This time last year Newcastle United midfielder Sean Longstaff was merely regarded as a promising youngster. Now, though, he is the jewel in the team’s crown.
However, the extent of how far the 21-year-old was down the pecking order going into this season is quite staggering. The Chronicle reported on Sunday that the youngster was hours away from joining League One side Portsmouth on loan last summer, with all the paperwork completed, before manager Rafael Benitez stepped in and pulled the plug on the deal.
The Spaniard had seemingly been impressed by Longstaff after taking him to Ireland for the team’s summer training camp, and with uncertainty over Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey, Benitez told the midfielder to wait for half a season to see if he would get a chance in the Magpies first team.
It took all that time and more for Longstaff to be given a shot but, after coming into the team around the turn of the year, he quickly established himself as one of the team’s most important players.
The Newcastle supporters are surely now thanking their lucky stars that Benitez didn’t sanction that Pompey loan for Longstaff. Imagine where both the player and the club would be if that happened.
Certainly the Magpies wouldn’t be the envy of the Premier League for possessing one of the finest young English players around, whereas Longstaff himself would be facing another uncertain summer waiting to see if he’ll ever get his chance at St James’ Park. Perhaps Portsmouth, though, might have secured promotion this term. Hey ho.
This crunch call from the Newcastle boss, though, is yet more evidence of the Spaniard’s genius. He can identify talent and in this case, he got his decision absolutely spot on.