in the Championship in hope that he’d return once we were bag in the Premier League, but the midfielder was intent on fulfilling his Champions League dream.
A huge rebuild had to take place in the summer of 2016, with some players well past it (Coloccini and Tiote), some lacking the character required (Darly Janmaat) and others simply not good enough (Emmanuel Riviere and Steven Taylor), but the fact Benitez tried to keep a hold of these four as we headed into a season in the second tier says everything you need to know about his ambition at the club.
Lee Ryder’s report states that Benitez went into the summer of 2016 planning to ‘blitz’ the Championship and “break a host of second-tier records” in doing so, however he was unable to keep any of the 4 star men he’d earmarked.
That said, it could be argued that a few of these four did little to prove their worth on Tyneside. Wijnaldum was our top scorer that season and Townsend made an immediate impact after arriving in January, but Sissoko was incredibly inconsistent, while Thauvin had just spend the second half of our relegation season on loan at Marseille.
On the subject of Thauvin, it seems a slight surprise that Rafa was so keen to keep him. His outstanding few seasons at Marseille and call up to the French national side has highlighted just how talented he was, but his short-lived and extremely uneventful spell on Tyneside suggested he was never going to be sticking around for a season in the English second tier. The fact Rafa wanted to keep him showed he saw something in the Frenchman, however.
In the end, Sissoko joined Spurs for £30m, Wijnaldum completed a £25m move to Anfield, Palace activated Townsend’s £13m release clause and Florian Thauvin joined Marseille on loan with an obligation to buy for around £10m.
So, we gained just shy of £80m while still gaining promotion the following season, but what Benitez would give to have all four back at St James’ Park this summer.
Considering Sissoko and Wijnaldum are now set to meet in this year’s Champions League final and Florian Thauvin won a world cup winners medal just last year, Rafa must look back and wonder just what could have been.