Newcastle United player opens up about being frozen out by Rafa Benitez
It’s been almost two years since Rob Elliot last played a game for Newcastle United.
In that time the goalkeeper started to fall out of love with the game.
Elliot, however, is very much back in love with football, though he knows he may never play another game for a club which he took to his heart following his move to Tyneside eight years ago.
The 33-year-old, out of contract next summer, made 16 Premier League appearances the season before last. Elliot’s last game came against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on December 27, 2017. Raheem Sterling scored the only goal of the game.
Elliot suffered a thigh injury in the game – and that turned out to be that under Rafa Benitez. He soon had Martin Dubravka and Karl Darlow ahead of him in the pecking order, and then-manager Benitez told him to find a new club the following year.
It was a “tough” period for Elliot, who was brought back into the fold by Steve Bruce, Benitez's successor, this summer.
“You never know, but I really hope I haven’t played my last game for the club,” said Elliot, who visited Newcastle East End FC this week to launch of GiveToLocal, a new scheme which aims to put £5million into grassroots football clubs every year.
“When I walked out against Man City, I never would have envisaged that would have been my last game for nearly two years. I tweaked my thigh. I was only out for a couple of weeks, but by that time Karl had come in and then Martin had signed. Martin’s been fantastic and played every game.
“That’s the life of a goalie, unfortunately. I don’t have to talk about how much I love it here and I love playing for the club. To play for Newcastle is what I want to do.
“I sort of fell out of love with football in the last year or so. I’ve found that desire and love again. I’ve been really enjoying training. I came back to pre-season and got knocked out and ruptured my shoulder on the first day with a collision, an accident. At the time, I was just like ‘is this my luck?’.
“You start questioning ‘do I want to play football anymore?’. But, to be fair, and I’m not just saying it, the atmosphere the new manager and coaches have created … I’ve loved it. I’ve thrived, and I’ve really enjoyed training. I’m getting myself back to where I was.
“So, from a personal point of view, that’s a plus for me. It’s been quite a tough year and a half. Everyone wants to know what’s going on with you when things are going well. When you’re not, and you’re out of the picture, it can be tough. You’re on your own – that’s the life of a footballer, especially a goalkeeper.”
Benitez told Elliot to leave for the sake of his career. Elliot, signed from Charlton Athletic in 2011, chose fight over flight, which he now accepts was “naive” given that Benitez had made his decision.
“It’s not nice,” said Elliot. “You always expect it, but it’s still not nice when it happens.
“You have to make decisions. I made a decision not to go and to fight. That was probably a bit naive from me. Probably because I love the place so much that I wanted to stay and to fight. That was probably a bit naive thinking that I’d have a chance to do that, whereas it was probably more written in stone that I wasn’t. It was probably more written that I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to push.
“The big thing for me now is I’m enjoying coming in. I want to do extra. I want to be on the pitch more. I haven’t had that feeling for the last year or so. I’m in such a good place now. I want to make the most of it. It gives you more of an appreciation for playing football, working hard and diving around and getting the ball smashed in your face.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating every week when the squad goes up and you’re not in it, but I’ve got two very good goalkeepers in front of me. It’s up to me to do more.
“I’m 34 at the end of the season. I’ve got a lot of experience. Being at Newcastle, you experience a lot of different things on and off the pitch. It stands you in good stead. I want to keep going as long as I can. That’s the way I feel at the moment.
“I speak to (former United defender) Mike Williamson, and he’s player-manager of Gateshead. I say to him ‘don’t you just want to be a manager?’. He says he’s loving playing. The thing for me, when you haven’t played for so long, is the realisation that it doesn’t last forever. You want to make the most of it.”
For the moment, all Elliot can do is work hard in the week and watch at the weekend. He enjoyed watching Sunday’s 1-0 win over Manchester United, which came thanks to a goal from Matty Longstaff on his debut.
Elliot said: “I nearly dropped the baby! Everyone was buzzing for him (Longstaff). He’s such a great kid. He’s a breath of fresh air. That win was massive.”
Longstaff joined the Academy from from North Shields Juniors, while Elliot started his career at the opposite end of the country.
“I was born in Greenwich and moved out to Kent,” said Elliot. “I played for Spartak FC, a team in the Medway League. It was run by dads. We trained on a local park – we couldn’t afford facilities as it was a very small club. I played at loads of non-league teams, and obviously worked my way up.”
Elliot was happy to get behind GiveToLocal, which aims to increase the funding available to grassroots clubs.
“Sometimes when stuff like this comes up you can be quite sceptical about how it works, but when you look into it, it’s such a simple concept, which could make a massive difference to the local area,” said Elliot.
“I’ve set up roots here and I want to do as much as I can to raise awareness and help. At the top level, sometimes you forget about the grassroots and the people who give up their time to help local kids for nothing. Not kids who are going to play Premier League football, but just to give them some enjoyment.
“The way the app works is fantastic. Overall, it’s a massive win-win.”