Rafa Benitez reveals his view of Sean Longstaff’s England prospects after Aidy Boothroyd’s Newcastle United scouting mission
Rafa Benitez says Sean Longstaff can go on and play for his country – if he keeps his focus on his club.
The midfielder has started Newcastle United’s last nine league and cup games.
Longstaff was outstanding in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town.
And the 21-year-old could make a 10th consecutive start against Burnley at St James’s Park tonight.
Aidy Boothroyd, England’s Under-21 manager, watched Longstaff against Huddersfield, and Benitez believes that the Newcastle-born player is capable of playing international football.
“I like to see my players going to the national team, but it has to be the right one,” said United’s manager.
“I don’t care if it’s Under-20, 21s or even the senior side, but I think he needs to go one step at a time.
“One thing I can say about Sean is that he’s humble, professional and focused. He’s a player who can be consistent. If we start talking too much about him, and how well he is doing every week, then it’s always a risk for young players.
“I think he’s fine. The steps are right, and he’s doing what he has to do. I think there are not too many English players with his quality. I think he will go. He just has to be sure that, when he does, he plays well and it will be another experience for him.
“But I don’t think he will have any rush to go to the national team – it’s just one step at a time.
“He wouldn’t look out of place (with England’s Under-21s). I think he will go. But the main thing, for me, is to keep him calm and keep him working as hard as he is now.
“I think he can go, because he’s doing well and playing in the Premier League. There aren’t too many with his quality.”
Longstaff has kept his place despite the return to fitness of Jonjo Shelvey, Mohamed Diame and Ki Sung-yueng.
“I spent some time with him,” said Benitez. “We spoke about a few things he has to understand. I like to explain to players why I want them to do something. If they understand why, then they are getting better. It can help him make better decisions.”
Asked if Longstaff was a better prospect than he had originally thought last summer when he promoted him to the first-team squad, Benitez said: “I still think he has plenty of room for improvement. We were talking about if he could go on loan in January, but we said he had to stay with us, even if he didn’t play, he would gain experience.”
Meanwhile, Benitez has sidestepped questions about the vacant Leicester City job.
Claude Puel was this week sacked – and Benitez has been linked with the post.
“I’m really focusing on the next games – I know we have to do a job,” said Benitez. “I know that we have to stay up, and if we want to do that, I think we have to just stay focused on that.”