Danny Simpson is now arguably Newcastle United’s most improved player after doubting whether he was good enough to play in the Premier League. He told chief sports writer Luke Edwards why.
IT was a shattered dream which led Danny Simpson to make the toughest decision of his life, but it was the end of a fantasy which has brought out the best in him.
Born and raised a Manchester United fan, Simpson thought he would gain everything he had wished for as a youngster coming through the ranks at Old Trafford. Instead of glory nights with the Red Devils, though, Simpson was forced to recognise he was not going to make the grade with the club he had grown up at and with.
The high hopes Sir Alex Ferguson had for him as a youngster were gradually replaced by doubts about his ability to cut it at the highest level.
When Simpson dropped down to the Championship with Newcastle United last season, it was felt he had found his natural level. After loan moves to Royal Antwerp, Sunderland, Ipswich Town and Blackburn Rovers, Simpson had returned each time to Old Trafford unable to make any headway into the first team.
The full-back, who made just one league start in a total of eight appearances for Manchester United, said: “Of course it was always going to be a wrench to leave Manchester United. I had grown up there as a fan and they are my team, but it was time to move on.
“I hoped I would make it there, that is what I dreamed about when I was coming through the Academy, but at the same time I had seen players older than me leave to send their career down another path and I always knew there might come a time when I had to leave.
“Thankfully, I secured the loan move to Newcastle and things have gone really well since then.
“This was a great move for me and I am really happy here.
“I love living in Newcastle and I get on with everyone at the football club.
“It was precisely the move I needed at this stage of my career.
“It has helped me build up my confidence on the pitch. I am finally settled and that’s great.”
Finding that sense of security is vital to all footballers, regardless of age, yet it is also something they often neglect.
In a short career, players move for a variety of reasons, yet their best football only normally comes once they have allowed time for roots to grow.
Simpson added: “This is the first time I have been a regular starter at this level.
“It is also the first time I have been settled in years and I think you do play your best football when your life off the pitch is good as well.
“It matters a lot and when you are out on loan, it is difficult. You do not know whether you are coming or going.
“There is no long-term stability and I was going out on loan, staying somewhere for a few months and then going back to Manchester United to play in the reserves.
“It was not ideal, there is always a bit of chaos in your situation.”
Even at Newcastle, however, Simpson has had his doubters. At times towards the end of last season, Simpson struggled to contain Championship wingers let alone Premier League ones. There was, based on that sort of form, serious questions about whether he would be able to cut it in the Premier League – and those same failings which denied him a run at Manchester United began to re-surface.
What we did not know was that Simpson was playing with an ankle problem which was growing steadily worse the longer he postponed an operation to repair it.
Surgery eventually came in the summer and the 24-year-old has been playing pain-free and in some style for months now. Even Fabio Capello enquired about him following an excellent performance in the 1-0 win over Arsenal in October.
Simpson has been happy with his performances, but not even admiring glances in his direction from the England manager have convinced him he has proved himself.
He said: “I still don’t feel like I have established myself in the Premier League yet. This is still my first proper season and it is too early for me to be saying, ‘yeah I am a Premier League defender now.’ I had a few months at Blackburn in the Premier League, but I went back to Manchester United.
“I still feel I need to improve and there are things I still need to work on.
“If I am still in the team, and we are still in this division at the end of the season, maybe then I can start to believe I am a decent player at this level.
“There were questions marks surrounding me at the start of the season, but what a lot of people did not realise is I had played for three or four months last season with an ankle problem.
“Thankfully I had the operation in the summer and I have come through it with flying colours. Things have gone well for me and the team, but there is a long way to go – we have only done half a job so far.”