Matt Ritchie has played in 34 of our 36 Premier League games this season, but a new contract for the 29-year-old remains unlikely, even if he wishes to secure some guarantees that he has a future on Tyneside.
The £10.8million-rated winger’s current deal does not expire until 2021, but due to the club’s policy of refusing to offer players approaching their 30s long-term contracts, remains in an uncomfortable situation in any discussions.
What has not been uncomfortable for the former Scotland international, though, has been his move from the wings to full-back, which even Rafa Benitez has admitted came about by accident rather than intent.
Ritchie is so at ease dealing with some of the Premier League’s best attackers, while adding another element to our attacks through his overlapping runs, that the Northern Echo are claiming he can see himself playing the rest of his career there.
The former Bournemouth ace has even revealed that being able to operate sufficiently with his back to our goal was something Benitez, and former head coach Eddie Howe, would never have thought possible.
“I thoroughly enjoy the defensive side of things,” Ritchie said. “I’ve played against some very good wingers now. I’ve learned on the job a bit defensively, and if you ask the gaffer here or Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, they’d probably never have said that I could defend.
“I’ve always liked to press and enjoyed regaining the ball, but one-on-one defending has never really been part of my make-up. But I’ve really relished and enjoyed learning it, and I feel as though I’m accomplished now in that part of my game. I feel confident coming up against not only high-skilled players, but also fast players. I feel as though I know how to deal with it.
“We’ve spent quite a lot of time playing with a front three, with Ronny [Salomon Rondon], Miguel [Almiron] and Ayo [Ayoze Perez], and if you’re playing as a wide player in that formation, you have to be a real threat in behind.
“My strength isn’t really running behind. Don’t get me wrong, if we were a total football team it would be different, and it was different in the Championship because we had a lot of the ball. But with the team we have now in the Premier League, we’re a bit more counter-attacking. I enjoy playing wing-back – I get a lot more of the ball than I did higher up the pitch.”