NUFC midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng admits that he felt Rafa Benitez ‘did not like him’ following his initial struggle for game time at St James’ Park – however he believes he has shown what he can do in his impressive cameo over the weekend.
Whilst he did come on and turn the game on its head during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Watford, it’s worth remembering that this was only his FOURTH appearance of the season – with him failing to start a game since the 2-1 defeat at Man City almost two months ago.
There had been reports that Rafa was wary of his ‘lack of mobility’, however the gaffer may be thinking a little differently after his influential performance from the bench on Saturday.
Here’s what the South Korean has had to say when reflecting on his slow start to life on Tyneside:
“Obviously it was the manager’s decision that I haven’t played much,”
“There were things that the manager didn’t like about my game so I had to work really hard to get my chance; I had to be patient.
“I thought I needed time here to adapt to settle down. It was difficult with a new team but I had to wait for my chance and I knew when it came I had to take it.
“I am not saying the manager didn’t like me but clearly he wasn’t satisfied with what I was showing early on.
“That is why I didn’t make the squad. I respected that decision. He is the manager, I am a player. He has a job to do, just as we have a job to do. I knew I had to work harder.”
A refreshing approach from Ki, who’s clearly knuckled down and worked hard to force his way into Rafa’s plans – and, after his performance on Saturday, he may even start on Saturday.
Ki then insisted that he never worried that he’d made the wrong decision in joining NUFC, with him always having faith that he had the qualities to come good:
“This is my seventh season in the Premier League, so I have experienced many things and I still have faith in my own qualities.
“I believe in myself; yes it was a little bit difficult but I always knew that, given the chance, I could play in front of these fans. The manager must like me now.
“He can see now how I can help the team. He saw my free-kicks and now I have to maintain it. I never went to speak to the manager about my situation, I just waited for my chance.
“The manager always tells us it is better to work hard than complain.”
What’s good about Ki is he seems to have confidence in his own ability and, like Shelvey, he won’t hide when it comes to receiving the ball and trying to make things happen. We lack players able to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and he certainly did that on Saturday.
Finally, the midfielder also revealed what Rafa told him before he was introduced for the final 40 minutes against Watford:
“The manager just said to me try and control the game. In football, circumstances can change so quickly; someone gets injured and you get that chance you have been waiting for,”
“I have worked really hard this week, I have felt in good condition. Of course, this is a big win for all of us. It is massive for the fans as well – you could hear them celebrating.
“It is my first game for a while so I am just so pleased I can help the team at a really important time.”
He’s clearly a very talented player, with his quick passes, neat touches and whipped free kicks really catching the eye as soon as he entered the field, however it seems his fitness and mobility may have been the only things holding him back.
It remains to be seen if he’ll start against Bournemouth on Saturday – especially when they are such a high energy team with bundles of pace – but, either way, it’s great to see him show what he’s capable of, giving Rafa a positive selection headache for once.