Jamaal Lascelles has had a great start to the season for Newcastle United, which has earned him a new and improved contract with the club. The deal will keep him at St James’ Park until June 2023.
It was important that the Magpies brought his salary into line with his contributions to the club as captain, as he was still on the same contract that he signed in 2014 as a 20-year-old. Since then, he has become a first-team regular and earned himself the armband as a result of his leadership qualities.
The board will have noticed the praise that their skipper had been receiving across the national media and this new contract sends a clear message that Lascelles is their man for the future. The sceptics will suggest that Newcastle are merely safeguarding the value of an asset.
Although there may be some truth to that, Rafa Benitez is a huge fan of the centre-back and will want his captain to be a key figure in the next chapter at St James’ Park. His comments reported by the official club website suggest as much:
“As soon as I made the decision to make Jamaal the captain of Newcastle United, he rose to the challenge and he has developed as a player and a character. He has proven himself to be a very good leader and a good role model too.
“He has also improved as a player, responding well to our advice and guidance and getting better with every game. I would like to congratulate him on his new contract with the club, it is very well deserved.”
The relationship between the manager and captain is an important one at any club. Newcastle have one that works well with Benitez and Lascelles. The defender alluded to it upon reacting to his new contract with the club:
“I’m over the moon. Since I came to Newcastle, I’ve been happy; I love the city, the football and the fans. Everything about it, I enjoy so I’m happy to be tied down for the next six years here. We’ve got a group of ambitious lads, the fans are excellent and the manager has got trust in me, so I’m really happy here and I want to take the club as high as it can go.”
Benitez noticed the leadership qualities in Lascelles at an early stage and promoted him to club captain, despite his perceived lack of experience. His comments above reflect how much he loves playing for Newcastle and the importance of having the manager’s trust.
It has been a key reason why he improves every game and he realises the Spaniard’s influence on his career. If he wants to continue progressing and become the best player he can be, St James’ Park is the best place for him.
His journey to becoming a Premier League captain
Lascelles was developed by Nottingham Forest and was a graduate from their successful academy, making his first-team debut at the beginning of 2012. His talent was always well-documented and reports of interest from bigger teams was a constant of his early career. Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were both linked with the centre-back during his time at Nottingham Forest.
His breakthrough season came during the 2013-14 campaign, as he made 29 appearances in the Championship. Despite the flaws to his game, it was obvious that Lascelles had huge potential and the interest from bigger clubs continued in the background.
QPR were in the hunt for his signature during the following summer, but Newcastle managed to secure the defender’s services, in a deal that also saw Karl Darlow move to Tyneside. Both players returned to Nottingham Forest on loan for the 2014-15 season.
The reported fee was £7 million and Stuart Pearce, the manager of Forest at the time, was annoyed at the deal, as he felt the pair’s value would increase significantly in the future.
“We had an offer from Newcastle, that I was made aware of last week, in regards to the two players going there. The figures that were mentioned, by the representative of our club – I said I would not do that deal, when I was asked the question. I thought I could push their value up and that they would be worth more in the long run.”
Looking back at the deal, it has transpired to be a great piece of business by Newcastle and Forest will be regretting their decision to sell for such a low figure. It didn’t exactly go swimmingly for Lascelles after the deal was signed, as he appeared in court over an alleged assault during his loan spell at the City Ground.
Then when he finally got to St James’ Park, he struggled to break into the team and played a supporting role as the club fell to relegation. No player wants to suffer a relegation, but in hindsight, Lascelles benefitted hugely from it.
A 3-1 defeat to Southampton may look like a poor afternoon, but it was the making of Lascelles in the eyes of Rafa Benitez. His young defender was heavily critical of the squad and suggested the players needed to show more heart on the pitch.
“On paper our team is ridiculous but we need to show more heart. We need players who care and will look after each other, we’ve lacked it. We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent but we need more heart, desire and bigger characters on the pitch. No matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger it doesn’t matter.”
At the time, Newcastle fans were demanding a team that tried and the comments from Lascelles, although shocking, were exactly what they wanted to hear from one of their players.
He proved that these weren’t just words and that he would practice what he preached the following weekend, as he scored to help the side to a 3-0 win at home to Swansea City. Relegation following weeks later, but the centre-back left a lasting impression on his manager and was awarded the captaincy for the following campaign.
“At the end of last season he really developed as a character and a man. I am pleased that Jamaal will be our captain, but I have also said to other players that they must too show their character, strength and leadership qualities to support the team.”
Benitez said the above upon appointing Lascelles as the club captain and although it isn’t openly stated, his comments suggest that the Southampton affair played a big part in his decision. The year in the Championship wasn’t easy, but Newcastle triumphed and returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
He had his critics during the season, especially after the turn of the year, but it was since reported that the 23-year-old was playing with a double-hernia problem for a number of months. He was determined to help his side achieve promotion and didn’t complain about his injury problems once.
That is the mark of a true leader. Those that have followed his career won’t be surprised that he is now performing well as a Premier League captain. He will be the first to admit that his career hasn’t been perfect, but he learns from his mistakes and challenges himself to be a better person and footballer.
Lascelles will be a player worth following for the rest of the season and with some already putting him forward for an England call-up, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he was included in the squad for the World Cup next summer.