IVAN TONEY admits he was motivated by proving Rafa Benitez wrong as he propelled himself from Scunthorpe to the San Siro.
There are plenty of Newcastle fans who will tell you their sainted former boss is infallible.
But as Brentford striker Toney prepares to make an England debut against Italy in Milan on Friday, he recalled being sent out on loan by Benitez to Scunthorpe, Shrewsbury and Wigan before he was flogged to Peterborough.
In fact, Benitez bombed out two of the Premier League’s current four leading scorers — Toney and Aleksandar Mitrovic — during his Tyneside reign.
And current Magpies boss Eddie Howe last week insisted that getting rid of an “outstanding” talent like Toney “wouldn’t happen now” at Newcastle.
Northampton Town youth product Toney, with five goals in seven games this season, admits he “sulked” and struggled for belief when he was loaned out in the lower leagues.
Asked whether his Newcastle rejection was a motivation, Toney, 26, said: “That was a factor that did come into play.
“I felt like, ‘You got rid of me, I am going to show you what I am capable of when I get the chance, whether it is a Premier League side or a League One side’.
“Leaving Newcastle, when I went to Peterborough, was an eye-opener.
“That was a case of, ‘Right, I have to turn my game around to get back up, I might see myself as a Premier League player but I am a League One player now, I have got to keep fighting and working hard’. And I certainly did that.
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“Honestly, I didn’t have that belief [of playing for England] when I went out on loan but with my family behind me, I always made sure I had some sort of belief.
“You would be going on loan but really you wanted to be playing for your parent club, Newcastle, in the Premier League.
“Being young and dumb, I’d say, and not realising what you go on loan for is to get experience in men’s football.
“You are sulking away but looking back now you realise all the benefits of going on loan.
“So when I have been going on loan, with my parents behind me, making sure I am 100 per cent on training and matches, it has helped me become the player I am today.
“But I feel, looking back, if I was a Newcastle manager looking at a 20-year-old Ivan Toney would I have taken him? Probably not.
“There are no hard feelings, you just have got to get on with it.
“They have done what they had to do. They felt I wasn’t good enough, so it was up to me to pick myself up and go again.”
Toney, the first Brentford player to be called up by England since the Second World War, is not lacking in confidence.
He claims he has “never felt pressure” and is determined “to make the plane” for Qatar.
Toney has previously revealed how his mum, Lisa, went without meals to ensure he was fit and fed for training sessions as a youngster.
And he says his mum still demands he makes the most of his physical presence.
He said: “She messages me before every game — ‘Be a beast on the pitch. Put your body around. Be a presence on the pitch’. I’ve done that.
“She says to leave the ref alone, as I like to get in their ear.
“All my family have played their part and helped me to become the player I am today and I can’t thank them enough.
We have a family group chat. I broke the news and they screamed for 20 minutes.
“The sacrifices my mum’s made, my dad, my sister, everybody around me.
“My sister [Jasmine] used to take me to football and do her uni work while she waited, then take me home, while my dad and mum were working.”
Toney, who turned down Jamaica last year in hope of a Three Lions call, admits he feared he was going to get an ear-bashing from Bees boss Thomas Frank for being late for training when the Dane rang him to say he had been picked by England.
He said: “I was driving to training and the Brentford gaffer called me.
“I was running a bit late so thought he was calling about my time keeping.
“Then he said, ‘I have the privilege to say you have been called up to the England senior squad’. For once in my life I had nothing to say.
“I was driving and wasn’t quite zoned out as that wouldn’t have been the best but was thinking, ‘Wow, I am going to play with the England team’.
“Then I came off the phone and rang my parents. We have a family group chat. I broke the news and they screamed for 20 minutes. It was a massive moment for my family.”