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Eyebrows were raised when Matt Ritchie decided to leave AFC Bournemouth to join Championship side Newcastle United. It wasn’t considered a usual move and many were surprised at his decision. But he justified it with his statements about Newcastle and his desire to play for a big club like NCFC.
When Newcastle signed him, he had experience of playing in the Championship and he had Premier League experience as well. With Andros Townsend leaving for Selhurst Park, Rafa Benitez was left with no option than to search for a replacement and Matt Ritchie arrived, having scored 31 goals for Bournemouth in 3.5 years.
His first stint in the Premier League was in 2008/09 season with Portsmouth FC. However, he made no appearance for them that season and only made 2 appearances the following season and was sent out on loan for both seasons, to Dagenham & Redbridge in the first and to Notts County in the next.
It was not until 2012/13 season that he found his footing, with Bournemouth deciding to nurture the young winger. He joined them on January 30, 2013, and hasn’t looked back since.
There is a reason for Newcastle’s decision to sign Ritchie. He has played in England’s top 4 divisions and was a proven goal scorer in the lower divisions. Thrown into the Premier League for the first time, he reacted by scoring 4 goals and providing 6 assists in the 2015/16 season, which is not bad at all for a player playing for a newly promoted club like AFC Bournemouth.
He made 37 appearances for Bournemouth last season, and that is a statement on his fitness levels. He’s always been known for his pace and work rate.
Another huge advantage for Newcastle United in having Ritchie in their squad is his desire to play for the club. He has always expressed his happiness in playing for a ‘big club’ like Newcastle and has revealed that he couldn’t turn them down when offered a chance. In this season so far, Ritchie has appeared 27 times in 29 league games for the Magpies and has scored 8 and assisted 6.
The manager, Rafa Benitez considers him very important for the club and that is the reason why the Scottish winger has been given so much playing time. He has created 54 chances so far this season, which averages to 2 chances per game and hence he’s quite dangerous from this perspective, thereby adding more threat during build-up play along with goal scoring threat. Having already played one whole season in the Premier League, and with a manager like Benitez nurturing him, Ritchie might very well hit his peak in the next few seasons.
In an interview with Sky Sports on Friday, he said: “No disrespect to Bournemouth because my time there was unbelievable and I loved every minute of it, but the size of the club was the main thing, sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
“But it’s always something I believed I could do and I worked hard for it. Hopefully, it will be a good era for the club and I can be a part of it.”
These are words of a player who is keen on making history with the club and being a part of them. This kind of mentality can do a world of good for the player and for the club. He’s only 27 and is yet to discover his best.
If things go right for the winger, he might be ‘The man’ for Newcastle when they get promoted to Premier League back again.