Rafa Benitez offered a little glimpse of Newcastle’s future Wednesday with the lineup he selected to take on Birmingham City in the Third Round replay of the FA Cup.
Midfielders Yasin Ben El-Mhanni and Daniel Barlaser along with centre back Stuart Findlay all made their professional debuts for the Magpies in the 3-1 victory.
If you have heard of El-Mhanni, it probably isn’t for his on the field play quite yet. The 21-year old Moroccan has a very popular online following, mainly for doing things like this.
He also has a very interesting back story. According to NUFC.co.uk, he was born in Chelsea, but never found his way into a true academy. He instead was playing in the Isthmian League Division One South for the club Lewes as recently as last year. For the full story on the youngster, click here. It is definitely worth the read.
Newcastle signed the winger last month and his debut offers hope that the need for a creative midfielder can be found internally.
The other midfielder to debut should be a familiar name to many of the Toon faithful. Barlaser is a center midfielder who has spent most of his football career to this point playing in the Newcastle youth system. He has played for the English U-18s alongside notable Magpie youth products Adam Armstrong and Freddie Woodman, according to the team website.
Findlay is a newer name to most Newcastle fans. Arriving from Celtic over the summer, he is finally starting to make an impression in England that he never could for the Scottish side. He has featured in the Scottish U-21 squad and had many loan spells around the Scottish Premier League, but never impressed enough for Celtic to hang on to him when his contract was up. At 6’ 3” (or about 1.6m for all of those on the metric system), Findlay has the build of a top centre back in the Premier League. If his skill and technique begin to catch up, this could be a stellar signing for the Magpies down the road.
None of these three were spectacular as Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey, who made his triumphant return, stole most of the headlines surrounding this match. However, the decision to start a younger team shows two things about how Rafa Benitez is approaching this season.
One, nothing is more important that promotion. If this were a league game against Birmingham, there is no way that Rafa would feature so many new names. Even if it is the FA Cup, returning to the Premier League takes precedent over all else, which is something I think we can all agree on.
Secondly, it shows that Rafa has his eye to the future for this team. It is nice to see that he has found a way to prioritize promotion and youth development in the same year.
I don’t expect to see any of these names again on the team sheet this year, but it was fun to get a small glimpse at what is to come.