Highs, lows and everything in between: Sean Longstaff opens up his Newcastle United rollercoaster – and his contract talks
Football’s all about highs and lows – and everything in between. And the Longstaff brothers are finding out first-hand about the game’s ups and downs at Newcastle United.
Twelve months ago, neither Sean nor Matty had kicked a ball in the Premier League. Today, they’re both first-team players.
Sean Longstaff has been on a rollercoaster since making his Premier League debut against Liverpool at Anfield on Boxing Day last year. The midfielder established himself Rafa Benitez’s starting XI, and was tipped for an England call-up, before suffering a season-ending injury in March. Then came news of Manchester United’s interest in him.
And then came his younger brother Matty, who scored on his debut against Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side at St James’s Park early last month.
The Longstaffs were on every newspaper back page the following day. However, there hasn’t been a Longstaff in the starting XI for the past two games, and that that is notable tells its own story.
Sean, suspended for his dismissal against Wolverhampton Wanderers last month, will serve the final game of his ban when 11th-placed Newcastle take on Aston Villa at Villa Park on November 25.
“It was really frustrating,” said Longstaff. “I don’t think any player wants to give up their place in the team. I think, when you get sent off, you give it up pretty cheaply, to be honest. That was one of the things that disappointed me the most.
“Look, you cannot complain. Every footballer gets sent off. It’s not like I was going to go through my whole career without getting sent off, but, at the time, it’s disappointing. But I’ve taken a step back and looked at it from a different perspective. I’ve been in the gym every day. Hopefully, I can hit the ground running when I do come back, and give the manager a headache.”
Matty, 19, was an unused substitute while his sibling served the first two games of his three-match suspension – he sat out the wins over West Ham United and Bournemouth – and life has been a bit quieter for the Longstaff family.
“That’s football, isn’t it? Things aren’t going to go your way all the time,” said Sean. “I knew I wasn’t going to play (against West Ham), but I thought Matty would. When he got left out, I was obviously really disappointed for him, but the manager (Steve Bruce) made a decision and Jonjo (Shelvey) came in and scored and Isaac (Hayden) came in and did really well.
“It’s a squad game at the end of the day, and we’re going to need everyone. The only way you’re going to be successful is with everyone doing their bit.”
Longstaff has thought more about the red card than everything that preceded it.
“To be honest, you’re more thinking about the lows of getting sent off rather than the highs of the weeks before,” said the 22-year-old. “Football changes so fast. Me and Matty were everywhere, and everyone wanted to speak to us, and the next week you’re not involved and the team win again, and you’re sort of forgotten about a bit. It’s about learning that that does happen in football, and we don’t get too carried away with what does go on.”
Longstaff, however, has had some time for reflection.
“I’ve come a really long way, from breaking in to getting injury and the speculation in the summer and starting the new season,” he said. “Obviously, I’m still loving every minute of it. The fact that I can go out there every week and play football for the club I supported as a boy is pretty amazing.
“We’re going to keep working hard, and hopefully there’s a chance for us both to get back into the team at some point.”
A new contract for the elder Longstaff has been on the agenda at St James’s Park since March. There has been little progress in recent months, though he isn’t letting that distract him.
“It’s up to the club, (and) what they want to do,” said Longstaff. “There have been conversations. I don’t want to give too much away. That was a little while ago. But I’m not really worried about contracts and stuff like that. I’m just trying to concentrate on football. At the end of the day, that’s what I want to do. You didn’t play when you were younger to worry about contracts and this and that, and that’s how I’m looking at it now. I’m just continuing to work hard and do my job every day.”
Longstaff has also got involved in charity work this year, having been appointed as an ambassador for the Newcastle United Foundation, which helps children, young people and families across the North East.
“Being from up here, you see the amount of work they do and the amount of people they help,” said Longstaff. “For me to play a little part in that, I’m really proud of that”
The Foundation helped James Geddes, Longstaff's neighbour, during his cancer treatment. Longstaff presented Geddes with the Adult Learner Award at the charity’s annual dinner at St James’s Park this month.
“My next-door neighbour got diagnosed with cancer, and the Foundation started working with him,” said Longstaff. “I’ve known James since he was four. You see him getting fitter and stronger every week, and that’s got a lot to do with the Foundation.”
Longstaff had been out of the spotlight at last year’s Foundation dinner. It was a different story this year.
“I remember coming last year, and I was sort of stood at the other end of the room when everyone was getting interviewed,” he said. “They didn’t want to speak to me! It’s funny how things change in a year. The fact that I can come back and play a bigger role now is great for me.”
Longstaff is focused on playing a bigger role on the pitch when he returns from his ban. It’s only just begun for him – and his brother.