Miles Starforth: This is why Sean Longstaff can succeed at Newcastle United
At Craik Park on Tuesday night, there was a familiar face in the crowd.
Just three days after suffering a knee injury at the London Stadium, Sean Longstaff was mingling with fans at Morpeth Town’s more modest home.
The Newcastle United midfielder, walking with the aid of crutches, was supporting his younger brother Matty and his former team-mates in the club’s Northumberland Senior Cup tie, which they lost 2-0.
Longstaff was described as a “true ambassador” for the club by one fan.
After 11 successive league and cup starts for Newcastle, Longstaff’s feet remain firmly on the ground.
There’s been a lot said about Longstaff’s ability on the ball over the past couple of months. But what’s been said about his character is just as telling.
Rafa Benitez – who promoted Longstaff to the first-team squad last summer – spoke about Longstaff’s family.
The 21-year-old’s father, David, captained Great Britain’s ice hockey team and is now player-coach of Whitley Warriors. And Longstaff has had the right guidance from his family.
“The family has experience in sport, so that’s important to give him the right advice,” said Benitez, United’s manager.
“And at the same time – as I have said so many times – he’s someone who is listening and he’s trying to do what you are telling and he will have more chances to do well.
“If he can follow the advice at home and follow the advice here, I think he will be fine.”
Longstaff’s team-mates have made the same point.
Isaac Hayden, his midfield partner, said: “He’s got given the chance, and he’s taken it, which is credit to him and his family.”
And Matt Richie said: “Since he has come in the group, he’s exactly the same guy.”
Longstaff’s emergence reminded me of the breakthrough Rolando Aarons, who got involved in a contract dispute months after making his first-team debut in 2014.
Speaking after Aarons scored a stunning goal against Schalke in pre-season, Pardew said: “It’s nice to see a young player really pushing, and I thought he caused real problems for Schalke – long may that continue.”
Aarons, then 18, went on to score againast Crystal Palace and Manchester City early in the 2014-15 campaign.
But the contract dispute, which was eventually resolved two years later, was seemingly an unwelcome distraction for a player still trying to make his way in the game.
If a player focuses on his football and pushes on, then bigger contracts and money will invariably follow.
Football must always come first.
Aarons – whose career has been interrupted by a series of injuries – played for loan club Sheffield Wednesday in the Sheffield derby on Monday night.
The 23-year-old, having overcome his injury problems, is playing catch-up with a once-promising career.
Meanwhile, Longstaff, expected to miss the rest of the season, must now overcome an injury setback of his own.
But he’s got he people around him to guide him.