Hayden and Atsu were retained in the Magpies’ squad from last season, after earning promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship, and Benitez has stated that their ability to learn and adapt convinced him to hold on to them.
“Quality is not just that they can pass, they can put the ball in the top corner or things like that. It’s about whether they can understand the game, and whether they have the margin to improve,” Benitez replied, as quoted by Chronicle Live, when asked how he decides whether a player can make it in the top flight.
“Some players you can see that, maybe, they can improve a lot, and others who you think are close to their maximum level. It’s something you have to consider.
“When we signed Hayden, he is a young player so he can improve.
“How much? We don’t yet know. It depends on him too – on how much he wants to learn, if he listens to you and pays attention to details in the training sessions. You have to feel that they want to.
“For example Atsu. Some people were saying at the beginning: ‘Oh Atsu, why will we keep Atsu?’ But he is very cheap now, when you see the market he is very cheap, and you can see that he can improve.
“Can he be at the level that we need for him to do ‘this’ or ‘that’? I don’t know, but he’s someone that you know has improved and will keep improving because he’s keen to learn.”