The 'unnoticed' Newcastle United player making big strides under Eddie Howe
Sean Longstaff turned 25 today – and he had a lot to celebrate.
The Newcastle United midfielder, arguably, had his best game for the club yesterday.
Longstaff covered a phenomenal amount of ground in the 4-0 home win over Aston Villa – and was an influence on the game with and without the ball.
The likes of Miguel Almiron, Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton and Callum Wilson have got the headlines this month, but the work of Longstaff, at times, has gone unseen and unappreciated. Not by Howe, however.
It was Rafa Benitez who first promoted Longstaff to the first-team squad for the 2018/19 season, and, four years ago, he was on the cusp of his Premier League breakthrough following a year on loan at Blackpool.
Longstaff made his league debut away to Chelsea in the New Year – and didn’t look back. United played through Longstaff, and he made the midfield tick during a long run in the team.
Unfortunately, the Newcastle-born player’s run in the team was ended by an injury suffered away to West Ham United in March 2019.
The England prospects of Longstaff and home player Declan Rice had been talked up before the game. Rice would make his senior international debut later that month while Longstaff was sidelined with the knee injury he suffered at the London Stadium.
Then came a change in manager, and Longstaff lost his way during Steve Bruce’s troubled and tempestuous tenure at the club.
The appointment of Eddie Howe last November following a takeover changed everything – and fans are again seeing the best of Longstaff, who brings athleticism, technical ability and physicality to the team
Speaking after the Villa win, Howe said: “Sean was tireless with his energy. He covers a lot of ground. He’s a huge player in terms of our intensity and our out of possession play.
“I think a lot of the good work he does goes unnoticed. Today, it probably didn’t (go unnoticed), because he had a good effect on the ball in both halves. I think it was a great game for Sean.”
Longstaff’s return to form under Howe is another reminder that the club’s success owes more to coaching than anything else.
Yes, the squad has been significantly strengthened in the past two transfer windows. But Howe and his staff have also improved the players they inherited.
“There are a lot of aspects to management, but improving players is something I take great pride in,” said Howe. “Ultimately, you need a player that’s receptive to that. If players don’t want to be improved, you’re not going to make any impact.”
Longstaff – who revealed last year that he sought help from a psychologist during a difficult period – has been very receptive to Howe’s ideas and methods.
“I have a close support network, and I speak to them a lot,” said Longstaff, who signed a new contract in May.
“If they’re happy with me, and the staff and the manager are happy with me, then that’s good enough for me. As a football, you’re never going to please everyone.”
Gareth Southgate was at St James’s Park for the Villa game, and if Longstaff can maintain this form, he’ll again be talked about as a potential international player.