Siem de Jong is in line to start Newcastle United’s crunch relegation clash against Norwich City this coming Saturday after Rafa Benitez hailed his “quality”.
De Jong has suffered a miserable time on Tyneside since his £6million move from Ajax in the summer of 2014.
A succession of injuries has meant he hasn’t been able to make much of an impact at Newcastle, while previous boss Steve McClaren seemed reluctant to play the Dutchman.
However, Benitez’s arrival has signalled a change in fortunes for the attacker, with the new Magpie manager turning to De Jong first from the bench in both his two games in charge.
De Jong was instrumental in helping the Tynesiders get back into the game against Sunderland in the recent derby, and his performance has put him in pole position for a starting role at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Asked if De Jong had a key role to play in Newcastle’s relegation fight, Benitez said: “For sure because he is a good player, he has quality and experience.
“At this time, you need experience, you need people that can understand the game and they can play the game under pressure.
“That is the most difficult thing, to play the game under pressure.
“Some players are good players but struggle under pressure, but he will be important for the rest of the season.”
De Jong admitted McClaren’s exit and Benitez’s appointment has handed him a lifeline at St James’s Park.
He said: “I think it’s good for me. I just came back from a strange injury on the eye but I am happy to be back in the team.
“The manager talks to me about what he wants. That’s good, and I think he’s doing well and get the team play the way he wants.”
And Benitez believes the Dutch international’s experience and cool head will be a huge asset to Newcastle when the pressure intensifies in the last few games of the season.
“He (De Jong) knows what to do with the ball on the pitch,” added Benitez.
“He’s not scared to receive the ball and try to do things.
“It’s really important for the young players and for everyone because you know that you can give the ball to him and he will try his best, but he will do it well.
“Some people maybe they know how to take possession, but they are so anxious they will make mistakes.
“So to manage the pressure is important now, and the people with experience and then playing well on the pitch he is good.”