Rafael Benitez has admitted he accepted a big-money move to China after being presented with the kind of project he was denied at Newcastle.
The 59-year-old Spaniard, who had been courted by other Chinese clubs during his time on Tyneside, was unveiled as Dalian Yifang’s new manager on Tuesday after signing a two-and-a-half-year deal reportedly worth £12 million a year.
His arrival was announced just two days after his contract at St James’ Park had expired with negotiations over an extension having ended in failure because of a difference of opinion between he and owner Mike Ashley over the way forward.
In a statement on his official website, Benitez, said: “I have had offers of greater financial significance during my career, but they weren’t the project I was looking for.
“What I have found at Dalian is an incredible project that has arrived at the perfect time and this has been a major factor in my decision.
“We’ve accepted the challenge of leading a superb project with the full backing and confidence of the club’s leadership team.
“This club has all the components that we were looking for to start a new chapter with the maximum motivation.”
Those comments contrast pointedly with Benitez’s remarks over the breakdown of his talks with Newcastle as he prepared to fly out to China.
He told the Times: “I wanted to stay, 100 per cent. I wanted to develop a project, to be competitive, to compete in the cups and to be as close as possible to the top of the league, but you have to have the tools.
“If you don’t, then you suffer, because you’re at the bottom of the table, every point is massive and you know that a mistake could mean relegation. That would be a disaster for the whole city.
“If the people at the top of the club had the same ideas [as me], I would still be there.”
Benitez has taken his Magpies coaching team – Paco De Miguel, Mikel Antia and Antonio Gomez – with him and added Croatian Darko Matic, who has 10 years’ experience as a player in the Super League.
He said: “For some years, China has achieved drawing the attention of the football world towards the Super League.
“Myself and my coaching team will also try to help achieve this goal by bringing our extensive experience in having success with top European clubs to our work with Dalian.
“The challenge now is to create the foundations for success both now and for the future.
“We know it won’t be simple as there are some big rivals, but we are confident that there is huge potential and great commitment from the directors of the club to create something great at this club.”
As Benitez launches a new phase of his career in the Far East, the club he left behind is searching for a new manager amid a backlash from fans who were desperate for the former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss to stay.
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Frank Lampard will be absent from Derby training for a second-successive day as he continues to negotiate his Chelsea return.
Rams boss Lampard has been excused from reporting back for pre-season by the Championship club in order to conclude discussions with the Blues’ board.
The 41-year-old, who has two years remaining on his County contract, scored a club record 211 goals and won 11 major trophies as a Chelsea player between 2001 and 2014.
Derby owner Mel Morris believes it is only a matter of time before Lampard succeeds Maurizio Sarri as head coach at Stamford Bridge.
“I’m assuming so. Obviously it’s a matter between Chelsea and Frank at this stage, but they’ve now got the opportunity to finalise matters,” Morris told talkSPORT.
“When Frank and I first met, we discussed this very eventuality, the only difference is the timing of this.
“Our belief at this point in time is that Frank and Chelsea need to have the time now to finalise the transaction between them.”
On Monday, Derby gave Lampard an initial two days of authorised leave to complete the move.
The former England midfielder has had permission to speak with the Europa League winners since last Tuesday.
Morris said Lampard was away on holiday until Friday and believes that has been a “big factor” in delaying his potential appointment.
Derby, who were beaten in the Championship play-off final during Lampard’s first season in management, are scheduled to travel to Florida for a 10-day training camp later this week.
The Rams have already begun the search for a new manager.
“Derby County football Club has excused Frank Lampard from reporting back for pre-season training on Monday and Tuesday to allow his discussions regarding a potential move to Chelsea to be concluded as soon as possible,” read a statement on County’s official website.
“The first few days of pre-season training will be focused on fitness training and will continue as planned under the guidance of the fitness, medical, conditioning and sports science teams at the club’s training centre.
“On the assumption that Frank will reach an agreement with Chelsea to become their new manager, the club shall step up its efforts to find a replacement manager.”
Chelsea, meanwhile, have secured the permanent signing of Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid on a five-year contract for an undisclosed fee.
Croatia midfielder Kovacic made 51 appearances during a loan spell with the Blues last season.
The 21-year-old England forward has committed himself to the club until 2023, with the option of a further year.
The new deal reportedly puts the Academy graduate among the top earners at United, rewarding him for his progress since breaking into the first team in 2016.
The news also continues a positive summer for the Red Devils following the recent signings of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is rebuilding after last season’s frustrating sixth-placed Premier League finish and Rashford wants to feature prominently in the Norwegian’s plans.
“It hurts every day to see where we are now, (compared) to where we’ve been in the past,” Rashford told The Times. “I use that pain as motivation. It makes me more determined to put the club back where they belong.
“There’s nothing I want more than to see the club winning the Premier League again, winning the Champions League again.
“Everybody here deserves much, much more than what we’re giving them right now, not only the fans, the club itself. They don’t deserve to be where they are now.
“As players, we’re the ones who have the opportunity to try and forget about the past five, six years and put the club back on track.”
Wythenshawe-born Rashford emerged as Solskjaer’s first-choice striker in the closing weeks of last season.
His previous contract was due to expire next year and, with other clubs including Barcelona reportedly interested, United were keen to tie up a new deal.
Even though the team’s form was poor as the 2018-19 campaign drew to a close, Rashford enjoyed working under Solskjaer, who took over from Jose Mourinho last December.
“The fact that he understands us way more than a normal manager is why he’s fitted in straight away.”
Rashford, who also has 32 England caps, is convinced Solskjaer’s methods will come good.
He said: “That’s what drives me every day. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t be waking up every morning and giving 100 per cent to try and put the club back where they belong.
“I believe in the players, the staff and the manager. The players have the faith in the manager now.
“If we’re going to do it, now’s the time. We’re looking forward to the new season. One season is not going to change it.
“It can take two or three seasons but I feel we’re ready to take the first step, and really start showing people that we are Manchester United.”
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