Newcastle get back to ‘football business’ after tax raid

(FILES) This file photo taken on May 24, 2015 shows Newcastle United's English owner Mike Ashley (L) ...
(FILES) This file photo taken on May 24, 2015 shows Newcastle United's English owner Mike Ashley (L) flanked by managing director Lee Charnley at St James Park, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, north east England. British and French authorities searched premises on both sides of the Channel on April 26, 2017 arresting several men and seizing financial records over suspected tax fraud in the football industry, officials said. According to local news reports one of the raids was on Newcastle's St James' Park ground with managing director Lee Charnley among those arrested. / AFP PHOTO / Ian MacNicol

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez on Thursday tried to turn the attention back to his club’s promotion to the Premier League, a day after the club was raided by British tax authorities.

Magpies managing director Lee Charnley was arrested and later released without charge on Wednesday by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as part of an Anglo-French investigation into suspected tax fraud in football totalling millions of pounds.

West Ham United, already a Premier League club, also saw HMRC officials descend upon their London Stadium and Rush Green training ground as well.

However, there were no arrests at West Ham, and no phones or computers were confiscated.

For northeast side Newcastle, the week started in celebratory mood, with Benitez guiding them back to the Premier League at the first time of asking when their promotion was confirmed Monday.

The party mood at St James’ Park became rather more serious Wednesday with Charnley’s arrest, but Spanish boss Benitez insisted it was now business as usual ahead of Newcastle’s match away to Cardiff City in the second-tier Championship on Friday.

“There is an investigation about something that happened four or five years ago,” the 57-year-old Benitez explained. “I will not talk about the investigation.”

The former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss added: “What we did was train as usual, a normal session. Today I talked with Lee about pre-season.

“We are trying to do football business in the same way.

– ‘Take the positive’ –

“A friend was telling me that we were lucky that we were promoted already, so I will take the positive. The positive thing is that we have done our job, and we enjoyed that for a couple of days.

“We have to be really proud of what we did, wait, and just do what we have to do, concentrate on football.”

Benitez said Newcastle owner Mike Ashley had called to congratulate him but was coy on whether he himself would stay at St James’ Park.

“If you are asking if he has congratulated me, yes, and we will discuss the future of the club, the future of myself and everything. We will do it in the professional way that I like to do things,” Benitez told a pre-match news conference.

“I will have the meeting with him in, I don’t know, days or maybe a week, or something like this.”

As for his own future, Benitez said: “I need to talk with Mike and it depends on how things are going whether I am optimistic. At the moment, I am quite happy.

“We have been fighting hard to go back to the Premier League and we will do our best to be sure we have a competitive team and that we can challenge for whatever.”

Meanwhile West Ham manager Slaven Bilic refused to comment on the raid at his club, which was unsurprising given he and his players had been enjoying a scheduled day off on Wednesday.

They weren’t at the training ground or the stadium, while West Ham joint-owners David Gold and David Sullivan, and vice-chairman Karren Brady, were also not present when the raids took place.

Bilic instead found himself Thursday talking about the all-too familiar story of Andy Carroll being ruled out, with a groin problem sidelining the England striker from Saturday’s league match at Stoke.

“I did expect him to be back for this game, but he should be for the next game against Spurs,” Bilic said.

West Ham have won just one of their last 10 matches but appear safe from relegation, although Bilic was taking nothing for granted.

“It is a good gap of seven points (to the relegation zone) but we need points,” he said.

“People are talking about who is safe but it is irrelevant. With four games to go we are talking about (a maximum return of) 12 points and we have to concentrate on our next game.”

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