Sean Longstaff recalls Manchester United move after Newcastle United breakthrough
The Newcastle United midfielder was out in the cold at Newcastle United in the wake of a defeat on freezing night at Bramall Lane.
Longstaff was seemingly made the scapegoat for a damaging 1-0 behind-closed-doors loss to previously-winless Sheffield United which had left the club 19th in the Premier League.
The 25-year-old eventually forced his way back into Steve Bruce’s side, but he wouldn’t get back to his best until this season.
And Longstaff credits head coach Eddie Howe with “saving” his Newcastle career after a tough couple of years following a first-team breakthrough during Rafa Benitez’s time as manager.
Asked about where he was two years ago, Longstaff said: “It's funny how football can play out sometimes. I was on the outside looking in a little bit, and now it’s all changed very quickly.
"A lot of that is down to the manager. Since the first day he walked in, I have really taken to him and his staff. He has probably saved my Newcastle career, and, for that, I‘ll be forever grateful to him.
"I think me and the rest of the squad are now looking to repay him with performances, and, hopefully, that can start on Sunday with a cup final win – and we’ll be remembered forever.”
Howe spoke about his admiration for Longstaff last season after succeeding Bruce, but the Newcastle-born player – who signed a new contract last year – had to wait until this season to get a long run in the team.
“When we were trying to sort out the contract last season, he was talking about where he sees me,” said Longstaff. “Last year, I wanted to play a bit more, but the team was the bigger picture. I had to buy into that, and show I can be a good team player, and be ready to step in and play when needed.
"I got lucky in pre-season really when Jonjo (Shelvey) got injured, which meant I was only an injury away from playing. Then Bruno got injured, and I got in, scored at Fulham – and ran with it.
"I was always confident that with the top players we have in the team, if I got in, I'd be able to fit in.”
Asked what the cup final meant to him personally, Longstaff said: “I think if someone told me a year and a half ago I'd be about to play in a cup final for Newcastle, I’m not sure I would have believed them.
"I feel as though it has been quite an up-and-down journey – one I’ve enjoyed. You have to just be as positive as you can be. I’ll walk out Sunday, or be around to support whoever does, but just to be there, to soak in the atmosphere and the occasion, is something I feel very privileged to do.”
It was maybe fitting that boyhood fan Longstaff scored the second-leg goals against Southampton last month which took the club into it’s first final since 1999.
“Obviously, before the semi-final, I missed a few,” said Longstaff. “But it’s always something I feel is a strength of mine, scoring – or at least getting forward to create things.
"It all fell into place in the semi-final, and now I need to add more of that in the league. One at Wembley would be great.”
Had things have turned out differently, Longstaff could well have been playing for Newcastle’s final opponents.
Manchester United made a £35million approach for Longstaff in the summer of 2019 – the club was told that he was not for sale – as he recovered from an injury.
Longstaff – who had hurt his knee playing against West Ham United late in the 2018/19 season – admits that it was a difficult time for him.
“It was, but more because I was trying to come back from an injury,” said Longstaff. “Obviously, Rafa was here at the time. I was close with him, then he left – and the new manager (Bruce) in.
"It was a race to be fit, I wasn't really fully fit, but felt I had to play to show the new manager. It was just bad timing with everything. I had only played nine games, I had played at Blackpool, and now your name is being mentioned (with a move).
"Everyone wanted to speak to me about it. In my head, I just thought ‘I can't even bend my knee!’. It was a weird time. It happened at 20/21, and I came through it.
"Everything happens for a reason. If you'd say I was going to stay and play in a cup final for Newcastle United, I'd have snapped your hand off. I’m really happy with how it has turned out.”
Longstaff and his team-mates have the opportunity to make history at the club, which hasn’t won a major trophy since the 1969 Fairs Cup success.
"It’s a new experience for a lot of us, so we’re just trying to take every day in our stride – and not think about it too much,” said Longstaff. “You don't want to be burned out by the time the final comes along.
"But it’s a chance to play in a cup final for Newcastle – and that's not something that comes around too often, so I’m lucky, and really looking forward to it.
"Everybody’s just trying to help each other along. It’s a new experience for some of us, but not so much for the other lads.
"With where the club is going, hopefully, they’ll be having these games every season – and we’ll be watching.
"But if we can be the first team to bring a trophy back, it’s something you’ll always be remembered for – and go down in history.”