Achraf Lazaar opens up about his second chance at Newcastle United
Achraf Lazaar, finally, is smiling again at Newcastle United.
The defender, signed from Palermo three years ago by Rafa Benitez, has never played a Premier League game for the club. And his last two pre-seasons have been spent at the club’s Academy.
Lazaar, under contract until 2021, was frozen out by Benitez two years ago – and his career on Tyneside looked to be over without him kicking a ball in anger in the top flight.
However, a manager took a chance on him in January and signed him on loan at a Championship club. His name? Steve Bruce.
And Lazaar could yet have a career at St James’s Park, where Bruce has succeeded Benitez as manager.
The 27-year-old left-back – who had an unsuccessful loan at Benevento the season before last – is already indebted to Bruce, having regained his confidence with his help in English football’s second tier.
Lazaar, now, is focused on improving once again – and finally proving himself at United.
Asked about the past two years, Lazaar said: “Before I was thinking it was one big drama for me, because I never thought it would happen to me – not playing, being in a big team and then put outside of the team. But I got a big experience, and I went to Sheffield Wednesday.
“They helped my career. They helped me a lot. I got my confidence. I got everything I needed to have. I’m back here and I’m going to give everything and work hard every single day and we will see what will happen.”
Lazaar – who started Wednesday night’s 4-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers in Nanjing, China – is looking forward to working again with Bruce, who has joined his players in Shanghai ahead of Saturday’s Premier League Asia Trophy game against West Ham United.
The game precedes the tournament final between Wolves and Premier League champions Manchester City, who beat West Ham 4-1.
“Before I went to Sheffield Wednesday I talked about him with my team-mates in Morocco and some team-mates in England,” said Lazaar, who went to Hillsborough with United team-mate Rolando Aarons.
“They talked so good about him. He’s helped a lot of people. He’s a great manager. I’m so happy to see him again and work with him, because I think he was one of the people who helped me a lot. I’m happy he signed for the club. I can’t wait to see him and to work again with him. We will see. He will.”
Lazaar is keen to draw a line under the Wolves game and focus on the third-place fixture. The team will then return to England to continue their pre-season preparations ahead of a July 30 fixture against Hibernian at Easter Road.
“When you lose, always, you don’t like it,” said the Morocco international. “Now it’s pre-season, and we have to get more fit. We have to know what we have to do. We get prepared for the Premier League. It’s hard. We have to work harder and think now about the next game.”
Aarons, a second-half substitute against Wolves, could also have a second chance at Newcastle under Bruce, having been told, like Lazaar, to find a new club by Benitez. The 23-year-old is also under contract at the club until 2021.
Speaking about Aarons in April, Bruce said: “His career seemed to have fallen off the cliff a little bit, so you blow him a little bit of confidence, put an arm around his shoulder and remind him what a good player he was – which I remember when he first burst onto the scene."
Meanwhile, Elias Sorensen has spoken about his first-team debut.
The striker – who could be loaned out this season – came off the bench against Wolves in Nanjing along with a clutch of other young players in the second half.
"It's still a big confidence boost for us coming out here, whether we play or we go out on loan,” said the 19-year-old. "We’ve made our first-team debut now, so hopefully we can impress the manager."
Benitez didn’t think Sorensen was ready to challenge for first-team football at Newcastle. Bruce, however, will make his own judgement after watching him play and train in pre-season.
On the arrival of Bruce, Sorensen said: "You always wanted to impress. You wanted to impress (caretaker coach) Ben Dawson. Steve Bruce coming in now is a big boost. Hopefully, we can impress him and stay with the first team."
Sorensen, however, was disappointed at the Wolves performance and result.
“It was disappointing,” said Sorensen. “If the first goal doesn't go in via deflection, it's maybe a different game. But, at the end of the day, we lost 4-0, and it's just not good enough.
"We had more control in the second half. We had more possession, and were more composed on the ball, but, obviously, we still lost 1-0 in the second half. It was an improvement in the second half, but we now look forward to Saturday."