Rafa Benitez has challenged Islam Slimani to make the sort of impact Kenedy has made during his first few appearances for the club, suggesting that the striker could yet earn a permanent deal on Tyneside if he shows what he can do over the next two months.
The Leicester loanee has been sidelined with a thigh injury for the past two months, however Rafa confirmed during his press conference yesterday that the Algerian was now injury free and set to be included in tomorrow’s squad to face Huddersfield.
He’ll almost certainly have to settle for a place on the bench, but we’ll most likely see him come on for his long awaited NUFC debut at some stage.
Rafa has since spoke out about the striker, admitting that it is a big two months for his future, hoping that he can ‘give us something different’ just like Kenedy has since his arrival on Tyneside:
“When you talk about Kenedy, the deliveries, the passes, the free-kicks, the corners – and he gave us something apart from the goals the other week against Southampton.
“He was giving us something different that was helping the rest of the team; hopefully Slimani will be the same.”
‘He is the kind of player who wants to impress and I am sure over the next two months he will try to do his best because it impacts on his future too.
‘I think it’s important for us as a team and a club that he does well. But it’s also important for him personally.
‘He had a big reputation before Leicester, he scored 29 goals in a season (at Sporting). We were looking at him, we knew he was there, but when you talked about the price back then you could just forget it (he cost Leicester £29m).”
Many NUFC fans have questioned Slimani after such a long spell out with injury since his arrival two months ago, however Rafa has insisted that he trains ‘really well’ and is the kind of player who’ll be desperate to impress once he’s handed his big chance:
“He’s another player who is training really well. Even when he was injured, I remember one session he was doing with the fitness coach when he couldn’t train with the team.
“He was doing sprints, and I was joking ‘oh, listen, you are very slow!’. So he was sprinting like ‘vroom, vroom’.
“The way that he (Slimani) trains, and how competitive he is, I think that he will have chances to start games. If the others score a lot of goals, then you never know, but he’s someone who’s very competitive, and he will have his chances.”
“He was training really, really hard. He’s the kind of player who wants to impress.
Benitez was then asked about potential permanent deals for Kenedy and Slimani this summer.
He refused to be drawn into potential transfer plans, but did admit that they are two players the club would definitely consider if they impressed between now and May and contributed to our Premier League survival:
“We have to win against Huddersfield, and then after we will think about what we can do next year.
“I’m happy with them. They’re training really well, and these kind of players are the ones that if you do well and stay in the Premier League, then they are the type of players you can consider.
“But it’s too early to talk about that.”
Perhaps Rafa’s most revealing and insightful chat about Slimani yet, with him setting the striker a clear challenge to take this big chance between now and the end of the season, suggesting that he will be ready to impress in a bid to earn a permanent deal.
Let’s get behind him and hope that he can have the same sort of impact both Dubravka and Kenedy have in his next 6 weeks with the club.
I for one am quite confident he’ll provide the goal threat we’ve been missing up front – providing he can keep himself fit!