PFA Community Champion award-winner Allan Saint-Maximin tells Sky Sports about his parents' education, why he thinks of trophies in his future and why Arsenal loanee Joe Willock should sign; watch Newcastle vs Sheff Utd live on Sky Sports Arena from 5pm on Wednesday, Kick-off at 6pm
Wednesday 19 May 2021 17:22, UK
Over the next few months, Allan Saint-Maximin and multi-million-pound figures look set to become inseparable bedfellows as he becomes the latest name to join the transfer frenzy of the summer rumour mill.
The most recent price reportedly placed on the Frenchman's head is £40m, with Roma ready to make him a star in the Italian capital for the kind of fee which few in the Premier League would bat an eyelid at in this era.
The astronomical sums involved in the game will have been balked at over pint glasses up and down England this week as pubs flung open their doors for the first time in 2021. Over-paid players, out of touch with their roots. It's never as simple as that, but in some cases difficult to dispute.
Not with Saint-Maximin, who is currently making headlines not only for Newcastle's price tag, but for his charity work in one of Newcastle's most deprived communities. On Tuesday, that work earned him the PFA Community Champion award for 2020/21.
The flying winger first introduced himself to Newcastle West End Foodbank after striking up a conversation with their staff on Twitter shortly after he joined the club in 2019. He has since visited repeatedly, donating shirts and spending time with families reliant on their goodwill.
In addition, during the coronavirus pandemic the 24-year-old has donated packs including gift cards and chocolates to local NHS hospital staff across Newcastle, as a mark of gratitude for their work. In the first wave of the pandemic, the North East was one of the worst-hit areas of the UK, with the city's hospital taking in more than 500 coronavirus patients in 2020.
"It's an education given me by my parents," he told Sky Sports ahead of Newcastle's game with Sheffield United on Wednesday. "When you have a little bit, even €5, if you see people need some things, try to do everything you can to help.
"I am in a position where I can do that. It's really important for me, there's a lot of people in my family who have been working to save lives every day, every night in the pandemic. I think about these people, about everything."
Pound signs will largely dictate where Saint-Maximin plays his football next season, but the likeable 24-year-old's contribution to good causes in the North East has been something money could not buy, West End Foodbank chief executive John McCorry told Sky Sports.
"Here we had this football star coming to a small charity in one of the most deprived sections of the city," he said.
"It's really important for me, there's a lot of people in my family who have been working to save lives every day, every night in the pandemic. I think about these people, about everything."
"We're reliant on goodwill and support from the wider city, so when you get a football star, especially with what Newcastle is like, to give up his morning and spend it with people at our centre, it was really heart-warming.
"He went in and spent time with some of the people, and their children, who had come up - signed autographs, took photographs and spent a lot of time with people, giving them each attention.
"For some of those people who can't even afford to get to the matches, to have a football star sit down and give them individual attention, was such a boost. It's something money can't buy. It meant the world to the people he met with."
Saint-Maximin's on-the-pitch contribution has been just as well-received in Tyneside in his two seasons at the club, and saw him sign a new deal in October 2020, barely a year into his original agreement.
Already under contract until 2025, tying himself down for another 12 months at a club that has struggled to break into the top half for a number of years would raise some eyebrows. As well as feeling at home in the North East, he views the move as another desire to give back to a side that stumped up £20m for a player untested in English football less than two years ago.
That comes with a caveat, a hint that the ambition Newcastle have invested in him must be spread more widely if he is to remain on Tyneside anywhere near 2026, as well as a suggestion for the Magpies' first summer signing.
"The club has given me everything, the opportunity for me to show to everyone my quality in the Premier League," he says.
"They gave me the opportunity to feel really comfortable in Newcastle. I feel really good with everyone - players, the coach, the fans. When they asked me about a new deal, I feel that I have to give. Sometimes when people give you something, you have to give back.
"I am 24 years old, and have to think about the national team, about winning trophies, and hope the club can give me that."
"But before I signed it, I had always said Newcastle should not be fighting against relegation every year. We have to fight for the top 10, it's what the supporters deserve.
"Sometimes you have to think about your future, you can see Leicester winning the FA Cup, you play football to win trophies, not to fight to stay up. We have to buy more players like Joe Willock, he can be really great for the team and for myself, I am 24 years old, and have to think about the national team, about winning trophies, and hope the club can give me that.
"My relationship is really good with Joe inside and outside the pitch, and you can see how that helps a team when you have players like that - like Harry Kane and Heung-min Son at Tottenham."
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A two-month lay-off with 'long Covid', an affliction which the player couldn't see or even feel, has disrupted an otherwise impressive second campaign in English football for Saint-Maximin.
His return to the Newcastle fold has coincided with a run of 10 points from their last six games, which could have been more had a Ferran Torres-inspired Manchester City not stolen the winner in a seven-goal thriller at St James' Park last week.
Considering over Christmas this was the same team knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Brentford and beaten in the Premier League by then-winless Sheffield United it's been a surprising upturn, albeit almost certainly not enough to avoid Newcastle's lowest Premier League finish since their promotion in 2017.
"So many things have changed," he says. "It's hard to play against City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, there are so many big clubs. Every week is like a final, but everything changed after the Burnley game for me.
"We were losing 1-0, but we had the character to come back and win 2-1. That brought confidence back into the team, even then being 1-0 down against Liverpool a couple of games later, we had that belief we could come back and get a result."
Supporters will finally return to St James' Park this week, hoping to watch Newcastle continue their resurgence and end the season on a high note. If Saint-Maximin continues his run of starts for a sixth straight game, his recent performances suggest his penchant for giving back might extend to all 10,000 home fans on Wednesday night.