‘It’s the players and we have to take full responsibility. It’s ourselves who need to change it and not the manager. We need to play with more heart.’
‘We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent, but we need more heart, we need more desire.’
It takes a certain type of personality to face the media with such openness and honesty. To do so 15 games in to a professional career signals either misplaced arrogance or clear leadership potential.
Two years on from these 2016 statements, Jamaal Lascelles is captain of Newcastle United and the latest darling of the Gallowgate End.
At just 24 years old, Lascelles has established himself as the leader and key figure in the Magpies fight for Premiership survival. Such has been his rise over the last two years, there were genuine questions asked when he was left out of the current England squad. This rapid rise should not though disguise the potential risks and consequences of calling out your teammates as a young player. Lascelles left himself with two options; excel or leave. Many questioned the acceptability of a then 22-year-old rookie confronting teammates with an array of international experience. He simply had to put in the performances to justify his ballsy actions. The very next season he skippered the side to the Championship title and back to the promised land. Sometimes fortune really does favour the brave.
Statistics can be misleading, especially when assessing the performance of a defender in a struggling side. That said sometimes the numbers are particularly striking. Lascelles was injured against Bournemouth in November and went on to miss the next five games. Across that span Newcastle managed just one point, against a dismal West Brom side, and conceded 16 goals. Without their captain the Magpies managed an average of 0.17 points per game.Embed from Getty Images
This in stark contrast to the rest of their season. It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Toon Army this campaign but their form with Lascelles in the line-up is significantly superior to that without him. A return of 1.29 points per game is solid enough – across a season that would result in 49 points. There surely wouldn’t be a single supporter at St James’ who wouldn’t take that in a heartbeat. Put simply, Newcastle with Lascelles are a solid Premier League standard team. Without him, it is far less clear cut.
Amongst another season of ownership disputes, managerial unrest and frankly baffling transfer ‘activity’, Newcastle have been thankful for any consistency possible. Whilst Jamaal Lascelles is by no means the finished article, there can be no doubt that he has made remarkable progress. He is still nowhere near the traditional peak age for a centre half and surely once the summer in Russia has passed, Gareth Southgate will be looking to involve one of the league’s most promising young defenders in his squad as quickly as possible. For now though, Newcastle fans should be grateful to have him free of distraction and focused on the key matter of Premier League survival.
So many of the happenings at Newcastle can easily be scrutinised and criticised. Aleksander Mitrovic (another potential cult hero) continued to make a mockery of the Magpies with two goals for Serbia this week, surely leaving supporters wondering how they could possibly be left relying of Joselu and Dwight Gayle to keep team up. The Mike Ashley ownership saga has become so drawn out that it is almost laughable. St James Park has been crying out for a success story.
Now they have one. He wears number six.
After the vital 1-0 victory over Manchester United recently, Lascelles simply tweeted ‘What a huge win! So proud of the team today!’ In two years the atmosphere in the changing room would seem to have changed hugely for the better. It is impossible not to attribute at least part of that to the young man wearing the armband. A long Premier League and international career seems black and white for Jamaal Lascelles.
Written by Dan Fox.