Sean Longstaff delivers revealing dressing room insight at Newcastle United
It’s been three years since Sean Longstaff came to prominence at Newcastle United.
Rafa Benitez promoted the midfielder to his first-team squad after an impressive pre-season campaign.
Longstaff scored in the club’s opening pre-season friendly, a low-key fixture against Dublin side St Patrick’s Athletic after being fielded as a No.10, and he sung “Love Yourself”, a Justin Bieber song, for the squad at their training base in Ireland for his team initiation.
Newcastle fans, certainly, loved what they saw of Longstaff that season.
When Longstaff’s Premier League chance came in the second half of Benitez’s final campaign as manager, the midfielder took it.
Benitez turned to Longstaff amid a mid-season injury crisis – and he didn’t let United’s manager down.
Manchester United even came calling in the summer of 2019, though Newcastle made it clear that he was not for sale.
Longstaff has played a lot of football under Steve Bruce, Benitez’s successor, but it’s not been easy.
The 23-year-old has had to contend with injuries, a loss of form, and a spell out of the team. Longstaff – whose younger brother Matty spectacularly broke into the first-team squad the season before last – hopes to kick on this term.
“I have played a lot of games now,” said Longstaff. “I don’t know if it gets respected as much as it should.
“I don’t know how many other lads my age have played that many games. I can’t control that. I’m just looking to focus on me, and have a really good season, get myself in the manager’s plans.
“I’ve had a pretty strong start to pre-season, and the more goals I can score, the more good performances I can put in will help the team, and hopefully get me on the pitch. I’m really excited for the season."
Crucially, supporters will be kicking every ball from inside St James’s Park this term following more than a year of behind-closed-doors football.
Newcastle have had away followings in pre-season, and the club’s 3,145-strong support against Doncaster Rovers gave Longstaff “goosebumps”.
"It will be massive,” said Longstaff. “I walked out next to Isaac Hayden at Doncaster, and you get goosebumps.
“We’ve really missed the fans. I was sitting in the house, and there was a game on from last season. I flicked it on for two minutes, and I was thinking 'games without fans are so bad’.
"But they have been outstanding (this pre-season). Hopefully, we can give them something to cheer about."
Fans, however, haven’t had much to cheer about this summer.
The outcome of arbitration over a proposed £300million takeover won’t now be known until early next year, and the club, in the meantime, is underfunded – and seemingly in limbo.
Bruce, predominantly looking at the loan market, is yet to sign a player this summer – and there’s a sense of foreboding among fans ahead of the new season.
Longstaff, however, is more upbeat, despite the issues thrown up by Covid-19.
"It's a group that has been together for a long, long time,” said Longstaff. “A lot of us have been through thick and thin together. It's a really good group – and that won't change.”
Longstaff, now an experienced player, is a big part of that group – and he has a big part to play this season.