From the local park to St James's Park: The story behind Jeff Hendrick's Newcastle United move

Jeff Hendrick had dog walkers for company when he started working towards this season.

Friday, 28th August 2020, 5:00 pm

Hendrick – who hasn’t played a competitive game since March – did fitness sessions with his brother in the local park.

“There were people walking their dogs around, so a few people would have seen me,” said the 26-year-old. “Sometimes it was on my own, sometimes it was with other people, my mates like (Burnley’s) Robbie Brady, and different lads.

“My brother’s been doing my gym and running programmes for some time now. It was up to me to map it out at the park with the cones.”

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The park was mapped out with cones, but, at the time, Hendrick’s next steps weren’t mapped out.

Hendrick was ready for “something different”, and the midfielder, a free agent, was quickly sold on a move to Newcastle after four years at Burnley.

“Don't get me wrong, I had a great four years a Burnley,” said the Republic of Ireland international, who also attracted interest from AC Milan. “I really enjoyed it, we did some great things.

“But, for me, it was a great challenge probably to get back to playing in the middle where I see myself more as a player.

Jeff Hendrick.

“There were a few different things. I don't want to take away how much I enjoyed my time there a Burnley, but I'm 28 now, and it was time for something different.

“There was interest from AC Milan, I was aware of that interest, but I decided to come to Newcastle instead.”

He added: “It’s a big club, lovely stadium. I know, obviously, the fans won’t be in at the start, but a great fanbase. Growing up, Newcastle were a big team for me. Once the offer became solid, this is where I wanted to come.”

Bruce convinced Hendrick that United was the right club for him in a phone call.

Steve Bruce.

“He’s sold me a top-10 Premier League club,” said Hendrick, who has signed a four-year deal at the club. “I don’t see why not, especially with the players we have here, that we wouldn’t be targeting a top finish.

“Everyone wants that, and it’s down to us players to get out on the pitch, pick up some points – and make that happen.

“I’ve talked well about the club since I signed, and I’ve talked well about the manager too. We had a nice chat on the phone – he was brilliant.

“He seems like a really nice guy, and it’s down to me now to repay the faith he’s shown in me.”

Hendrick is the second free agent to join the club this summer, with the coronavirus pandemic, and the withdrawal of a takeover bid from a consortium which included Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, having left Bruce with a more modest transfer budget.

Hendrick doesn’t know if he’d have still been a target had the club been taken over, but, for his part, the Dublin-born player is just happy to be at St James’s Park.

“I’m not too heavily involved in negotiations,” said Hendrick. “I find out the teams that are interested in me, and the teams who wanted me and wanted to get a deal done.

“I found out Newcastle wanted to get that deal done with me, and I was delighted. I don’t know if I have benefited with the takeover breaking down.”

Hendrick just wants to get started, though he’s aware of the “demands” that come with playing for Newcastle.

“It’s good to have a demand on everything you are doing,” said Hendrick. “It keeps you on your toes, and keeps you working hard. It keeps you honest.

“I’m 28 now, I’ve played a lot games in my career, and I want to play a lot more. This was the right time to come to a club like this.”

Hendrick, often used on the right side of midfield by Sean Dyche at Burnley, is keen to play through the middle at United.

However, Hendrick, seen as a “like-for-like” replacement for former loanee Nabil Bentaleb by Bruce, faces competition there from Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and the Longstaff brothers, Sean and Matty.

“I think it should (get the best out of me),” said Hendrick. “Like I said, it’ll keep me working hard, but I suppose anywhere you go, every Premier League team is going to have competition for every position, and they're going to have good players in every position.

“It's tough but I'm sure every player in every team, in every position, is going to back themselves, and that's what I need to do.”

Asked what qualities he can bring to the team, Hendrick said: “For me, as midfielder, I think I can break and get in the box.

"I can definitely bring more goals than I have done in the last few years. I know it was difficult for me last season. I was on the right wing, and it was a bit different, and it was not a role I was used to as much.

"I always want to score more goals, and that's something I want to bring and add to my game.”

On his aims at Newcastle, Hendrick said: “It's hard to sum up for all four years, but, like I said, I think Newcastle should be aiming for and are aiming for a top-10 finish.

"There's no reason not to, and I think if you can do that early in the first year, you can try and improve each year and see where it gets you.”

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