Rafael Benitez is confident emerging Newcastle talent Sean Longstaff is ready to step on to the international stage – but is determined to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
The 21-year-old Academy graduate has been one of the stars of a run which has seen the relegation-threatened Magpies collect 10 of the last 15 Premier League points they have contested after being thrown in at the deep end in the midst of an injury crisis.
Longstaff has started the last nine games and will hope to retain his place against Burnley on Tuesday night despite Jonjo Shelvey, Mohamed Diame and Ki Sung-yueng having all returned to fitness.
The form he has shown has led to speculation that he will be handed an England Under-21s call-up next month.
When it was suggested he would not look out of place in that company, Benitez said: “No, he wouldn’t look out of place.
“I think he will go. But the main thing, for me, is to keep him calm and keep him working as hard as he is now.
“I like to see my players going to the national team, but it has to be the right one. I don’t care if it’s under-20, 21s or even the senior side, but I think he needs to go one step at a time.”
Longstaff’s rise has been little short of meteoric with Benitez trusting him enough to hand him starts against Chelsea, Tottenham and most notably Manchester City, who succumbed 2-1 at St James’ Park on January 29.
However, the Spaniard is conscious the player has only just launched his senior career and still has much to learn.
Benitez said: “One thing I can say about Sean is that he is humble, professional and focused. He is a player who can be consistent.
“If we start talking too much about him and how well he is doing every week, then it is always a risk for young players.
“I think he is fine. The steps are right and he is doing what he has to do. I think there are not too many English players with his quality. I think he will go.
“He just has to be sure that, when he does, he plays well and it will be another experience for him. But I don’t think he will have any rush to go to the national team, it’s just one step at a time.”
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