In his latest interview with The Times, Isaac Hayden has given a fascinating insight into what life is like playing under Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United.
The midfielder has enjoyed an impressive first season on Tyneside and has opened up about Benitez, giving a brilliant insight into the ways of the Newcastle United gaffer.
“Rafa’s obsessed with football. When we lost to Ipswich, I was in his office the next day at 9am, going through the clips and he told me where I went wrong.”
“He’s very honest. I could be sitting there with Jonjo Shelvey and Rafa could say ‘look, Jonjo, Isaac’s better than you at this, this and this’ and ‘Isaac, he’s better than you at this, this and this.’ Some players might not like it. But this year everybody’s got on with it, whether playing, or on the bench.”
“It’s the culture Rafa brings — a family mentality. He goes: ‘Look, if you’re not playing, it’s because of you, not because of anyone else, not because of me, it’s you. You’ve not done enough in training, or when you’ve performed, to make me want to keep you in the team.’ He’s fair. He’ll give you a chance, a game, whether it’s a cup game, 20 minutes, and you have to do something in that time to show him you want to play for Newcastle.”
“He’s made it a situation where Newcastle isn’t a stepping stone. He says you should want to put on this black-and-white shirt, going out and giving 100 per cent, and if you don’t, you won’t play. He makes it so that players are desperate to play, not only for him but for the club and that’s why we’ve had the success this season.”
“It’s not just the players who have the connection with him, it’s the fans who have a massive connection too. He’s united the club. Before Rafa came along, a lot of the lads were talking about [how] it wasn’t really a good atmosphere between the fans and the manager.”
“Steve McClaren wasn’t even the manager, he was head coach, and even the fans were sitting there, thinking ‘he’s not even the manager’. You want someone with the aura, that commanding authority that says ‘I’m Newcastle United manager’, and Rafa has that. Without Rafa, we wouldn’t have got promoted.”
“He’s been nothing but warm, whether it’s with me, the cleaners, whoever. He’ll have a ten-minute conversation with the cleaners about the match. He’ll talk to anybody, physio, players and support staff, exactly the same as if you’re Cristiano Ronaldo. It doesn’t matter to him. Although if you get him on to Real Madrid, you’ll be there for a while! He’s got stories about players, the club, [which is] all good because it adds to my experience.”
Finally, Isaac spoke about what Rafa told him in the moments before the final game of the season where, due to injuries, Hayden had to play at centre-back against Barnsley:
“I’d not played centre half in two years, and he said ‘we’ve got injuries, we need you there’ and then he said: ‘I remember when I had to tell Javier Mascherano to play at centre half [at Liverpool].’ That gave me confidence. He’s talking to me about things that he’s told Mascherano.”
Not only does Hayden show maturity beyond his years on the pitch, he seems to conduct himself admirably off it. He speaks so well and this really was an eye-opening insight into what life really is like under Rafa Benitez.
It has been clear from day one that Rafa really does ‘get it’ as manager of Newcastle United, but several of the players he’s brought in do too – Hayden being a prime example.
Hayden, unlike so many NUFC players of late, appears to understand the fans and the responsibility he has when stepping out onto the pitch at St. James’ Park.
For a player who only recently turned 22, with little experience of first team football, he’s taken it all in his stride.