Sean Longstaff has been Newcastle United through and through in his life. Having joined them as a young lad, he went through their youth academy and made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2016. His journey at Tyneside, however, has been quite topsy-turvy.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbow for the Newcastle star, who comes from a proper sporting family – with his brother also playing for the Magpies and his father being a former England Ice Hockey national team star. Longstaff has undergone major ups and downs, which include awful injury issues that forced him out of action for a long time.
After excelling under Rafa Benitez for a few years at the club, Longstaff fell upon hard times under Steve Bruce. Things got to the point where he admitted to have once randomly breaking down in tears during a breakfast with his family in 2021.
In a recent interview with The Athletic, Longstaff opened up about how bad things got under Bruce – to the point that he hated playing football and stopped being himself. He said: “Before the new manager (Eddie Howe) came to Newcastle, I wasn’t enjoying football. I wasn’t enjoying coming in every day and not really playing. In my opinion, I didn’t feel like I was getting massively coached into becoming the best version of me.
“As much as I didn’t enjoy football, I think the biggest thing was I didn’t like me. I wasn’t great with family. Taking out my frustration. That’s bad because they’re always going to be there no matter what and they had to deal with me on some horrible days.
“It was little things. We’d go for a meal and I’m miserable in the corner because you take your job home, don’t you? Family holidays: I was there but I wasn’t there. I was a bit of an arse. Sulky, more than anything. I knew I had to change.
“Everyone probably knows the story of me having breakfast with my dad and my brother. it got to that point where it hit the peak and that’s when I pretty much broke down and thought, ‘Yeah, I’m not in the right place here.’”
His Newcastle teammate Matt Ritchie recommended Longstaff start consulting a psychiatrist, which definitely helped him calm down. With his career under threat of spiralling out of control with Bruce as manager, the Englishman got his guardian angel in the form of manager Eddie Howe – who helped bring his self-belief back and have the midfielder operating at his best level.
Longstaff recalled how Howe helped him recover from his Newcastle career hitting rock bottom quickly after arriving at the club, saying: “In my opinion, it (Howe’s training )was something that had been lacking in the two years prior. It’s like anything: as much as you’re a professional and an adult, if someone shows you a bit of love and affection and tells you how great you are, it’s nice to hear. I hadn’t heard it for a long time.
“I spoke to the new manager more that month than I’d spoken to the old one in two years, which is probably not a good sign. He told me what his plans were, how he saw me in the team. He said, ‘We’ll get you a new contract sorted’ — the club had just let me run into the last year of my deal. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t really think I believe you’, but it came true.
“My mentality shifted from being ready to go to, ‘You’ve got six months to save your Newcastle career’. I remember going home and saying, ‘I want to stay’ and that’s when I had to show him I really wanted to be part of it. I’ll forever be grateful. But the second I met him and his staff, knowing straight away he would help me get better as a player and person, I was ready to run through brick walls for him.”
Longstaff also explained how Howe helped him change his entire attitude to the criticsm on him and the mental pressure, adding: “You learn loads of things. Like how not to dwell on every tiny thing and critique absolutely everything that happens and think of it as the end of the world.
“The manager says to me all the time, ‘I want you to be happy, I want you to be smiling, I want you to be carefree because that’s when you get the best out of yourself’. The biggest thing is learning who is with you and who isn’t because when it’s great, everyone wants to speak to you and text you and be your friend. Suddenly, when you don’t do as well, that all stops.
“If it’s my brother, who I’m really close to, or my closest friends and family, if they have an opinion, then I’ll listen and respect them. I ask them about stuff every day. The same applies to coaches and team-mates, obviously, but this is outside of football. If it’s anyone else, I’ve sort of learned to not really give a f***.”
There is a reason behind Howe being widely praised for his work as Newcastle manager. Even though he has signed some key players, it’s his impressive man-management ability to get the best out of demoralized players from the Steve Bruce era and Sean Longstaff’s journey from looking like a washed midfielder to suddenly being among the most improved players in the squad is a perfect example of the evolution at Newcastle United.