Sean Longstaff reveals his view on speculation over his Newcastle United future
It’s been a long five months for Sean Longstaff.
The midfielder came a long way in a short space of time for Newcastle United earlier this year before his season was brought to an abrupt end by a knee injury.
Longstaff, however, has made a timely return for the club ahead of the new Premier League season.
The 21-year-old made his first start since March on Tuesday night, when Newcastle beat Hibernian 3-1 in their penultimate pre-season game.
Joelinton, handed his full debut at Easter Road by Steve Bruce, was also on target for United, who complete their pre-season programme with a home fixture against Saint-Etienne on Saturday.
Longstaff – who had come off the bench against Preston North End and West Ham United – should now be ready to start against Arsenal at St James’s Park on August 11 – if selected.
“It’s massive,” said Longstaff. “It’s a pretty big moment. It’s my first start in five months, which is the longest I’ve been out in my short career so far. For me it’s just the excitement of being able to get out there and play.
“When we sat down in the summer and looked at where I was at ... the West Ham and Preston games have just been a big bonus to be honest.
“This was the game we were focused on to come back near enough as fit as I can be. (The Hibs game) showed I’ve still got little bits to touch up on. It’s another 60 minutes in my legs. I’m going in the right direction.
“Putting the kit on I thought ‘does it seem like five months?’. It doesn’t, but on the other hand it seems so much longer. You go to all the games and see the lads training every day.
“But it’s hopefully all in the past. I’m working on trying to get as fit as I can. For me, it’s a big step in the right direction. I’m still working on bits of fitness. It’s pretty positive.”
Longstaff – whose younger brother Matty, also a midfielder, came off the bench at Easter Road – has had to stay focused on his recovery amid speculation over his future. Manchester United are interested in Longstaff, though the club has not tabled a bid – yet.
However, Bruce, Newcastle’s new head coach, has made it clear that Longstaff is not for sale.
Speaking earlier this month, Bruce said: “He’s a player we want to keep – he’s had a remarkable rise. He’s everything you would want in a player – big and athletic – and he handles the ball well.
“He is the type of player you want to build your team around. I’ve only seen him for a day, but he has had ab unbelievable rise. Very much reminds me of a Michael Carrick. I’m not aware that he’s going to Manchester United – I’m not aware of that at all.”
Longstaff has been aware of the speculation – there’s been no escaping it – but he’s kept his focus.
Asked if the speculation had been a distraction, Longstaff said: “Obviously, I’m still young and getting used to all that side of it. There’s nothing you can do. It’s in other peoples’ hands.
“Like I said before, I’m fully focused on being back fit for the start of the Premier League season.
“To have your name mentioned with those top clubs is obviously great, but, for me, it’s about working as hard as I can for Newcastle and getting back. I’m trying to focus on football. The stuff off the pitch isn’t what you play for, you can get too caught up in it.”
Longstaff’s hard work paid off at Easter Road.
After Joelinton cancelled out Hibs’ early opener, Longstaff beat Ofir Marciano with a low shot struck from 25 yards.
The Newcastle-born player, however, wasn’t hitting the ball so well when he stepped out of the gym and on to the training pitches a couple of months ago – as one of the physios reminded him after the game.
“It was a decent enough strike,” said Longstaff. “Probably the first clean ball I’ve hit in about five months – I’m not even lying!
“The physio was laughing when he came in. It was a bit of a difference to when I was chipping them over his head about two months ago trying to score.
“Like I said before, it’s all a step in the right direction. I’m looking to build on it now. There’s another game on Saturday, and I’m hoping to get some more minutes. Then the real stuff starts.”
Captain Jamaal Lascelles capped a comfortable win with United’s third goal, a second-half header from a substitute Rolando Aarons cross.
“It’s a pretty upbeat changing room, even though it’s a pre-season game,” said Longstaff. “Obviously, we weren’t happy with how it ended on Saturday, but tonight showed that the front two are a real handful.
“It was a pretty good performance from everyone. If we’re being critical, it could have been more than it was in the end. It was a pretty good workout. We know it’s a small step in right direction.”
It was a small step in the right direction for the club – and a big stride forward for Longstaff.