It's been five days since the pre-Aston Villa press conference from Eddie Howe, and since then, there has been something weighing on my mind.
We have had a few enigmatic, mercurial talents over the years, but the players of this ilk really shone during the Mike Ashley era of darkness. They stood out from the mediocrity we had come to accept and offered us game-changing excitement. However, adding Steve Bruce to the mix meant we truly were just "ticking along".
That is all we had; little moments of individual brilliance.
Allan Saint-Maximin is exactly that. One of those most explosive, technically gifted players to grace the hollowed turf of St James' Park. One of my favourite players ever. A player who can single-handedly win us games and has entertained both young and old fans alike.
However, Maxi's time at Newcastle hasn't been without setbacks and, in particular, his injury record hasn't been great. I had never really considered the details of a player's recovery, and how they personally go about it until I read Jamie Vardy’s autobiography. Vardy struggled to return from an injury and the physios were puzzled as to why he wasn’t healing as desired. The Leicester striker then revealed his diet to the physio, and it all became clear. He wasn’t looking after himself in his own time and this was hampering his recovery.
Now, I am not comparing the two players, but it did open my eyes to how important a player's attitude is during recovery. Self-discipline is just as important as the work you put in with the physios and medical team.
During the press conference pre-Villa, Eddie Howe was asked how he thought Maxi had progressed and how he reacted to a setback he had in his return:
"It almost reset him mentally to go, 'Right, I've got to really look after myself and get my recovery right'. So, I think I have seen, this time, a real huge steely determination in him to get back fit and in the best physical condition possible.”
Eddie makes two points that stand out to me. He refers to Maxi looking after himself and how his efforts have been apparent ‘this time'. The inference here is that Saint-Maximin hasn’t been applying himself during his recovery to the standard that is expected. This may have been acceptable under Steve Bruce, and when Maxi was the diamond in the rough, but not now.
We would all forgive our star players during the Ashley era as they were the only excitement we got from the team we followed religiously. We are now in a position where the club and team have come on strongly without the Frenchman. The expectations on player fitness have risen in tandem with Howe’s high-pressing, hard-working style of play. Everyone, from top to bottom, must embrace this.
Allan Saint-Maximin's place in the starting XI is no longer guaranteed and I firmly believe Howe’s comments are a message to the player and fans. The way Howe conducts himself is both admirable and measured, and he chooses his words carefully. I believe this is the way he prepares everyone for any potential issues with Maxi ahead. The players must sing off the same sheet or you’ll not be in the side. We are a club with big ambitions and no player is bigger than the club.