After their fine start to life back in Europe, Newcastle’s best players are being noticed around the Continent. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas explains how United’s Europa League campaign is changing perceptions everywhere.
IT is a measure of Newcastle United’s rising European profile their presence in the Jan Breydal Stadium tonight has been noted by some of the Continent’s biggest clubs.
The Journal can reveal Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal have all dispatched scouts to Bruges for this eagerly-anticipated Group D clash.
Given none were here for the Belgian team’s previous Europa League games, it is fair to assume it is one of United’s blue-chip players who has caught the eye of the assembled clubs and they want to pay closer attention.
Of course, it is standard practice for scouts to do their homework on Europe’s best players – even if their club have no intention of tabling official offers for them.
Still, the prospect of Milan eyeing Cheick Tioté or Fabricio Coloccini illustrates Newcastle are a draw beyond the confines of the Premier League.
Alan Pardew thinks so. Having identified European football as a key part of the club’s development process, he sees their Belgian assignment as pivotal for several reasons.
First of all, he wants Newcastle to progress so it mitigates the need to select his heavyweights for the pre-Christmas games against Maritimo and Bordeaux.
He also wants several of United’s players who have, in his own words, not impressed this season to finally step up to the mark.
He did not single out the players in question but, with Sammy Ameobi, Shola Ameobi, Tioté and Coloccini all confirmed starters, the identity of the players who need to grasp the mettle will probably be elsewhere.
Gabriel Obertan, Gaël Bigirimana and James Tavernier could also be in the starting XI to face managerless Club Brugge - with Rob Elliot battling Tim Krul for goalkeeping duties.
Pardew reflected: “It is important for the young players. Every game, you grow as a person or a professional footballer, every professional game you play, you are always learning, trust me.
“You are always learning something. I am sure Stevie Gerrard – that was his 600th game for Liverpool at the weekend – will have learned something new about himself or from the opposition in that game. You do, you learn things as you go along.
“Every game is massive for them, they have to grab it, and there are one or two tonight who will get an opportunity who have not shone this year and they need to because there is real competition for the bench now.
“I look round at that bench and in all honesty there’s not a lot of difference between the bench and the team that’s starting, so it’s a great position for me.
“It’s a lot stronger than when I arrived and that’s the strength of what we have now. We have a really good group of players and nice options for me to change it.”
:: We're running a short survey about how users consume football content online - tell us about your habits, likes and dislikes by clicking this link