Rafa Benitez’s future is without doubt the biggest issue at St James’ Park at present, but it’s occurred to me just how many of our playing staff could also be heading out the exit door this summer.
So much so, I’ve worked out there could be up to SEVENTEEN senior players departing over the coming months.
Here’s a look at all, with me breaking them down into groups of first-team players, loan men returning to their parent clubs, squad players set to be moved on and Rafa’s rejects whose exits have been long overdue:
First-team players likely to leave
1 – Jonjo Shelvey – Rafa’s not been playing him despite his return to fitness and it feels more and more like we’ll cash in this summer, with on being one of our top earners and worth too much to sit on the bench. A move to West Ham has been touted.
3 – Isaac Hayden – He’s handed in transfer requests over the past two transfer windows and has admitted recently that his stance hasn’t changed, with him keen to return to his family down South.
3 – Matt Ritchie – Talk of his future already being decided has been denied by Benitez, but the 29-year-old was heavily linked with a move away last summer, with it being reported on several occasions that Rafa would’ve cashed in on him if it enabled Andros Townsend’s return. One to watch.
4 – Mo Diame – The midfielder will leave on a free this summer if a new deal isn’t offered to him over the coming month or two. It’s said that he’ll trigger a automatic one-year extension if he starts TWO of our last four games, but recent injuries and the return of Ki and Shelvey may put pay to that.
Loan players returning to parent club
5 – Salomon Rondon – Set to return to West Brom this summer once his season-long loan deal expires. He’s a strong contender for our player of the season, with more goals and assists than any other player, but it remains to be seen if Ashley will agree to sign a 29-year-old; even if a £16.5m release clause will be active again should the Baggies fail to win promotion.
6 – Dwight Gayle – The 28-year-old has bagged 21 Championship goal during an impressive loan spell with West Brom and admitted recently that he’d be happy to stay permanently. I can’t see him returning to sit on the bench and can see us offer him in a part-exchange in a bid to sign Rondon.
7 – Kenedy – The Brazilian has had a woeful season and is highly unlikely to return. Whether it be another loan or a cut-price permanent deal that is offered our way this summer, I don’t see Benitez wanting him back.
8 – Antonio Barreca – Aside from a late cameo at Spurs a few months ago, he’s not played a minute of football for us since arriving on loan from Monaco in January, with him even failing to make Rafa’s matchday squads. It’s safe to say he won’t be returning.
Squad players set to be moved on
9 – Joselu – The Spaniard is clearly not good enough at this level and his lack of minutes this season has suggested his time at St James’ Park will come to a close this summer. He’s played just 9 minutes of football in the league since the turn of the year and looks set to move on.
10 – Ciaran Clark – He’s done a good job when called upon this season, scoring a few goals and slotting in well at the back, but with Lascelles, Lejeune, Schar, Fernandez and Dummett all ahead of him in the pecking order, I can see him joining a newly promoted Premier League side or top six Championship club to gain some regular first team football. A return to Villa perhaps?
11 – Karl Darlow – The former Forest man is a capable goalkeeper but he’s not going to get anywhere near that no.1 spot after Martin Dubravka’s emergence. Like Clark, I can see him going to a top Championship side or side battling to stay up in the Premier League in search of regular game time.
12 – Jacob Murphy – Currently on loan at West Brom and set to return this summer, but I struggle to see how he’s going to breakthrough given how consistently he’s struggled whenever Benitez has gave him a chance. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if we cut our losses and cashed in, but another loan move could well be on the cards.
13 – Rob Elliot – He’s not featured all season and, despite seeming settled in the North-East, will almost certainly move on for next to nothing this summer.
14 – Achraf Lazaar – The Moroccan was banished to the U-23’s by Benitez before a January loan move to Sheffield Wednesday. He impressed under Steve Bruce prior to a bad hamstring injury but will he hoping to put himself in the shop window or potentially seal a permanent move to Hillsborough if he can shine in their final few games of the season.
15 – Rolando Aarons – Like Lazaar the winger was loaned to Sheffield Wednesday in January. He’s done well and impressed several Owls fans and is another who appears to have no future under Rafa, so it seems fair for all parties if we let him go permanently this time.
16 – Jack Colback – He and Benitez clearly don’t see eye to eye, with him almost certain not to kick another ball for the club if the Spaniard signs a new deal this summer. Colback’s contract expires next year, so a cut-price move to Forest could be on the cards.
17 – Henri Saivet – Currently on loan with Turkish side Bursaspor and one of the real forgotten men still on our books. Hopefully he can secure a permanent move elsewhere this summer, but we seem certain to receive a fraction of the £6m paid for him three years ago.
A huge rebuild will be needed if just HALF of these leave, although it goes without saying that several star players would most likely want out if Benitez walked away without a new contract.
Either way there’ll be BIG changes to our squad this summer, emphasising the importance of keeping Benitez to oversee it all.