With Aleksandar Mitrovic now banging the goals in for Fulham, it has now emerged what Rafa Benitez has had to say about the striker during a live event at the Tyneside Cinema last month – with him opening up about his decision to loan him out on deadline day.
The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas has transcribed Rafa Benitez’s response when asked about the Serbian during an event for The Times in February, explaining his thinking behind letting the Serbian go despite our desperate lack of goal threat.
His comments are believed to have drawn applause from the crowd. Here’s what he said:
“Mitro – I have had a lot of conversations with him. He needed to play and I couldn’t guarantee he would play.
“Some people say ‘Oh Rafa is stubborn and he doesn’t want to recognise he made a mistake’. No, it’s not like this. Because if it was like this I wouldn’t play Mitro at all. But I was playing him, sometimes for 20 minutes. Why? Because I wanted him to score the winning goal.
“People forget one thing: the players who play or are on the bench or on the stands but the manager is involved in every single game and I want to win every single game. For me, it’s about picking the right team to ensure we can win.
“Mitro needed to play. I couldn’t guarantee the way that we wanted to play (he would play). If you know Mitro really well – if you attack and you create a lot of chances and crosses he will score goals, no doubt that. But a team that has 40-45 or even 35% possession in some games, you have to defend in some games, you have to play counter-attack. If you don’t have all these players who can do that and you have to sacrifice something.
“We were talking about the main thing of this team – it is the team, the organisation of the team. If we don’t do that, we will be exposed. When we went 1-0 up against Man United (in the Old Trafford game) or Chelsea, we were a little bit open and we conceded.
“In the FA Cup against Chelsea we had to attack in the second half so we were open and we conceded. We couldn’t manage it. The team is the key and the characteristic of the players are crucial. For me, I have to do the best for both.”
There’s quite a clear and revealing message from Benitez here. He clearly felt that our style of play (based on the players at his disposal) would not play to Mitrovic’s strengths, therefore he had to pick a team and players suited to our system.
He admits that he has ‘no doubt’ Mitrovic would score goals if we created more chances and put regular balls into the box, but suggests that a team with 40% possession who’re forced to defend a lot does not suit the Serbian’s style of play.
He even admits that ‘you have to sacrifice something’. To all those wondering why he hasn’t played, this explains it pretty perfectly. Mitrovic has been that sacrifice.