Vurnon Anita’s Newcastle United career looked to be coming to an end a few months ago.
Anita had struggled to hold down a regular place – and had started 62 Premier League games in three years.
I just want to fight for my position. I know from myself that I’m capable of doing it. I trust myself, do my best and the coach decides.Vurnon Anita
Was it time for a fresh start elsewhere?
But the midfielder, set to start Sunday’s home season-opener against Southampton, wasn’t looking towards the exit door.
And he’s hopeful of a new beginning at St James’s Park under Steve McClaren.
“I just want to fight for my position,” he said.
“I know from myself that I’m capable of doing it. I trust myself, do my best and the coach decides.”
Anita is looking to pick up where he left off in the final game of last term.
With the club’s Premier League status on the line, Anita arguably put in his best performance in a black and white shirt.
The 26-year-old was everywhere in the 2-0 win over West Ham United. He tackled, he ran and he passed.
It was a glimpse at the player Newcastle thought they had signed from Ajax in the summer of 2012.
Anita, memorably, sprinted half the length of the pitch before, less memorably, shooting at visiting goalkeeper Adrian rather than rolling the ball to his better-placed team-mates.
It didn’t matter in the end.
Jonas Gutierrez made sure of the points a few minutes later, and Anita, deservedly, was given a standing ovation when he was taken off two minutes from time.
The Holland international had run literally himself into the ground.
And he feels that afternoon is the benchmark for him – and the team – going forward.
“It was very important for myself, the team and everybody,” said Anita.
“We wanted to stay up, of course, and I think we gave everything.
“I think that’s going to be the starting point – to play like that every game. For me as well.
“How I played that game, I want to draw the line like that and go forward like that.”
However, that missed chance haunted Anita – who has played 384 minutes of football in pre-season – in the hours after the match and over the summer.
He said: “Afterwards I thought ‘I messed up!’. Thankfully, Jonas scored straight away, so it was a relief for myself.
“But I was so mad at myself at that moment. Still on vacation I thought about it!
“I work hard to be stronger for more opportunities to score or make a better pass.”
Anita took time to adjust to the pace and power of the Premier League after his move from the Eredivisie.
McClaren, looking for his team to play from the back this season, has used Anita has a ball-playing holding midfielder alongside Jack Colback in pre-season.
Anita has come short to pick up the ball from his defensive colleagues and set United on their way.
It is a role Anita feels he is equipped to do over the coming nine months.
“I think I’ve got stronger – I’m more up to speed,” he said. “In Holland, it’s a little bit slower than in the Premier League. I cope better now in the Premier League with all the speed.”
Meanwhile, McClaren is yet to decide if new signings Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba are fit enough to start against Southampton.
Mitrovic has played two pre-season games for United since joining from Anderlecht in a £13million deal, while defender Mbemba, also signed from the Belgium club, came off the bench in last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach at St James’s Park.
Asked about Mitrovic, McClaren said: “Certainly, in the game we played against Gladbach for half an hour, he impressed. He’s impressed in training. He hasn’t had many games. Is it too soon to start him? I’ll have to make that decision.
“I’ve still got a couple of sleepless nights to think about that.”
Mitrovic, a powerful striker, has caught the imagination of fans on Tyneside.
“Everyone will always look at the goalscorer in Mitrovic,” said McClaren.
“There’ll be a big huge expectation of being a centre-forward at Newcastle. It’s quite special – it takes big shoulders to wear the shirt.”
Mbemba has not been able to train all this week because of the travel neded for him to obtain his work visa.
McClaren said: “He’s been backwards and forwards with visa applications. “He trained with us a couple of days.
“I think they’re the two who probably haven’t had the time. That’s the decision I’ll have to make – whether they start or not.
I’m pleased with the work we’ve done. We’ll only know if we’re ready on Sunday.
“All teams are like that.”