Jamaal Lascelles' behind-the-scenes Newcastle United insight into playing for Eddie Howe
There’s been a big build near St James’s Park.
This week, NUCASTLE, the new £8million home of the Newcastle United Foundation, was opened by Shola Ameobi.
The stunning building, which features a rooftop 4G pitch and will be home to more than 30 community programmes, is impressive.
Eddie Howe doesn’t work with bricks and mortar, but what he’s built, up to now, at Newcastle United is also impressive.
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Howe inherited a relegation-threatened team which hadn’t won a game all season when he was appointed in November.
Today, seven wins later, the club is 14th in the Premier League – and looking to push further up the table. So how has he done it?
Captain Jamaal Lacelles – who attended yesterday’s opening of NUCASTLE – has pointed to the “mentality shift” at the club under Howe, who set out to get the club on the front foot after succeeding Steve Bruce.
“There is a big mentality shift in terms of what we want,” said the defender. “We go into every game now wanting the three points, even when we go down to Chelsea, we aren’t going there to sit back and hope to get a draw. We go there to win the game.
“That comes from the manager and it comes from the players the manager has signed. That’s been the quickest thing I’ve had to adapt to, and it’s the most obvious thing all the players who have been here for a while have had to adjust to as well.
“We’re not here just to survive anymore. We have a winner’s mentality, the club is ambitious, and we are part of that. You can see that in the way we play.”
Howe wanted his players to train as they play when he took charge. He demanded intensity in training – and in games.
United’s head coach quickly got the respect of his players – and he added more quality in January, when Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Matt Targett, Dan Burn and Chris Wood arrived at St James’s Park at a cost of more than £80million.
“I think the new players have added to what was already here,” said Lascelles, who was in Dubai with his team-mates last week for a training camp. “The manager was smart about that. He didn’t just go for players who are good on the pitch, he went for players who are good in the dressing room. Leaders.
“Chris Wood from Burnley, a great guy off the pitch. Kieran Tripper, leader. Dan Burn, leader. Matt Targett, he’s played how many games in the Premier League, so you’re talking well-established players.
“And then you’ve got Bruno, who has got the quality and has mixed in with the South American boys.
“The manager knows exactly what he’s doing, and, yeah, the shift in mentality is pretty much down to the manager. He’s made training so competitive. It’s just a really good place at the minute.
“We’ve got a great bunch. There’s no negativity. Before, when we have been in dressing-rooms, there is moaning about this and moaning about that.
“Everyone knows now just to nip everything in the bud, even if there’s a bit of grumbling. That can be quite a negative thing in the dressing-room, and can cause upset. But we’ve got some great lads in the dressing room that nip things in the bud straight away, to make sure nothing is an issue.
“We’re just trying to keep everything positive, and so do the staff. Training’s really hard, really intense. But at the same time it’s enjoyable – and feels fun.”
Lascelles, appointed captain aged 22 in 2016 by then-manager Rafa Benitez, has been helped by the “leaders” signed by Howe.
“It’s just made my job so much easier,” said the 28-year-old. “There’s been times here, years here, where I’ve found it difficult, trying to keep the dressing room together, keep relationships, keep things positive.
“But now, when you’ve got five, six or seven players all doing that, it just makes my job so much easier. A lot of the stuff I do isn’t necessarily on the pitch at St James’s.
“You look at the bigger teams back in the day, they’d have a group of players. You look at Man U, they’d have a group of players, lieutenants I guess.
“I think we’ve got that at the minute, like a leadership group. I think that’s a real good thing for the team.”
Howe, previously manager of Bournemouth, is known for doing extensive due diligence on his signings.
“He’s huge on team camaraderie, players with personality, people getting on, gelling together,” said Lascelles, who was an unused substitute for the club’s defeat to Everton before the international break.
“You do all those things off the pitch, you want to run an extra mile for your team-mate. Straight away, the minute he’s walked through the door, all the staff explained their lives to us, we all know every single one of his staff.
“They all know our ins and outs, my kids’ names, my kids’ birthdays. I’ve had managers in the past who wouldn’t ask.
“They just create that feeling. When you have a manager like that, staff like that, you’d run through a brick wall for them. He’s created that.”
Lascelles and his team-mates have a relationship with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi.
“That’s been really important,” said Lascelles. “I didn’t think it would be, because I’ve never really experienced it, but experiencing such a close relationship, knowing you can always ring or message … they have a lot of involvement.
"When we were out in Saudi (Arabia for a training camp), they were there. When we were in Dubai, they were there. They’re often at the training ground, we sit down and have dinner.
"Because they’ve done so much for us and for Newcastle, we want to do so much for them. They’ve lovely people as well.”
Lascelles, like Staveley and Ghodoussi, also has an interest in the club’s community work, something which it’s hoped can move to another level thanks to the investment in NUCASTLE.
“As soon as I walked in, I just thought ‘wow’," said Lascelles, who is preparing for Sunday’s game against Tottenham Hotspur. “The facilities are fantastic. I didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid. You had a community centre where there was a table tennis table – and that was it.
"There are loads of things for kids from different backgrounds and with different abilities, and it’s a real safe place as well. Parents know their kids can come here, and feel relaxed about it, because it’s a safe environment.”
NUCASTLE has opened at a good time for a club which was seemingly in disarray earlier this season.
Lascelles said: “I think it’s great timing for it to be opening. Obviously, the takeover’s happened. We’re in a lot better place in the table, and now this is opening, so it’s another positive.
"I just feel that Newcastle have been needing and wanting these positive things to be taking place. When you start to see things like this falling into place, it’s just great to see.
"I’ve been here six or seven years now, and we’ve never been in such a good place like this."