Rafa Benitez signing reflects on ‘dream’ of playing for Newcastle United

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The defender suffered a number of serious injuries during his time in black and white.

Former Newcastle United defender Florian Lejeune has described the mixed emotions he experienced during his four-year stay on Tyneside.

Former Magpies manager Rafa Benitez persuaded the former Girona and Eibar centre-back to join United in a £9million deal in the summer of 2017 as his side prepared for life back in the Premier League.

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After impressing during pre-season, Lejeune suffered an ankle injury on his competitive debut following a poor challenge from Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Harry Kane.

He returned to make 24 appearances during his maiden season at St James Park but his injury nightmare returned when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in training ahead of the 2018/19 season.

Once again, he returned to fitness, only to suffer a similar injury in his other league during a 1-0 defeat against Crystal Palace in April 2019.

Steve Bruce had replaced Benitez by the time Lejeune battled back to full fitness but never really seemed to retain full faith in the French defender.

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Ironically, the high point of Lejeune’s time at Newcastle came under Bruce as he scored two injury-time goals to help United battle back to earn a point in a 2-2 draw at Everton in January 2020.

The centre-back joined Spanish side Alaves on an initial loan move eight months later before converting the deal into a permanent switch last summer.

Lejeune recently reflected on his time at Newcastle and admitted the injuries he suffered were ‘a tough blow’.

“It was a dream to play in England and when Benítez called me for Newcastle I didn’t hesitate,” he told AS.

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“At the beginning, it was all good, but in pre-season I injured my cruciate muscle. I had the operation in Rome and came back quite quickly.

“Then I played 13 or 14 games in a row, and I broke the one in the other leg. It was a tough blow.”

After suffering relegation with Alaves last summer, Lejeune joined Rayo Vallecano on a season-long loan during the summer and has scored one goal in four appearances as his side sit in mid-table in La Liga.

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