ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN was aware of the January speculation linking him with a possible move to AC Milan, but the Newcastle United winger insists his sole focus was only ever on the battle to reclaim a starting spot with the Magpies.

Saint-Maximin ended a five-month exile from Eddie Howe’s Premier League starting line-up as he returned to a left-wing position in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with West Ham.

The Frenchman freely admits he has had endure a frustrating few months, with back-to-back hamstring injuries ruling him out of the first team and Newcastle’s remarkable form in his absence meaning he was unable to reclaim a starting spot once he returned to full fitness.

His lack of action resulted in sustained speculation about his future in the autumn, with AC Milan understood to have made a series of inquiries about his potential availability.

Howe was always adamant he did not want to lose Saint-Maximin though, and the 25-year-old was only ever interested in forcing his way back into the first-team picture on Tyneside.

“I want to be honest because I’m not going to lie,” said Saint-Maximin. “When you are in the situation (of not playing much), a lot of teams can see that and think it’s the right opportunity to come and buy the player.

“But I’m very proud to be here, and the most important thing for me is to play. I will always try to be in a position where I play every game because no player plays football to be on the bench.

“Sometimes, though, you need to understand the situation. When I was playing, the team did not lose a game and I did my job, but when I was not there, the team kept playing well and didn’t lose either.”

While Saint-Maximin was frustrated to find himself on the bench in the autumn, Newcastle’s stellar form meant he was forced to accept that Howe could not really alter a line-up that was functioning so effectively.

“The manager’s choice makes sense because I got an injury,” he said. “I didn’t lose any game when I was on the pitch (at the start of the season), and this is something very, very important for me. The coach knows that.

“That’s why I have a very good relationship with him, because he knows what I’m capable of. But when I came back from injury, the team was winning a lot of games, so they have a lot of credit to keep going.”

Newcastle’s weekend draw came four days after the Magpies booked their place in the Carabao Cup final, but while Saint-Maximin admits there have been inevitable discussions about Wembley, he is also adamant there is no question of him and his team-mates taking their eye off the ball in the matches against Bournemouth and Liverpool that precede the final.

“I’m not going to lie, we think about the final, but we are professional,” he said. “We know the league is so important, so every game, we try to be focused and win.”