The 20-year-old, two years junior to brother Sean, has been offered a five-year deal by Italian side Udinese. The Zebrette will reportedly pay the England youth international £30,000 a week – a significant rise on his current £850-a-week contract.
However, there could be more to this than meets the eye. Udinese and Watford share owners – the Pozzo family. It’s well-known that the two clubs effectively use the same pool of players, with technical staff deciding where new signings should be placed.
If Udinese sign the youngster, they will only be liable to pay a £400,000 training fee. If Watford made the same move, they’d be stung for more as Longstaff is under-24 and the two teams play in the same country.
Udinese currently have Ken Sema on loan from the Hornets. Sebastian Prödl, Stefano Okaka and Marvin Zeegelaar has all played for the Hertfordshire side but reside in Udine. In fact, it’s rare a transfer window goes by without a deal involving the two clubs being completed.
It’s entirely conceivable Udinese would sign Longstaff before loaning him to Watford. Alternatively, they could incubate the youngster for a season before he returned to England.
As Longstaff will become a free agent on June 30, he can agree on a deal with the Serie A outfit now. English clubs cannot approach the Rotherham-born midfielder until closer to the expiry date, though that could all change thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
What sort of player is Longstaff?
It’s still very early to be drawing too many conclusions about Longstaff Jnr. He only made his professional debut in a Carabao Cup tie in August, following that with a late winner against Manchester United on his first league start.
In total, the youngster has just 544 minutes of Premier League action under his belt. But already he has shown enough to suggest his signing could be a coup.
Longstaff could be described as an ‘Old-school English midfielder’ thanks to his blend of tenacity, stamina and box-to-box qualities. In limited action, he’s already shown an eye for goal by scoring in the 4-1 reverse at Old Trafford.
In fact, that goal summed up a lot of what is impressive about Longstaff. He made a lung-bursting run to the edge of the penalty area before lofting the ball into the path of Joelinton. Crowded out inside the box, the Brazilian returned the ball to Longstaff who had been lurking with intent. After a deft touch to evade Luke Shaw, he slammed the ball past David de Gea with the ease of seasoned No.9.
His main attributes are on the ball, though. Longstaff has a good range of passing and while Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United aren’t the most expressive, he still completed 31.76 of 39.71 attempted passes (per 90). Almost a third of those (10.09) go forward. An overall passing accuracy of 80 per cent isn’t to be sniffed at, in a side which has attempted the second-fewest passes per 90 (328.9) this season.
Longstaff always makes space for his team-mates to pick him out with a pass, is alert and a shrewd user of the ball; often one step ahead of those trying to thwart him.
An energetic and diligent presser to boot, Longstaff has the qualities which suggest he will become a well-rounded and versatile midfielder. But he remains rough around the edges and Bruce still signed another central midfielder – Nabil Bentaleb – in January.
What next for Longstaff?
Newcastle and Longstaff are at an impasse. Managing director Lee Charnley ‘won’t budge‘ on the initial offer made to the midfielder, who has seen his game time decrease dramatically in 2020.
Bruce has been worried about the youngster’s future for some time. Speaking in February, Bruce told Sky Sports News: “It’s a concern for us all, of course it is. I hope we can get that tied up, I really do. But, they’ve got the power these days, the players. We see it often now with young players as well. I hope there’s a bit of common sense.
“There’s nobody, at 19, played more games than him. He’s got an opportunity.”
Speaking more recently, he implored Longstaff to avoid making a decision based on money, amid reports Italian giants Milan and Internazionale were keen on him.
“I’m sure there are people in his ear, and distractions. I hope he just looks at it as a football career. At the end of the day, if you have a successful career, money will find you. That’s always been my philosophy on it.”
Where would he fit in at Watford?
There’s a – not wholly inaccurate – perception outside of Vicarage Road that Watford rely largely on the foreign market. This would make a deal for Longstaff, albeit via their sister club, improbable. But that has changed in recent times.
Young Stevenage midfielder Ben Wilmot arrived a couple of summers ago as a project for the long term. Will Hughes was one of the most sought after midfielders in the Championship when he signed from Derby County in 2017. Nathaniel Chalobah joined from Chelsea in the same summer. When Watford spy the opportunity to sign young English talent, they go for it.
Longstaff ticks that box. It’s believed he would prefer to remain at St. James’ Park but if that option is eventually removed from the equation, a switch to another Premier League club could be appealing.
Watford are blessed in midfield – even if Abdoulaye Doucouré is eventually snapped up by a bigger side. Étienne Capoue, Hughes, Chalobah and Tom Cleverley provide plenty of cover. Pape Gueyé could yet arrive in WD18 – although he and his lawyer are contesting the five-year deal announced earlier this year.
Perhaps, then, a season in Udinese will await for Longstaff. Based in the North of the country and wearing black and white stripes, the Zebrette could prove a home away from home until he returns to the UK.