The Matty Longstaff contract saga has led to some debate over whether he’s worth the reported £30,000 per week that Udinese are allegedly prepared to offer him. From what I’ve seen on social media, opinion is pretty much 50/50 on the subject. On the one side you have those who point out his limited number of first team appearances and that lack of experience does not match with a fairly substantial wage and long-term deal. On the other side you have those who argue that we have paid higher wages for poorer players and that he has potential to develop further rather than lose for nothing. These are both factual arguments and regardless of your opinion, they are valid enough points to not instantly be dismissed. Although I would say that previously offering a poor player £50,000 per week on a long-term contract shouldn’t be used as a justification for offering a largely-unknown player £30,000 per week. Anyway, away from these numbers-based arguments there is a more emotive undercurrent at play: he’s one of our own.
Football fans love to see a local lad representing them on the pitch because there’s a feeling that they will ‘get’ what it is to be from their city and therefore fight for the ball like a fan would and want it more than an outsider could. If they grew up as a fan on the same stands you’re in now, how could they not care as much as you do? That commonality you have is tribal and entirely understandable, perhaps even more so in the North East. There’s a pride in seeing a local lad make it and it also acts as an inspiration to the youngsters of the city who suddenly see a path to their ultimate goal. How many kids in the 90s kicked the ball through their open gates and ran off shouting, ‘Shearer!’ with their arm raised? There’s nothing quite like it.
But how far does where you were born really get you without it being matched by talent? Not every Geordie to pull on the black and white can be a Shearer, Waddle or Gazza. If being from the city and loving the club was enough to earn a place in the Newcastle squad, then I’d have retired last year as a rich man. Adam Armstrong, Adam Campbell, Michael Chopra and Paul Brayson were Geordie lads but how many people were calling for the club to give them a sizeable contract offer to tie them down because they were a local lad with potential? Probably a few fans but did any of them make Newcastle United regret their decision in the years that followed their release?
There’s a resentment, perhaps going back to Waddle and Gazza, about losing your local players and what that represents. What’s the point in unearthing these gems and having them come into your first team, offering everything the fans want to see, only to sell them after a few seasons and miss out on some of their prime years? If the talent is obvious, that’s a valid complaint and the two examples mentioned were clearly world class players when the club let them leave. More recently, Andy Carroll was allowed to leave the club in the peak of his powers when it seemed we might have found our new local hero. It definitely adds to the pain of losing a good player when he’s one of your own.
The alternative outcome could be to keep two local brothers until they’ve played over 450 games between them and provided little other than a few Mackem slayings and a couple of decent songs for the fans. Sometimes you’re better cutting the cord if you’re unsure about their quality and potential and there were many opportunities to do this with the Ameobi brothers that weren’t taken. Other than the Championship season, Shola never hit double figures in the league but remained on the payroll for 14 years and although he wasn’t as bad as some fans make out, he never reached the potential we hoped he had. There’s a gamble in long-term investment versus moving on when it comes to your academy products and you won’t always get it right.
The circumstances of the team at the time largely dictate feeling towards players and with our current central midfielders not exactly drawing similarities to the Lee-Speed or Tiote-Cabaye halcyon days, the opportunity is there to break in to it. If there was no takeover on the horizon and we were likely to be in for another few years of shoestring budgeting then it would make perfect sense to tie down an academy product on a long-term deal and save on a transfer fee. It’s also important to retain a core of influential players and leaders, regardless of new owners and managers. However, with Hayden, Shelvey and his brother already ahead of him the club also brought in Bentaleb to share the opportunities for first team appearances. If the takeover ever goes through and we have a reported £150m transfer budget, will Matty be in the new manager’s plans? Him dropping further down the depth chart following the arrival of the inevitable new signings does nothing for the club or the player’s development.
In an ideal world, I’d like to see him stay on a three year contract at around £15,000 and go on loan next season to a Championship club. If he returns after 30-40 first team appearances in a physical league and has moved along the projected potential spectrum, then a two year extension and further wage increase could be discussed. If not, worst case scenario is two years of him going out on loan again before a transfer. Tying him (and the club) to a five year, £30,000 contract potentially weeks or months before a takeover, new manager and spending spree is a huge risk and one we could look back on after four years of reserve football and a couple of loans to Nottingham Forest as another Colback moment. Despite his two impressive goals against that team they call United, he hasn’t played enough games for any of us to really know at this point and because of that there’s no right answer. He could be the local hero and the future of our midfield or he could follow in Shola’s footsteps and be little more than the Man Utd slayer for the next 14 years. As with everything, it’s out of our hands and we can only sit, debate and wait for the club to finally communicate with us. Still, it’s nice to talk about something other than piracy for a bit, eh?