Sean Longstaff opens up on his critics and contract talks at Newcastle United
Sean Longstaff has had his critics this season. However, the harshest critic of all has been Longstaff himself.
The Newcastle United midfielder could do no wrong a year ago – his form caught the attention of Manchester United – but injuries and a suspension interrupted Longstaff’s development at his hometown club.
The 22-year-old is learning as much now in adversity as he did last season after breaking into the team. Talks over a new deal at the club have also stalled.
“You’ve got to go through the tough times to ultimately build yourself as a person and a player – it’s helps you get to the next level,” said Longstaff. “That’s what this year’s been like, a little bit.
“At times, I feel like I’ve done all right, but football’s a game of opinions at the end of the day. I’m my toughest critic, and I know myself I can walk off the pitch and know if I’ve done enough.
“Ultimately, it’s been a great year, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. For me, it’s about building on the last year and looking forward and being positive for the future.”
Longstaff was named the North East Football Writers’ Association’s young player of the year for 2019 in recognition of his emergence last season.
The Newcastle-born player had set to join League One club Portsmouth on loan in the summer of 2018, but he impressed then-manager Rafa Benitez in pre-season and ended up enjoying a run in the starting XI early last year.
“It’s been amazing,” said Longstaff, whose younger brother Matty broke into Steve Bruce’s team this season. “I think it was the Friday I was meant to go to Portsmouth, to staying and having the year I had was unbelievable.
“To go out and play football for Newcastle is something I’ve always dreamt of. It’s been a great year. There have been ups and downs along the way – that’s always going to happen – and I’m looking forward to building on this year and seeing what happens.”
Longstaff has spoken to team-mate Paul Dummett about the extra scrutiny that homegrown players face at Newcastle.
“To be honest, I’ve spoken to Dummy about it, because there’s no-one better to speak about it,” said Longstaff. “I remember going to watch Dummy, and we could win 10-0 and Dummy would still do something wrong (in some people’s eyes).
“He’s the perfect person to look at and ask for advice. For him to be one of my best mates, he’s perfect to have there. I’m enjoying every second of it. I know, ultimately, the fans know what’s best for the club and the team, and I’m exactly the same.
“If you don’t win games, then people are going to ask questions. It’s like anything, really. The fans are amazing. They give you their full support, and that’s what I’m trying to do every week – trying to give me best.
“Maybe bits of quality might not happen, but you can’t question how much I am giving to the club. That won’t stop.”
Longstaff, a technically-gifted player with an eye for a pass and a goal, has faced challenges at every level.
“To be honest, since I was a young lad growing up, it’s been the same,” he said. “There have been people who have questioned whether I’m good enough right the way coming through. It’s about proving people wrong.
“I’ve got confidence in myself to come through whatever spell it is. It’s all a challenge, it’s all a part of learning, it’s all a part of playing football at the highest level. I relish that challenge, really.
“I think as much as it helps being from Newcastle, it can be a bit of a burden at times, because anything that does happen, you’re the first one to get pointed at. It’s a great pressure to have.
“It’s a pressure I’ve that I’ve always wanted since I was a young lad. It’s something I’m dealing with at the minute. I’m still loving every second of it.”
A new contract has been on the agenda for Longstaff – who is looking for a deal which reflects his status as a first-team player, having signed his contract before he made his Premier League debut – since March last year, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. There has been little progress since late last year, when discussions stalled.
United are also looking to secure Matty on a new deal as his contract, more pressingly, expires at the end of the season.
Steve Bruce, Benitez’s successor, has repeatedly insisted that the club wants to sign up both players to new long-term deals, though he conceded earlier this month that discussions with 19-year-old Matty had hit an “impasse”.
Sources at the club maintain that discussions are ongoing.
Asked for an update, Sean said: “For me and Matty, we’re waiting for the club, really. It’s up to them what they want to do.”
More pressing for the Longstaff, and the club, is Saturday’s home game against Burnley.
The team hasn’t scored a league goal since the transfer window closed, and United, 14th in the league, have suffered back-to-back away defeats to Crystal Palace and Arsenal.
“No-one likes losing games, the team more than anyone,” said Longstaff. “It hurts when you don’t win for a while. People start asking questions, and that can be tough at times. The lads are going to come through that period.
“We’re in a strong position as of now, and if we can win on Saturday, stop the skid and build on that, we’ll be talking about how positive things are again.”