The North East has been the birthplace of some of the best players to have graced the game in this country. Think Shearer, Gazza, Beardsley, Carrick to name just a few, not to mention the World Cup-winning brothers from Ashington in Bobby and the late Jack Charlton. In recent years though, Newcastle has not been synonymous with producing quality from within its youth academies.
Yes Mk1 Andy Carroll stepped out of the shadows when so-called superstars like Owen lead us to relegation. He became a talisman for the club. You could also count Steven Taylor, who was up and down but at times looked an England CB in the making, (mind you his curly haired partner may have made him look better?) or the ever-steady nowt-fancy Paul Dummett,
Despite this, there’s not much to crow about is there?
Cut to Rafa Benitez (ah remember him?) using a certain Sean Longstaff in a two-man midfield with Issac Hayden last season. We were all sceptical, but what we saw was a player with so much potential and clear ability. Tall, agile, great engine, good on the ball with a calmness way beyond his years, we had a proper player on our hands here.
Under this manager, who knows how good he could be? This prompted the hysterical media, as they often do with young British players, to throw out the “He’s the next…” line. In this instance, the comparison for Sean was non other than the passmaster Michael Carrick. No pressure eh? However Sean seemed to have the maturity to ignore it, and with Rafa behind him we weren’t worried. But then we all know what happened next.
So what’s happened to Sean this season? Why has he gone backwards?
It’s a combination struggling to recover from his injury, in my opinion. He was perhaps rushed back too soon. But the main issue for me is what happened on the touchline. He went from having a coach who was able mould Xavi Alonso in to the best defensive midfielder on the planet to good old Brucey trying to suddenly make him a No. 10.
This is a crucial time in Sean’s development, and I fear this sudden downgrade in manager has largely contributed to his form this season.
As much as I’ve stuck the boot into Bruce, there is one thing he did many of us were in huge favour of – bringing Matty Longstaff in to the side.
What an impact the kid had. A lad of 18 strutting around the park making Pogba look like a pub team player. He has tenacity, a real eye for goal and the ability to strike ball. We all beamed with pride watching the brothers smiling there way through the interview with Sky after the Man United game. I’m sure many of us thought that we could have our very own version of the Neville brothers at the club. Wouldn’t that have been fantastic? Matty showed after the Man United game that it wasn’t just a one-off and the lad gave us something to be excited about.
So that brings us to now. We couldn’t be further from those Carrick-type displays from Sean or Matty (the new Scholes?) smashing in clean driven strikes from 20 yards past top-four keepers could we?
We have a club in limbo regarding the ownership and a Championship manager at the helm. So whats next for the Newcastle Nevilles?
We hope that Sean can rediscover his form and get back to where he was, despite his dip in form. However Matty’s is a far more depressing situation. He seems to be in a stand-off with the club and the mystery as to why has many of us scratching our heads.
How has good old Brucey handled it? He’s continually thrown the young lad under the bus by telling supporters “We’ve made him a great offer and it’s up to the lad”. Whilst many fans see through this bullshit by our yes man manager, sadly many have turned on Matty and thrown the “greedy” tag at him.
But put yourself in his shoes.
He’s been head and shoulders better than the likes of Joelinton (£70k per week) and he’s seen likes of Rob Eliot (£35k per week) who hasn’t actually played for three years. Surely wanting a comparable wage isn’t that much of a crime. Or has he simply just had enough of this circus? The fact the manager has played a pub team player in Bentaleb ahead of the lad in recent weeks may have made his mind up to take the Sancho route and go abroad to develop his game.
Either way this should come to a head soon.
I can’t help but think if we’d had the previous manager at the helm, both the Longstaffs would be in a better place at Newcastle United right now, but we’ll never know. As we’re all wiping tears from our eyes at the collapse of the takeover, we need these lads more than ever. Not just for their ability as footballers, but what having them on the pitch means to the fanbase.
So let’s hope they can convince Matty his future is in Newcastle alongside his brother, who will hopefully get back to that hidden gem Rafa began to polish.
By Chris Currie