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Allan Saint-Maximin grew up playing the beautiful game on the streets

“I learnt to play on the street. I started there… I think a little bit of me is still playing on the street. When I get the ball, I want to beat my man, dribble, to play with freedom, to express myself. When I’m on the pitch, I am happiest, just like when I was small playing with my brother and his friends. It came naturally to me. I took a ball everywhere, at school, at home I was a like dog playing with a ball all the time. It was not coached. I play football this way because that is the way I have always played it, with pace and skill. In academies, they train, one touch, two touch. I was brought up differently. I dribbled a lot, against bigger stronger boys. Street games, that is where I learned how to beat them and not get kicked… My brother was older than me. Even when I went to St Etienne, I played with the boys who were two or three years older. You have to be able to do things that other players cannot to survive in that environment.

“I know how lucky I am. I have a chance to play football for a living and I am well rewarded, but not everybody is so lucky, life is fickle. This is something I think about a lot. I know where I have come from, I know how hard life can be when you do not have much. I was not from a poor family – my mother is a teacher, my father works in an office job at a university – but they gave me certain values growing up. When my children are hungry, they have food. When we are cold, we put a jumper on. We have a house with heating, I have everything I need. For some, they do not know when they are going to eat, they cannot get warm when it is cold. This makes me sad. It is the same in France as the UK, there is poverty. It is not like I want to change the world, but why not give some of it to those who need the help? When I was little and my mum gave me 10 euros, she would say if you spend it on candy after school do not spend 10 euros only on you. You can give to your friends, not every parent can give their children money for candy. I had friends like that. My parents, they said share what I was fortunate to have. It is my mentality. Give to other people first and then worry about yourself after that. I wanted to help with the Foodbank and I saw it made me people happy, it made people smile and I just thought ‘wow’. This is something I can do and in a small way, it is helping others. I’m not saying everybody has to do this, but like my mother and father said, if everybody gave a little bit, it can make life a little bit better for everybody.

“I can get a lot better. I know my quality and I have a lot of things at Newcastle that will make me better. To play well, you need to enjoy your life. I have that here. This is just the start, we knew this season might be tough, but the club wants to grow and improve, but it has to be gradual. We need time. I am learning all the time. As a team, we are working on how to get me on the ball higher up the pitch, how to get me one on one with a defender because if that happens, I will kill them. They know this already. Watch now, there are two players against me, sometimes three, that makes me happy because I know there will be more space for my partners. You get me one against one, I will do a lot of damage.“Defenders should be scared of me. I am fast and technical. They have to be careful, but it is what I have said to the manager, let them come to me, I will pass to my partners. This is what the trainer talks to me about all the time. He is different to other managers, he is old school in many ways, but I really like him. He is going to be good for me. He talks to me all the time, after every game, we go through what I did well and what I need to improve. It is a big help. I’ve never had this before.

“I remember Hatem Ben Arfa played here,. He told me to sign. He is a good friend, we grew up in the same area. He had some of his best days at Newcastle and wished he had stayed longer. I am here for a long time. This is a long-term project, that is why my family have moved with me. This is a big club with lots of history and we want to get back to the level it was at. But it is not all going to change in one transfer window. Newcastle is a big football city. I wanted to play for a club like this, I wanted pressure, I wanted to be at a club where there are expectations. For me, every player should want to play for a club like this where everybody in the city is a football supporter… the least I can do is try to make them smile.”

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