RECOVERING striker Leon Best is hopeful of returning for the final stages of Newcastle United’s Europa League push – and wants to put himself in the frame for summer national service in the process.
Best had been effectively written off for the season after suffering a serious knee ligament injury in early February, but his return is ahead of schedule and he expects to return to light training in a week.
That will put him in contention for a packed Easter programme which may prove critical to the club’s hopes of booking a return to Continental competition.
It would also provide an attacking boost to Alan Pardew, who has established Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse as his first-choice partnership but is light on alternative options, after Peter Lovenkrands was ruled out for the rest of the campaign.
If Best can impress in those final weeks, he reckons that a place in Ireland’s Euro 2012 plans is still a possibility.
Speaking alongside Demba Ba at an event to promote United’s participation in the Show Racism the Red Card initiative, Best says he is desperate for a comeback.
“I’m going to be back running hopefully in the next week, ten days,” he said. “I’m doing leg-strengthening exercises now and it feels good so I’ve got confidence I’ll be back before the end
of the season to play games. I want to be part of what we’re doing here.
“I’ve been going to every game and kicking the chair in front of me, but I’m only really happy when I’m on the pitch.
“To get fit with the possibility of being in the Euros, that’s in the back of my mind, now I need to get fit and play a couple of Newcastle games to show that I’m fit enough to go. I’m confident I can get some games under my belt before the summer.
“I feel like when I’ve played this season I’ve showed what I’m capable of and that I can do just as well as everyone else.
“Before I moved to this club I did have opportunities to go to other places, but I thought if I came here and did well I’d get the respect I want. It’s a massive club and I have done well when I’ve come in.
“I’ve enjoyed playing with Demba and look forward to playing with him even more as well as Papiss and Hatem (Ben Arfa). But again, it’s good options for the manager. He’s got players on the bench that have proved they can do it as well as players on the pitch who are doing it.”
Best is confident the club will complete their push for Europe in the next nine games, adding: “The original target was to give ourselves a chance to be in the position and now we’re in that position we’ll fight for our lives to get it. I think we’ve done very well to be able to put ourselves in this position and personally I think we’ll do it.”
Meanwhile, The Journal understands that Cheick Tiote remains fully committed to Newcastle despite a fresh set of reports linking him with a move to Chelsea.
The Blues have been linked with a £30m double swoop for the Ivorian midfielder and keeper Tim Krul, who recently signed a four- year contract with a significant pay bump.
United will listen to offers around £15m for Tiote but a source close to the player insisted that Tiote remains “very settled” at St James’ Park and won’t push for a move.
l NEWCASTLE Reserves lost 4-2 at home to Chelsea’s second string last night.