Anthony Gordon once had a reputation for being a cocky irritant. A player of potential at Everton but of questionable character. He looked like someone who could lose their way.
Just another talented footballer who would get carried away on his own hype train and fail to live up to the early promise. That was before Eddie Howe got a hold of him and Newcastle United got under his skin.
It is a tribute to the culture Howe has created at a club that expects every player to work as hard for the shirt as every Geordie once dreamed of doing before a lack of the required football ability consigned them to the stands.
There are plenty of Geordies in this wonderful, vibrant Newcastle team, but if one player epitomises the spirit; the approach, the work ethic and the in your face attitude of Howe’s team it is Gordon. Newcastle fans adore him because he represents everything that makes this team a joy to watch.
He does not stop. He keeps coming at you, over and over again. He is a nightmare to play against, fast, clever and skilful. He torments full backs, but more than that, he does all the ugly things that wingers tend to resent. He tracks back, he sprints to make tackles, he helps his full back and he will do it for 90 minutes or more.
He should be in the England squad and surely will be for Euro 2024 if Gareth Southgate has any inclination to pick the in form players in the country rather than his old favourites.
The Scouser, a £55 million signing from Everton back January, a deal mocked by plenty of armchair experts – and even some professional ones – as a waste of money, has been superb. He has been nominated for the player of the month award for November but will surely be in the conversation for player of the season at this rate.
For a few months, Gordon struggled to get to grips with things on Tyneside. He was disappointing even and spent most of his first season sitting on the bench.
He even made the mistake of throwing a strop and publicly rebuking his manager for taking him off late on in a game against Brentford in a match he had started on the bench. It helped paint that picture of a petulant young man who could fall out with anyone.
So it is worth dwelling on Gordon’s post match interview after the win over Manchester United. He had just scored his sixth goal of the season, his best return for a Premier League campaign and we are at the start of December. He had every right to sound cocky and brash. But this is what he said.
“We’ve always got belief, that’s not something we ever lack,” Gordon told NUTV. “It’s been difficult obviously because the same 11 players are playing so many minutes so we are tired. The longer the game goes on, that probably favours them a little bit as they were able to bring on fresh players. Getting the first goal was huge and I was really pleased to get it.
Anthony Gordon gives Newcastle a deserved lead at St. James' Park! 💥 pic.twitter.com/vPdY7xo5AJ
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) December 2, 2023
“I don’t think it’s a secret anymore [that I’ve elevated my game] I’m trying to be consistent now, adding more goals and assists, that end product.
“But that’s not my main focus, my main focus is to be someone the manager can trust so that I’m, hopefully, one of the first names on the team sheet.
That is because of that trust and I feel like I’m doing that with my work, what I do going backwards to help the left back.
“I want to be a winger who can run both ways, help the team at both ends, going backwards and forwards. There aren’t many of them at the top level and that is what I want to become.”
It is also worth highlighting what Howe had to say too because Gordon is everything he wants in a player.
“From day one you could see the passion in [Anthony Gordon’s] personality,” Howe said. “His desire to achieve and be successful. He’s really worked at his game. Every day he wants to do more, and sometimes we have to get him off the training pitch.
“Anthony has a burning motivation to become the best he can. There is an openness in him, he is inquisitive, he wants to ask questions, any player will listen as long as you can add value and that is what we try to do. I always believe a player can get better and there is still more to come from Anthony Gordon.
“He is playing at a very, very high level and has been all season. He is getting the goals and you need the headlines if you are to force your way into the England squad with the competition.”
Southgate has made some flattering comments about the 22-year-old in press conferences, but he called up Chelsea’s Cole Palmer last month when injuries led to withdrawals from the squad.
But for his captain at Newcastle, Kieran Trippier, is only a matter of time as he told his young team-mate when their families went on holiday together last summer – just before Gordon won the player of the tournament at the European Under-21 Championships.
“I was away on holiday with Ant and we had a really good chat when we were away,” said Trippier. “It was in Dubai before I went away with England.
“We had a really good talk about when he first signed, how difficult he found it at first with the way we played and the way we train. And I just told him to give it time. I just told him it was an important summer for him, to go away with the Under 21s, do as well as he can, but don’t take too much time off. Come straight back to Newcastle and prepare for your first pre-season.
“Obviously, that is not for me to pick the [England] team, that is for Gareth, but I always said to Ant, don’t overthink it . He has not been in the past few squads but Gareth has made it clear he is on the radar. But I tell Ant, don’t overthink it , don’t focus on England, just focus on your club and if you keep performing the way you are, then the rewards will come. He deserves all the praise he is getting.”
What he really deserves is a chance to prove he should be in England’s European Championship squad before the summer arrives.