Isaac Hayden signed for Newcastle United in July 2016, for around £2.5m worth of Mike Ashley’s wallpaper.
In the season leading up to his transfer to NUFC, Hayden spent the 2015/16 season with Hull City, on loan from Arsenal. He made 24 appearances for the Tigers as they won promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs (having finished 4th behind Burnley 1st, Boro 2nd & Brighton 3rd).
Prior to this, he had only made two senior appearances for Arsenal. When his loan deal at Hull expired in the summer of 2016, Arsene Wenger had already made his mind up that Hayden would be free to leave the Gunners, as he didn’t see a future for him at the North London club.
In stepped NUFC and Rafa Benitez…
I knew very little about Isaac when the club announced the signing. I had seen him play on TV at England youth level a couple of times, where in his earlier career he would often be deployed at right full back. I don’t recall ever noticing him playing for Hull in that promotion season.
My first impressions of him were good when he gave his first interview upon signing for the Mags. He speaks with care and intelligence and oozes professionalism. It was clear he was looking to play regular games and that he was delighted to be working under Rafa. Who better to mentor you as you look to kick start your career as a pro footballer?
I was at the 4-1 win vs Reading at St.James’ Park in August 2016 when Isaac scored his first goal for the club. A hugely important goal which served as the platform towards our first win of the Championship winning season, having got off to a terrible start with two defeats in our first two games. He played so well that day and showed glimpses of the potential that he held.
Clearly Rafa saw Hayden’s future lying as a holding midfielder, rather than full back where he had been used most regularly previously to signing for Newcastle.
Towards the end of the season as we were pushing Brighton hard for the title, Isaac popped up with another important goal down at Cardiff, getting our 2nd in a 2-0 win, after Christian Atsu had scored a beautiful free kick. Hayden’s goal was also taken well, as he hit a low arrowing shot from outside the box with his weaker left foot which nestled in the side netting.
SEASON REVIEW: April had it all and it ended with these two superb goals as United celebrated promotion 🎉
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) June 13, 2017
Already accustomed to the Championship from the previous season, Hayden made numerous solid and assured performances for us as we went on to lift the winners trophy in 2017. He finished as our 2nd highest rated player for the season (behind Ciaran Clark) according to stats held on whoscored.com
He made 28 starts and 5 sub appearances for us that campaign, in the long drawn out 46 game season of England’s 2nd division, notching those two important goals at key times. And all this considering he also missed seven games due to ankle surgery in February 2017.
He even took part in some Brighton-bashing banter…
So Newcastle United returned to the Premier League for the 2017/18 season and Hayden was retained by Rafa as part of that season’s squad. Hayden struggled to force his way into the central midfield which was dominated by Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame, who had a great season as a pairing.
Hayden was used mainly as a second half substitute. He made 15 starts and 11 appearances from the bench that season, scoring just the one goal in a 2-2 draw away at Southampton early in the campaign.
Hayden Tweeted this after the 3-0 demolition of Chelsea at St.James’ Park on the final day of the 2017/18 season…
So onto the most recent 2018/19 season. Hayden was strongly linked with a move to Brighton in the summer of 2018, after expressing his desire to leave the club and move back down south for family reasons. The move to Brighton fell through however as NUFC (unsurprisingly) failed to sign a replacement for the defensive midfielder. So Hayden would remain at Newcastle for the immediate future at least.
His first appearance of the season was in our 2nd game of the campaign, down at Cardiff City. Javier Manquillo went off at half time with an injury, Hayden replacing him at right back. On the 67th minute, Hayden lost his head and went in studs up above the knee with a tackle from behind on Josh Murphy. There was never going to be anything other than a red card for a challenge like that nowadays in this league.
Newcastle of course battled on and Kenedy saw his 96th minute penalty saved by Cardiff keeper Neil Etheridge, resulting in what felt like a hugely disappointing 0-0 draw.
Hayden came out after the game and apologised to the fans via social media. At this point, who on earth could have foreseen the brilliant string of performances that he would go on to deliver for the Toon in the rest of the campaign!?
Following this incident and subsequent suspension, Hayden really got his head down and put in some energetic defensive displays for the Toon. I can’t help but think this was motivated by a desire to put himself in the ‘shop window’. Although as I said earlier, he is a professional lad and I’m sure he does care about playing well for us. He understands Newcastle Utd. At home games he and Jamaal Lascelles have regularly been the last remaining players on the pitch after the full time whistle, applauding the fans.
Let’s not forget that Hayden had to step up to the plate during lengthy periods of injury for Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame this season. He made a number of appearances with rookie Sean Longstaff in the middle of the park and the pair really hit it off, producing some fantastic displays together. Most notably, Longstaff and Hayden were instrumental in the 2-1 victory over Premier League Champions Manchester City at St.James’ Park in January.
I remember being terrified pre-match that they would be absolutely embarrassed by City’s central midfield of the world class Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. Instead what we saw was a non-stop, energetic, relentless performance from Hayden and Longstaff, who followed Rafa’s instructions to the letter, resulting in one of our most memorable results of recent times.
In that game, it was in fact Hayden who got the assist for Rondon’s brilliant equaliser, and then Longstaff who won the penalty which saw Matt Ritchie score the winning goal from the penalty spot to leave Pep Guardiola crying into last season’s Premier League trophy.
I was at Molineux to record the matchday podcast for True Faith for our 1-1 draw with big spending Wolves. I remember being absolutely delighted for Isaac Hayden when he scored the opening goal of the game. He thoroughly deserved it after the consistently high level of performances he had produced prior to that match.
And then after the 3-2 defeat to Premier League runners up Liverpool, St.James’ Park sang “There’s only one Isaac Hayden” as the players took part in their end of season lap of appreciation. I distinctly remember thinking to myself at the time, who’d have imagined we’d be singing that after his red card at Cardiff!? Its testament to the way the lad has gone about his work since that incident, but also recognises the effort and love he has shown for NUFC since arriving at the club in 2016.
Hayden made 21 starts and 4 sub appearances for NUFC in 2018/19, scoring one goal and chipping in with four assists too.
It’s a great shame that he will likely be leaving this summer. His contribution will be a huge miss. I just hope that we get the transfer fee that is deserved for him. In this market, young English players of his ability go for around £25m, right? He’s certainly done his reputation and price tag no harm over the majority of this season that’s for sure.
There is no doubt that Hayden has reached his potential under the guidance of Rafa Benitez. Good luck to Isaac for the future, wherever that may be.
By Rob Clothier
Follow Rob on Twitter @tfRobC