The Scapegoat. Every side has one and Newcastle United are no exception. In fact, Eddie Howe’s side have a few.
At present, it is Sean Longstaff.
Despite Newcastle’s excellent run of form in which the midfielder has played an important part, Longstaff has not escaped criticism from supporters and some of the media. Howe, though, has been full of praise for the midfielder:
“I’m really pleased with Sean. When we came in I was immediately hit with another lovely lad and a really good character who’s Newcastle through and through. I’ve loved working with him and for me, he’s improved a lot of aspects of his game.”
“Athletically I think he gets around the pitch brilliantly, you can see the ground he covers every week—incredible distances. He’s also got a creative eye around the box and he’s been integral to some really good play on that right hand side of the pitch.”
Even after Newcastle’s most impressive result of the season, beating Spurs 1-2 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, there were those who were quick to judge Longstaff’s performance. Criticizing his passing and his decision-making. Some even suggested that Longstaff would be the first change they would make to the side.
Speaking exclusively to Coming Home Newcastle, former Newcastle players Lee Clark and Warren Barton shared their thoughts on the situation.
Clark was quick to defend the midfielder. “It is the manager’s and staff’s opinions that count. Howe and the players respect Sean, and that is what he should be focusing on.”
“Sean is strong-minded and as long as he is performing on a winning side, he won’t be bothered about anything else,” added Clark.
Barton believes that Longstaff being a local lad plays a massive part. “Supporters will connect to Sean the most, more than a Bruno or in times gone by, a Ginola. The reason being... Sean is one of them.”
One thing is clear from Barton’s experience, and it is that “Sean will know himself whether he has had a bad game or not. The best way to deal with criticism is to get back on the training pitch or get in the gym the next day. Sean has been a big part of the team getting to the 4th position in the league.”
Impact of Social Media
Social media has not only changed the footballing world, but also everyday lives. People are looking down at their phones more than looking around them, communicating through their devices instead of in person. As a result, people aren’t afraid to be negative.
Players are only human, and that is quite often forgotten when on social media. People will jump on who they believe the weakest link of the side is.
Last Sunday, Longstaff lost possession once in the opening 15 minutes leading to a Spurs counterattack. It took one account to share a clip of the play before hundreds of people were picking holes in the midfielder’s performance. Suddenly, Longstaff was seen to have had a terrible game, all down to one clip of him losing a ball.
It is quite frightening how something can snowball on social media.
Barton agreed that it is perhaps more difficult for players with how prevalent social media is in football. “Stay off social media!” Barton joked when asked what players could do to overcome criticism on different platforms.
“Sean is honest, tries incredibly hard and gives his all. He might not have the flair of Bruno, but not everyone can be like Bruno or an Alan Shearer.”
“You need players like Longstaff in your side, he will be telling the new lads what it exactly means to play for this great club, and he’ll be showing that on the pitch as well.”
Lets talk about stats
In the 12 appearances he’s made for Newcastle United so far this season, Longstaff has scored once and assisted twice. There is, of course, so much more to Longstaff’s game than goal creation. From a defensive point of view, Longstaff has been excellent for the side ranking in the top percentile for shots blocked, blocks, dribbles contested, and tackles in the mid and attacking thirds.
Longstaff also ranks high when it comes to the amount of through balls attempted, showing that the midfielder consistently looks to get his side on the front foot and in behind the defense.
It is not just Longstaff’s work on the ball that is pleasing his manager. His work off the ball is very impressive. Longstaff has consistently been Newcastle’s marathon man, covering the most distance of any other player.
The midfielder covers the majority of the pitch, working tirelessly to press the opposition to help turn over possession.
Against Spurs, Longstaff sensed an opportunity. Closely watching Tottenham’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, the midfielder pressed and beat Ryan Sessegnon to the ball, and set Miguel Almiron on his way to scoring Newcastle’s second.
Actions like this can go unnoticed by many, as it is seen as nonchalant, overlooked, dirty work. But Longstaff is the relentless engine that Newcastle need in midfield; when others tire, he keeps going.
The more criticism, the more motivated Longstaff becomes to silence those critics.
A strong-minded individual, with an incredible will to succeed at this boyhood club. Barton believes the midfielder can use this as motivation. “Longstaff will certainly appreciate the praise more when it eventually does come his way,” Barton said, “he can only affect the things he is in control of, and will have to block all the outside noise out. He will do that too, he knows what is needed to be successful here.”