Former Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez remains a popular figure at St James’ Park following his impressive stint in charge, having guided the Magpies out of the second tier and solidified them back in the top flight amid the backdrop of the turbulent Mike Ashley regime.
One error that the northeast side may now well be ruing, however, is the Spaniard’s failure to sign Japan’s World Cup star, Ritsu Doan, with the fleet-footed forward having seemingly been a target for the Tynesiders back in 2018.
The suggestion at the time was that the Premier League side – as well as Manchester City – were keeping a close eye on the then-Groningen gem ahead of the upcoming January transfer window, with the youngster said to be available for a bargain fee of just £1.7m.
The 5 foot 9 sensation – who had begun his career at J-League side Gamba Osaka – had initially come to wider attention after scoring ten goals during a promising loan spell in the Netherlands in the 2017/18 campaign, before making the move to join the Eredivisie side permanently that summer.
As no move to England came to fruition, Doan would go on to complete the 2018/19 season at Groningen before joining Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, going on to score 13 goals and provide six assists for the club after that.
That sparkling form saw the 24-year-old snapped up by Bundesliga outfit Freiburg for a fee of around £7.7m in the summer, with that switch already proving fruitful as the winger has four goals and four assists to his name in 22 appearances so far this term, having been lauded by the club’s sporting director Klemens Hartenbach, who stated:
“Ritsu is technically gifted, can take on one-on-ones and knows how to pose a threat to goal.”
The 31-cap sensation – who has been dubbed the ‘Japanese Messi‘ – has carried that form onto the international stage, having netted a vital equaliser for his country off the bench in the stunning win over Germany on Wednesday, becoming a “national hero” in the process, as per journalist Dan Orlowitz.
The eye-catching talent lashed in from close range to draw the Asian nation level, before teammate Takuma Asano fired home from an acute angle late on to complete one of the shock results of the tournament thus far.
Although Doan had been forced to wait for his chance, he certainly made his mark in his 19-minute outing aside from just getting on the scoresheet, having also enjoyed a 100% pass accuracy rate and won 75% of his ground duels, while also recording a 7.5 match rating, as per SofaScore.
Such an electric showing has well shown Newcastle just what they missed out on, with the explosive talent’s rise also illustrated by the fact that he is now valued at around £26m, as per CIES Football Observatory, with that a huge increase on what Benitez and co seemingly could have paid for him.
As such, the latter man – and the club as a whole – seemingly had a howler on that transfer failure.