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Sean Longstaff admits he can scarcely believe how far he and Newcastle have come in the last two years.
The 25-year-old midfielder’s future looked to lie away from St James’ Park during the latter stage of the Mike Ashley era, but he has revived his career spectacularly since Amanda Staveley’s consortium completed its takeover in October 2021.
Longstaff will head into Wednesday night’s Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund having established himself in Eddie Howe’s team at the club he supported as a boy and being touted as a future England international.
Asked if he has to pinch himself when he reflects upon how his fortunes have changed, the North Shields-born player, who scored in the 4-1 demolition of Paris St Germain on Tyneside earlier this month, said: “Yes, considering probably where me and a lot of the lads were two-and-a-half years ago.
“To think you’d be sitting in this position and doing a press conference before a Champions League game seemed nearly impossible, I would say.
“I think now we’re just trying to enjoy the momentum and enjoy the good times, I would say. A lot of it has been a long time coming and probably something that we didn’t think would happen, so for us to be in this position now is a real privilege.
“To get to experience great nights in massive competitions is what every player wants and one we’re really grateful to be a part of.”
If European football is new to Longstaff, it is not to his family, with uncle Alan Thompson having scored the goal which secured a famous 1-0 UEFA Cup win for Celtic over Barcelona in March 2004.
He said: “I remember going around to his house and he’s got Ronaldinho’s top up. Probably never in a million years did I think I’d be playing in the same competition. It’s really special.
“It’s probably something I haven’t really thought about, but probably should have.”
Longstaff and his team-mates, who lead Group F after taking four points from their trip to AC Milan and the victory over PSG, finalised preparations for their encounter with the Bundesliga runners-up with Sandro Tonali’s fate still undecided.
The 23-year-old Italy international is subject to an investigation over alleged breaches of betting regulations in his native country, from where reports have suggested a decision which could lead to a lengthy ban is imminent.
However, Howe insists he has prepared as if the former AC Milan midfielder will be available.
The 45-year-old said: “As far as I’m aware, I’m expecting him to be available tomorrow. I’m in a position where I’ll plan like that until told differently, I can’t second guess what’s going to happen.
“He’s trained today and he’s available.”
He’s a top player first and foremost, but he’s actually a better guy
Tonali, whose agent Giuseppe Riso has said the player is living with a “gambling addiction”, was applauded warmly by the Toon Army before, during and after Saturday’s 4-0 Premier League win over Crystal Palace, and Longstaff revealed that compassion is replicated within the dressing room.
He said: “The way Sandro has fitted into our group has been amazing. He’s a top player first and foremost, but he’s actually a better guy.
“We have created a friendship and it’s a privilege to be around him every day and watch what he does and watch how he works. You can understand why he’s so good.”
For Howe, there was a reminder of the Magpies’ ongoing quest for a first major trophy since 1969 when he attended an event in the city on Monday evening with one of his predecessors, Kevin Keegan, who told the audience the former Bournemouth boss could lead the club to Premier League and Champions League glory this season.
Howe said: “My aim, our aim, is to try and win a trophy. I am not shy of saying that. That is the ultimate aim. Whatever competition it is, we will try to do our best.”
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