Jamaal Lascelles wasn’t on the pitch the last time Norwich City came to St James’s Park.
In fact, he wasn’t even in the squad. Lascelles watched the game, which Newcastle United won 6-2, from a box at the stadium.
It’s a big responsibility. As an individual, I’ve got to stay positive all the time, even if I want to lose my head or whatever or get angry.Jamaal Lascelles
Yet tonight, Lascelles will more than likely lead the team out, having been handed the captaincy on the eve of the season.
It’s a big responsibility.
And it takes a big character to handle that responsibility.
Lascelles knows he’s the one player who can’t afford to lose his head – on or off the pitch.
“It’s a big responsibility,” said the 22-year-old.
“As an individual, I’ve got to stay positive all the time, even if I want to lose my head or whatever or get angry.
“I’m only 22, but the other lads do look up to me and you’ve got to stay positive. It’s a big responsibility, but I’m a big enough character to deal with it. All the lads are backing me.
“On the pitch I’m not the only one with a voice. We’ve got some big characters on the pitch who are helping me.”
Lascelles – who has experience of the Championship from his time at former club Nottingham Forest – came to prominence late last season as Newcastle fought to stay in the Premier League.
The England Under-21 international, frustrated at what he felt was a lack of application on the field, delivered a withering critique after the club’s defeat at Southampton.
Lascelles called for more “fight and hunger and desire” from the club’s players.
This season, fortunately, it has been a different story.
Lascelles insists that he is “comfortable” with his new role.
“I’m very comfortable being captain,” he said.
“I’m outspoken, and will say what needs to be said. You can’t just have players with talent and flair. You need to make sure players are dedicated and are putting a shift in too.”
The work done by Lascelles on the pitch is seen by all every week, but the work that goes unseen can be just as important at a football club.
“We need to be tight in the changing room,” said Lascelles. “Things have got to be right off the pitch.
“You’re going to be working for each other on the pitch. If you’re doing that off the pitch, it carries on.
“We’ve got an excellent squad this year, with some great characters.”
Lascelles feels hard work has taken him from the stands to the heart of Benitez’s plans.
“When we beat Norwich 6-2, I was watching from the box,” he said. “It just goes to show how much football can change.
“I’ve gone from being out of the squad to being captain – hard work can get you there.”
Norwich are the Championship’s form team, having won their last four league games.
“It’s a massive game,” said Lascelles. “Norwich are always a good team.
“By the end of the season they will be up there, and it’s a game we have to be winning if we want to be up there.
“It’s a long season, so we need to bring it to them.”
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Huddersfield Town have already won at St James’s Park this season.
“Teams can’t be coming to our place and beating us like they did when we played against Wolves,” said Lascelles.
“They’re a good team but we have good, fit lads, so there’s no reason why we can’t turn ourselves around and get the win.”