“I don’t like comparisons to be honest. It’s not fair on Sean if anything. He is carving his own career out for himself and has got his own traits and strengths.”
These were Michael Carrick’s words back in October, deflecting the comparisons between Sean Longstaff and himself after our 1-0 win over Manchester United, a game which will be remembered best for his younger brother Matty scoring a dramatic winner on his full debut.
You’d think being regarded as the next Michael Carrick would be an astronomical compliment. After all, he won everything there is to win in club football, and was without question the most underrated English midfielder of his generation.
However, in this sense it could be seen as quite a disservice. A comparison with the Wallsend Boys Club graduate suggests a style of play where shielding the back four is paramount. It indicates a beautiful passing range but one built around keeping possession rather than penetrating a defence. It means a tidy, safety first, but nevertheless effective midfield player.
What Sean Longstaff has proved at times this season, however, is that he is capable (and perhaps more suited) to being a bit more forward thinking than that.
Before the accusations of derangement start, I am not suggesting for a second that Sean Longstaff is, or ever will be, better than Michael Carrick. What I am trying to say is that he has a more attack-minded game in his locker.
His performances in a deeper role have been below par this season, Man United game aside, and have seen him drift and out of the side with the more experienced Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden preferred by Bruce.
The two games where he has really shone is against Oxford in the FA Cup and away to Bournemouth on Wednesday, where he scored crucial goals in games which we went on to win and pressed brilliantly throughout.
In both of these fixtures, Bruce opted to play Sean in a more advanced role, allowing him to get forward and impose his passing skills in the final third of the pitch.
His tall frame and iron lungs allow him to get up and down the pitch despite being deployed further forward, similar to how the classic box-to-box midfielder would operate.
His defensive capabilities also work in our favour in the opposition half, as was on in midweek when he tackled Jefferson Lerma in the build-up to Dwight Gayle’s opener.
It’s a shame he was forced off with a hamstring injury after only 33 minutes, as he was on course for his best league performance of the campaign. That said, Bruce said after the game that Wednesday night was the best he’s looked since he took the job and I’d tend to agree, suggesting he looks far more comfortable in a more advanced no.10 role.
What he showed us both against Bournemouth and in the cup, is that he is much more versatile that we first thought when he burst onto the scene back in December 2018.
One problem this new position might cause is a lot closer to home – in his own family in fact. The more offensive midfield role is one that younger brother Matty is also competing for, who has seen his first-team options limited since the turn of the year.
The red-haired academy product currently finds himself fifth choice behind Shelvey, Hayden, Sean, and loanee Nabil Bentaleb. Throw in a contract dispute between the youngster, who has only played a measly 14 times for the first-team, and it begs the question as to whether we’ll even miss young Matty at all.
Udinese are thought to be waiting in the wings and ready to pounce should our club’s hierarchy fail to match their £30k-a-week offer, a dilemma that has split the Toon Army faithful down the middle.
With a Saudi takeover looming and older sibling Sean showing he is capable of spearheading our attacks from midfield, Wednesday’s 4-1 trouncing of Bournemouth on the south coast could prove to pierce a subliminal nail into the coffin of Matty Longstaff’s Newcastle United future.