Andros Townsend’s former manager Rafael Benitez texted the player to congratulate him on his England call-up, but the Spaniard of course couldn’t hide the face that he was desperate to keep the former Tottenham man at St. James’ Park ahead of Newcastle United’s bid for an automatic return to the Premier League after suffering relegation last season. What is clear however in the mind of the player, is that he simply had to quit Newcastle and return to the Premier League for the sake of his international career.
The 25-year-old made a positive impact at St James’ Park following his move there in January 2016 having previously struggled to nail down a starting role with old club Tottenham. His initial move to Newcastle was with England prospects in mind. Following his England debut, in which he found the net against Montenegro, he enjoyed something of a purple patch at Spurs before suffering injury, after which he was never able to force himself back into the first-team picture.
Newcastle’s relegation from the Premier League saw Townsend on the move once more, this time back to London, but it would be South rather then North, Selhurst Park his new stomping ground after moving to Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace. He has netted once since his arrival, but his form there has seen him called back into the international fold by interim England manager Gareth Southgate, following an injury to Raheem Sterling.
He didn’t feature against Malta on Saturday, but may still make an appearance in Ljubljana in the week when England face Slovenia, and Townsend is certain that leaving Tyneside was the right decision in terms of getting back to his peak and enhancing his England prospects. Of course, losing Townsend after such a short time will have been disappointing for both Rafael Benitez and Newcastle supporters alike, but when Palace met his £13 million release clause, there was only one choice for Townsend himself.
“It has been extremely frustrating. Looking back on it I got injured at the wrong time when I was flying high,” he said in an interview with Sky Sports.
“Then for a year or two I could not get back to the form I wanted to. But now, what is in the past is in the past and I proved at Newcastle I am still good enough to play in the Premier League.
“It gave me great confidence again and I got back in the England squad. Unfortunately, it did not work out for me there but now I am playing well for Palace and scoring goals again.
“Obviously there is a bit of frustration that I could not kick on after my debut but I think I am in a good place again, I am happy with my form and I am playing well.”
Ultimately despite the blow of losing Townsend, Benitez understood why it was that he had to leave for pastures new.
“I spoke to him on the phone pretty much every day over the summer,” Townsend said of Rafael Benitez in the Telegraph.
“When I made my decision I dropped him a text to let him know, and he recently texted to congratulate me on my England call-up”.
“He understood and all is well there. I became a better player under him.”
He will need all the guidance Rafa provided if he is to kick on and consolidate his position after his flying start in Palace colours. Townsend was something of a favourite under former England manager Roy Hodgson, and was often selected for internationals even when he wasn’t seeing much action at Spurs, one example being in a friendly against Italy in Turin, where Townsend scored after coming off the bench in a 1-1 draw. Townsend made the provisional squad for Euro 2016 following his resurgence in form at Newcastle, but failed to make the final 23-man cut.
“Roy did say it didn’t matter if I was playing in the Premier League or Championship” said Townsend.
“But when he left I knew if I was playing in the Championship it would be nigh-on impossible to get in the squad so it was a factor in my decision.
“I really enjoyed my time at Newcastle, I make no secret of that. It did cross my mind to stay but I need to be playing Premier League football if I want to make the most of my career.
“I made the tough decision, I’m happy to be at Palace now, everything is going well, so hopefully it was the right decision.”
The match against Slovenia in Ljubljana will be the third anniversary of Townsend’s international debut. England were 4-1 victors over Montenegro at Wembley in a 2014 World Cup qualifier that night, but despite scoring on the night, he maintains that all-round he is now a better player, particularly so given that he only found the net once in the Premier League for Spurs that year.
“Three years ago is a long time ago and I don’t want to compare myself to a previous time,” said Townsend.
“Maybe I was taking people on more, but now I have matured a lot and am getting crosses early into the box. That is getting me more assists and hopefully I am getting more goals.
“It’s nice to be back. I missed the last few trips. Now I’m back and hopefully I can make the most of it.”
He has certainly made the most of his opportunity at Crystal Palace, but much like Raheem Sterling before his renaissance under Pep Guardiola, he often doesn’t always reward his performances with the goals that he deserves.
That will be a big part of reigniting his England career, but for now he has an early chance of getting his foot in the door.
He may have missed out against Malta, but if the opportunity arrives in Slovenia, it is one that he must take. He made the correct decision regarding his international prospects, but it is now down to him to make it count.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Stelios Markou.