Matt Ritchie is loving life back in Newcastle’s starting line-up after a tough period on the sidelines.
The experienced midfielder, 34, has racked up more than 200 appearances for the Toon during a seven-year stint that started by helping fire them out of the Championship.
Having just experienced their first Champions League campaign in 20 years, Ritchie has been a part of a legendary rise on Tyneside but has found minutes harder to come by this term until recent weeks.
Speaking to LiveScore ahead of his side’s clash with Fulham on Saturday, Ritchie said: “It’s been a challenge [this season].
“I’ve been lucky that in my career, more often than not, I’ve been playing week in, week out.
“This period at Newcastle has been the first time I’ve not been, but it comes with age — plus the team is evolving. It’s all natural.
“As footballers, we all work with the sports psychologists. You learn to put things in perspective and understand the feelings that come with not playing.
“For me, it was accepting my situation. The gaffer felt I still had something to offer the group and I decided I want to play as high as I can for as long as I can.
“At the start of the season, we had 25 or 26 fit players and opportunities were looking few and far between.
“But the group has taken a few knocks and I’ve been called upon, which I’ve really enjoyed.
“The pressure that comes with needing to be ready has driven me. You don’t want to let your team-mates down and we have a great environment.”
Show me Howe
The man who has overseen the more recent period of Newcastle’s success is Eddie Howe, who Ritchie also worked with at former club Bournemouth.
Few are better placed to talk about the 46-year-old tactician and Ritchie believes he has earned his success the hard way.
He added: “I think his best asset is his consistency.
“I’ve known the gaffer since I was 24 when he signed me at Bournemouth and he’s always been the first into the training ground and last one out.
“He set the work ethic for that group back then and it’s still the case today, 10 years on. He drives the standards.
“He does not expect anything from anybody that he’s not willing to go and do himself, whether that’s players, coaches or other staff.
“When he was out of work, it’s well documented he didn’t rest on his laurels. He went away and worked on himself, learnt from the best in the world and all that is showing now.
“Eddie leads by example and it’s something I’ll take forward with me wherever I go.”
Ritchie is already starting to make plans for after his playing days, with one avenue of exploration seeing him partner with fitness giants STATSports.
A world-leading provider of GPS player tracking and analysis equipment, he admits to becoming fascinated with the company very quickly.
The former Scotland international said: “The data we can collect in football now is mind-blowing. The GPS vests are crucial in elite football.
“As a company, STATSports is in a really exciting period of development and I’m delighted to play a part.”
Matt Ritchie is an ambassador of STATSports, the world’s leading GPS sports performance tracker. Product available at STATSports.com.