Rafa Benitez claims that he is reluctant to throw his NUFC youngsters into the first team because ‘everybody will be expecting them to become the new Alan Shearer’ – feeling the pressure would be too great, especially in our current position.
With several senior players struggling, there have been some sections of supporters urging Benitez to give some of our U-23 stars a chance – and it’s no surprise when you see the form some of them are in.
19-year-old Dane Elias Sorensen is the top scorer in the Premier League 2 (scoring 11 in all competitions already), Sean Longstaff impressed over pre-season and Callum Roberts has also shone in U-23 action, with 6 goals and 5 assists in just 10 game.
That being said, it doesn’t sound like Rafa is prepared to throw them into the deep end just yet, feeling the expectation level could be too great in the difficult position we find ourselves in:
“Everybody wants to see the young players coming through from the academy into the first team. But when the team is in the Premier League, it is difficult and when you are at the bottom, it is even more difficult for them. You can put them in a very tough position.
“Everybody is expecting you to be the new Alan Shearer, and then you have no chance.
“Do they have the character and personality to go straight into a team that isn’t winning? That is hard for any young player.”
“We have been watching him, and I had a conversation with his coach Ben Dawson this week,” he added. “Time will tell us when they are all ready and if we have to give them a chance, we will do it.
“But now is the time to let them develop, let them gain more experience and hopefully, in the future, the first team will be in a more comfortable position which allows us to give them more chances.
“We have to give confidence to them but they must trust the manager too.”
I disagree with Rafa in relation to his comment on Shearer.
When there’s a young local lad, there’ll always be those Shearer comparisons, but I can’t see a Danish striker in Sorensen, or an attacking midfielder in Roberts or Longstaff receiving those comments.
It would be a very tough time to throw them into the mix – especially when the atmosphere inside St James’ Park has been pretty flat and hostile at times, but I would also argue that they’d have little to lose.
Yes their confidence could be damaged, but I think they’d see it as a win win situation at this stage. If they struggled then everyone would understand why, and if they did well then it would be a priceless experience.
That being said, we’d be naive to think such a young trio would be the answer in the predicament we’re in.
For now, let’s just hope they can keep excelling at U-23 level. A loan move to the Football League (or an appearance in the cup) could be the best next step for them for some much needed senior football.