Isaac Hayden reflects on his three years at Newcastle United as he waits on a move
Isaac Hayden admits he’ll leave Newcastle United with a heavy heart – if he gets his wish this summer.
The midfielder hopes to get a move at the third time of asking for family reasons.
Hayden, signed from Arsenal in the summer of 2016 following the club’s relegation from the Premier League, was a fixture in Rafa Benitez’s side in the second half of last season.
The 24-year-old felt it was his best season yet as a first-team player, though he still wants to leave the club, which last week lost manager Benitez, to be with his fiancee and young daughter, who was born prematurely in December 2017 and has needed hospital care.
Hayden has been travelling to and from London since then on his days off – and he feels this has held him back on the pitch.
However, the Chelmsford-born player, having established himself at Premier League level while at Newcastle, will have mixed emotions if he does get a move in the transfer window.
“Yeah, of course (I will be sad), but it’s not what’s best for just me,” said Hayden. “I have to sit there and think about it. I don’t even think I’ve played my best football, being honest with you. Sometimes the travelling takes it out of you.
“I think when I’m settled, and everything in my life is settled, I think I will play my best football. I haven’t played it yet.”
Hayden came into the team for the Boxing Day fixture against Liverpool last season – and didn’t look back. He got his chance after Benitez, already without the injured Jonjo Shelvey, lost Ki Sung-yueng to the Asian Cup.
Hayden would go on to form an impressive midfielder partnership with 21-year-old Sean Longstaff, who got his chance after Mohamed Diame got injured in the New Year.
Speaking at the end of last season, the former England Under-21 international said: “Yeah, I think it’s definitely the best in the Premier League in terms of run of games.
“The Championship was very different, as there were so many games. I don’t think there were many players who played every single match. But, certainly, I can’t really complain – ever since I’ve got in the team, I’ve played every game in the Premier League.
“Thanks to the manager for putting me in the team and to my team-mates, because without a team doing well, an individual isn’t going to be doing anything.”
After Benitez’s departure was confirmed, Hayden tweeted: “Thank you for everything over the last 3 years, you brought me to the club and had the faith in me to develop me as a player and person. It won’t be forgotten. All the best for the future!”
Hayden joined Newcastle after spending a season on loan at Championship club Hull City, where he played in midfield and defence.
Benitez – who left the club last week when his contract expired after talks over a new deal broke down – felt he should focus on becoming a defensive midfielder at St James’s Park.
Asked if he had developed under Benitez at United, Hayden said: “Massively, because when I came I’d probably had 25 first-team appearances – I was quite raw. “It was my first full season at a football. When I was younger, I was out for 10 months … for a season (with an ankle injury). I missed a lot of football when I was younger. I could’ve developed further. From 18-20, I didn’t really play any games. It was only that year at Hull which gave me the opportunity to play for Newcastle.
“But, you know, that first season was really my first season in first-team professional football with that pressure. The Championship was a fantastic season, I felt, for myself, and the team did really well.
“Obviously, the Premier League is a completely different ball game. To play every week at 21 or 22 … there aren’t many players who do that. It was a learning curve. We finished 10th, so it was still a good effort from everyone.”
Hayden was dismissed after coming off the bench in the club’s second game, the goalless draw away to Cardiff City, for a reckless challenge on Josh Murphy, the brother of Newcastle winger Jacob.
He quickly apologised to Benitez, his team-mates and the club’s fans on Twitter for what he described as a "needless tackle”.
“I didn’t start the season how I wanted to start for various reasons, but that happens in football, and it’s about how you react to it and deal with it,” said Hayden. “I dealt with that and reacted to it, and this is the outcome now.”
Hayden’s three years on Tyneside have left an indelible impression on him – and he hopes the for-sale club will one day realise its potential. “I think it’s there for everyone to see,” said Hayden, who has made 95 career appearances, and scored four goals, for the club since making his cut-price move from Arsenal.
“The lads get so frustrated when they hear certain things. I don’t think anyone, even people who don’t watch Newcastle or have an interest in Newcastle, have to see the potential.
“They have to see what’s there in front of them – 52,000 fans, a stadium that’s packed every week. It’s always packed. Fans home and away, a one-club city. You know, the infrastructure is there. Everything’s there.”