Ex-Sunderland midfielder Jack Colback breaks silence on his Newcastle United return – and reveals what happened with Rafa Benitez
Former Sunderland midfielder Jack Colback has not given up on his Newcastle United career.
The 29-year-old was told to find a new club by former manager Rafa Benitez two years ago.
However, Colback started both of the club’s Premier League Asia Trophy games in China.
And Colback, in the last year of his contract at St James’s Park, could yet play his way into the plans of Steve Bruce, who he played for at Sunderland earlier in his career.
Colback – who spent last season on loan at Championship club Nottingham Forest – never thought he would play again for the club after being frozen out by Benitez in the summer of 2017 following United’s promotion to the Premier League.
Asked about his return to the squad, the Killingworth-born player said: “It’s a bit unexpected, but that’s football sometimes.
“Obviously, I knew I had a year left, but I wasn’t expecting to come back and be involved. Things can change. All I’ve got to do is apply myself and work hard for the team when selected.”
Colback hopes to impress Bruce – who is short in midfield following the departure of Mohamed Diame last month – in the club’s remaining two pre-season games against Preston North End, Hibernian and Saint-Etienne.
“If I’ve got a realistic chance to play, then of course (I want to stay),” he said. “I loved my time here when I was playing. It’s a great place to play, St James’s.
“I always gave 100% for the shirt. I’ll continue to do that, if selected.”
Colback was told to train at the Academy by Benitez – who left the club last month following the expiry of his contract – after playing for him in Newcastle’s Championship-winning campaign.
He didn’t play again for Benitez after starting the club’s friendly away to Mainz on July 29, 2017.
“It was out of the blue, really,” said Colback, who joined Newcastle on a free transfer in the summer of 2014 after his Sunderland contract expired.
“That was what was surprising. I got on fine with Rafa when he was here and played games with him. It was just out of the blue, which was the only strange thing, I felt.
“Again, that’s football. I’m big enough to take it on the chin. There are a lot better players than me left out of squads. I went to Forest and really enjoyed my time there.
“Now maybe I’ve got half a chance back here, so we’ll see what happens.”
Colback, however, says he’s “realistic” about his prospects of playing for United again in the Premier League.
“I knew when I was with the Under-23s that I had to go out and get some game time,” said Colback. “I did that at Forest and really enjoyed my time there.
“I’m realistic. I’m still not thinking I’m going to nail down a position, but I’m going to give it a go. If I can impress the new manager, then great. If not, you’ll see what’s out there. It gives me a chance, if nothing else.”
Colback knows Bruce well from their time together at Sunderland.
“The club was in limbo for too long,” said Colback. “When Rafa went it obviously took a while to get a new manager in. It was difficult for Ben and Neil, but they’ve been really good with us. They understood the situation. Now we’ve got the new manager in, we’ve got to listen to what he wants and, as players, buy into that.”
Newcastle finished third in the Premier League Asia Trophy after beating West Ham United 1-0 in Shanghai on Saturday. The club had lost 4-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers three days earlier.
Asked about the performance, Colback said: “A lot more organised. We looked threatening on the ball, (had) a good shape to us.
“The conditions were tough. That was a big factor against Wolves. I thought we started well against Wolves, but the goals were sloppy. But I thought we applied ourselves really well and played some good stuff.”
Meanwhile, Sean Longstaff made his comeback from injury against West Ham – alongside his younger sibling Matty.
The 21-year-old midfielder – who is a summer transfer target for Manchester United – came off the bench at Shanghai’s Hongkou Football Stadium along with his 19-year-old brother.
It was the first time they had played together in a first-team game.
“The new boss is coming in, and it’s a clean slate for everybody – including me,” said Longstaff, who suffered knee ligament damage against the same team at the London Stadium in March.
“I just get my head down, and work on the pitch. Like anybody knows, you’re no use to anybody if you aren’t fit.”
On Man United’s interest, Longstaff said: “I just keep my head down. I’m just trying to get fit – that’s all I can focus on. I’m still a Newcastle United player.
“I make more and more progress everyday – that’s all I look forward to. I can’t wait to get on the pitch and impress the new boss. If somebody had said to be me a year ago I’d be in this position, I would probably have laughed at them.”