"He's got to keep progressing" - Watson's high hopes for Lewis Miley
Steve Watson believes Lewis Miley must continue to build on his promising Premier League bow if he is to establish more opportunities in Newcastle United's first-team squad.
Miley, who signed his first professional contract with United on his 17th birthday in May, was handed his senior debut at Stamford Bridge - becoming the club’s youngest player in Premier League history and agonisngly struck the crossbar in the closing stages of Newcastle's final Premier League game of the 2022/23 campaign.
The Stanley-born teenager has also featured in Newcastle's opening three friendly fixtures, recording his first assist at first-team level during Newcastle's 3-2 pre-season opening win against Gateshead earlier this month, impressively teeing up Jay Turner-Cooke's match-winning strike, as well as featuring against Rangers and Aston Villa.
The promising youngster has been catching the eye of Magpies supporters in recent months and Watson, who made his Newcastle first-team debut at the tender age of 16 in 1990 and still remains the club’s youngest ever player, is hopeful the attacking midfielder can build on his positive experiences for his boyhood club.
Watson, who spent eight years at St. James’ Park between 1990 and 1998, told nufc.co.uk: "I want to see young lads from the area making their debut and Lewis did it in such an iconic season which is a great feather in the cap for the Academy, himself and his family. It doesn’t matter how well the club is doing and how wealthy it is, that is one thing that will never change. It’s always good to see and, hopefully, he won’t be the last and it can be a more regular occurrence.
“He’s got to keep progressing. He’ll realise when the season starts, he’ll be involved in and around pre-season - that’s the first protocol for him and just keep pushing, making sure he can’t be ignored. I’ve watched him since January for the under-21s and he improves almost by the week.
"He looks like he gets stronger and is in really good shape for a footballer. He will fill out and did not look out of place in that game (against Chelsea) which is a really important thing. He did not look like a 17-year-old kid coming on just to make the numbers and actually imposed himself on the game.
“He can’t get too disappointed if he’s not straight back in every squad because the club is looking to step it up a level. He has made his Premier League debut and the aim now is to be the best player every week for the under-21s and, every time he goes up to train with the first-team, makes sure that he imposes himself. He’s certainly made great strides at such an early age."
Despite his inexperience as a youngster, Watson would feature regularly for United’s first-team in his first two maiden campaigns at professional level, making over a half-century of old Second Division outings.
The North Shields-born defender reflected on his own pathway towards senior level and the obstacles he faced in order to establish himself as a regular member of the Entertainers side which finished as Premier League runners-up on two occasions during the 1990s.
“It was different back then regarding reserve team football as it was different to under-21s football,” he said. "We were playing against men virtually every week who weren’t in their own first-team and about 35 year old pros who wanted to take their frustrations on you.
“You learn very quickly how to be robust and have no fear on a football pitch. That’s different to what it is now but the environment is tough to stay in. Lewis has been involved and will want a piece of that every week but the reality is he will find it hard to play in Newcastle’s first-team at the moment.
“All he can do is when he gets a chance is to be the best version of himself. I had it myself when I played really early and then took a step back for almost a season. It was tough and it was probably make or break for me because I spent so much time out of the first-team. I could’ve started the first season of the Premier League but I managed to go through the whole summer with Steve Black, a great mentor of mine and a well known sports pyschologist and fitness coach, which helped turn my career.
“These lads have programmes all through the summer and don’t knock off like we used to. It’s a lot easier for them to come back a lot closer to where they finished than we did 30 years ago."
With a number of experienced additions to the current United squad in recent years, Watson believes Miley will be able to excel in a welcoming first-team environment and the England under-17 international will be aiming to the follow in the inspiring footsteps of Sean Longstaff and Elliot Anderson, both of whom have established themselves as regular first-team members since progressing from United’s youth set-up.
“There is some really good characters in Newcastle’s dressing room,” Watson added. "You can tell (Kieran) Trippier and Dan Burn are leaders and how good Bruno (Guimarães) is around the younger lads with Lobby (Sean Longstaff) being a young Geordie and excelling this season.
“These are lads that can really get around him and give him a lot of advice. There are also lads in the under-21s who need to make the next step for themselves and all of them are big influences. Dan Burn took a different path, going away from Newcastle and then came back but you can tell by the way that people respond to how he is, how much it means to have another Geordie in the team even if he hasn’t came though the same route as Lewis or Sean."