Matt Ritchie: I dropped out of Premier League to move to '˜another level' with Newcastle

Matt Ritchie just had to think back to Newcastle United's darkest hour last season when he was offered the chance to join the club.

Wednesday, 3rd August 2016, 9:30 pm
Matt Ritchie

Ritchie recalled the game that spelled the end for Steve McClaren.

And his mind was soon made up.

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The winger was in the Bournemouth side that deservedly won 3-1 at St James’s Park in March.

McClaren was gone the following week.

But it wasn’t the game itself that Ritchie, preparing for tomorrow night’s Championship opener against Fulham at Craven Cottage, remembered when he was approached about a move to Newcastle earlier this summer.

The club was second-bottom of the Premier League, yet there was 52,107 at the stadium that day.

Rafa Benitez

“They were right down the bottom, but there were still 52,000 here that day,” said the 26-year-old. “That says a lot about the club.

“The fans want the club to be on the front foot.

“Even though I came here last season, and it was a bad time for the club, as soon as I heard the interest from Newcastle, it was what I wanted to do after a small amount of thinking.

“The manager staying is a huge positive. Everything is going in the right direction.

Rafa Benitez

“We have a lot of quality in the group, and are still adding to that.

“Everyone is pulling in one direction, and we all know what the club wants to do.

“It is great to be involved in this and I want to contribute.”

While Gosport-born Ritchie – who made his home debut in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Vitesse Arnhem – has stepped out of the Premier League, he feels moving to Newcastle was the right decision given the solid foundations that manager Rafa Benitez is putting in place.

“It was the size of the club that attracted me – you only have to look around you,” said Ritchie.

“I had a fantastic time at Bournemouth, and I wouldn’t belittle them in any way, but this football club is at another level in terms of structure.

“Yes, I’ve come down to the Championship, but this is a good league. It won’t be easy to get out of, by any means. We won’t be winning week in, week out, even though we’ll be expected to.

“It’s a tough test and one I’m relishing. So is the team.

“The fact the manager stayed is huge. We’re in safe hands as a team and a club.

“The plan is to get promoted. The players we’ve signed have experience in the Premier League.

“We have a very positive feel around the group. That will only get better and stronger with wins, and that’s how we want to start on Friday.”

Ritchie feels he can take his career to a “new level” under Benitez, who committed himself to the club in the wake of relegation.

Asked how it felt to be wanted by a manager of Benitez’s calibre, Ritchie said: “That felt fantastic. As a footballer, to know he wanted me gives me a lot of confidence. But I can’t take my foot off the gas for a minute.

“I’m at a crucial stage in my career at 26, I’d like to kick on to a new level with a massive club like Newcastle.

“If we can get back in the Premier League, then there is no reason why we can’t be a top club.”

But what does Benitez expect from Ritchie?

Ritchie said: “He joked that he wants goals and assists – and I’m sure he does! But that’s what I’ll be looking to bring – flair, goals, assists.”