Newcastle United’s Matt Ritchie has admitted he thought his St James’ Park career was over in January.
The Magpies were set to offload the versatile Scotland international to Bournemouth in the January transfer window, but the deadline-day switch didn’t get over the line.
It meant Ritchie stayed on Tyneside to fight for his place – a fight he has eventually won.
After being given another chance in the first team due to injuries, Ritchie has seized his chance with both hands, and has been one of the most consistent players as United finally found some Premier League form.
Ritchie has started the last five games for United, playing every minute in a run which has seen just one defeat – Sunday’s 2-0 setback against Arsenal.
But it all could have been so different if a deal with Bournemouth could have been struck back in January, with his five-year association with the club almost at an end.
“If I’m honest, yes, I thought my Newcastle career was over,” Ritchie told Sky Sports.
“As a kid I went on loan as a young age, when I went back to Portsmouth I could’ve stayed there longer but took the decision to move on and go and continue to play. I’ve always backed myself to get back up the leagues.
“It was difficult, it was probably my first spell in my career where I’ve been fully fit and not involved, so that was difficult mentally and physically, how to adapt and adapt my training. They’re challenges I’ve not had before.
“It’s about managing your body so you are ready when called upon, training throughout the week at the intensity which is going to be needed for the weekend, and when you’re not involved for a long period that can be difficult.
“I feel like I’ve come through it, learned a lot in the last six months and I’m pleased with how I’ve reacted personally to those challenges.”
Ritchie will complete his fifth season as Newcastle player later this month after signing under Rafa Benitez in 2016.
He was a key man in the club’s Championship title-winning season under the Spaniard, and has played a variety of roles for the club – currently occupying the left wing-back slot.
His 163 games in black-and-white to date has seen him score 24 goals, although it is his assists and passion which have made him so popular with the United faithful.
Winning his place back in the United side has led to some to ponder whether he’ll end his international exile and join up with the Scotland squad for this summer’s Euros.
His answer to that question, though, summed up his team ethos.
“Even if the manager (Steve Clarke) was to ask, it’d be unfair on the lads that have sacrificed and put in so much for the success they’ve had,” he added.
“I’m delighted for everyone involved, I did speak to the manager when he first took over, but my circumstances with my family living down south, I took the decision at 29 that it was maybe better for me to give that time to spend with my children.
“He understood that, and I stand by that decision. I like watching the games, the players I’ve played with, the wee man John McGinn is flying, and hopefully they can have some real success at the Euros.
“When I speak to John, he says how much every single player enjoys it. They love going, the culture they have within the group, and from the performances they give, you can see it. They’re playing under enormous pressure, but you can see how much they enjoy it, they have a real way of playing, and they’ve had some real success so far.”