Newcastle United player lifts lid on 'difficult' spell out of Steve Bruce's starting XI
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Matt Ritchie thought his Newcastle United career was over earlier this season.
The winger was fit but not starting games, and a return to Bournemouth, his former club, was being discussed.
Some fans questioned why the tenacious player, involved in a well-publicised training ground row with head coach Steve Bruce in March, wasn’t in the team given the obvious need for more tenacity on the pitch during a dismal run of mid-season form which culminated in a shocking 3-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion.
However, the split-striker system didn’t suit Ritchie, a winger adept at playing as a wing-back, and it took a change in formation to accommodate Ritchie, who was recalled against Tottenham Hotspur a month ago.
"One of the reasons we picked that side was to get the balance right – and to get him in the team,” said Bruce at the time. “He brought something to us. He added an edge to us.”
Newcastle, certainly, needed an edge, and Ritchie, under contract until 2023, has started every game since then.
The 31-year-old, signed by Rafa Benitez in the summer of 2016, has reflected on his spell out of the team in an interview with Sky Sports.
“If I'm honest, yes, I thought my Newcastle career was over," said Ritchie.
"As a kid I went on loan as a young age. When I went back to Portsmouth, I could've stayed there longer, but took the decision to move on and go and continue to play. I've always backed myself to get back up the leagues.
“It was difficult. It was probably my first spell in my career where I've been fully fit and not involved, so that was difficult mentally and physically, how to adapt and adapt my training. They're challenges I've not had before.
"It's about managing your body, so you’re ready when called upon, training throughout the week at the intensity which is going to be needed for the weekend, and when you're not involved for a long period, that can be difficult.
"I feel like I've come through it, learned a lot in the last six months, and I'm pleased with how I've reacted personally to those challenges."