By North-east correspondent Harry Sykes
Rafa Benitez has revealed he handed the Newcastle captaincy to Moussa Sissoko for their 3-0 win over Swansea because of his influence in the dressing room.
Benitez says Sissoko is a “big name” among the extensive group of French-speaking players in the squad and can be a talisman for them.
Regular skipper Jonjo Shelvey was axed from the team in one of five changes on Saturday and Newcastle responded with their first win from the new manager’s five matches in charge.
France international Sissoko, who could leave St James’ Park this summer irrespective of whether the team get relegated, produced a vastly improved performance and scored the all-important second goal to put Newcastle on the road to victory.
Benitez explained why he appointed the 26-year-old as captain for the win over the Swans.
“I am really pleased with him because since I came here, the only thing I can say is that he’s been really good in terms of his work on the pitch, the things he is trying to do in the training sessions and also the relationships he has with a lot of the players,” said Benitez, as quoted in the Chronicle.
“He is someone that they can see as a very influential player with a lot of our French players, and I think it is important because he is so good that he has confidence. It is a boost for him and also for the team.
“We have a lot of players who talk French, so then you need someone like him who is a big name for them and they can see he is a good player, a great player and if he is performing and working as hard as he has been working, the others have to follow him.”
The attacking midfielder has started 32 of Newcastle’s 33 league matches this season but his strike on Saturday was his first goal of the season.
It is a poor return for a player with 35 caps for France, although Sissoko has chipped in with five assists in the competition.
Sam Allardyce’s team won 3-0 at Norwich in the early Saturday kick-off.