It seems strange to say it about your top goalscorer but Gini Wijnaldum is/was a luxury Newcastle couldn’t afford this season.
A bit like Cabella before him and Mitrovic who arrived (more or less) with him last summer, the former PSV Captain had far too much expectancy put on him.
In a normal club he and other young signings from weaker leagues would be given time to adjust, or at the very least given a few matches and then taken out of the firing line.
This is though Newcastle United and Wijnaldum started all of the first 33 Premier League matches played this season and the entire 90 minutes in two of the three cup matches this campaign.
How he was (or wasn’t) performing wasn’t taken into consideration, he started week in week out.
Sad to say but I reckon in easily over half the games you forgot that he was playing, such is his lack if influence in general play.
Newcastle needed somebody who wanted to be on the ball as much as possible, instead they bought somebody who gets on the end of things and can be a great finisher.
To compound the problem, Newcastle had absolutely zero creativity until Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend arrived. Though even that pair arriving hasn’t massively changed things for Wijnaldum as Shelvey has faded after a bright start and Townsend is usually looking to cut inside and shoot a lot of the time – rather than create for others.
After six goals, including four against Norwich, Wijnaldum has only scored three in the last six months. He has chipped in with the odd assist but it is a struggle after most games to describe what his actual role had been and what he has contributed.
He is undoubtedly, given the opportunity, a very good goalscorer but could Newcastle really afford to have this type of player this season?
At the likes of Spurs, Arsenal or Manchester City I could easily see him scoring a load of goals if the team was set up to accommodate him and he could get into the box and take advantage of the fact those teams tend to be so dominant in games.
I really hope he can prove he has more to his game and can be a Newcastle success story but he has a long way to go.
Even though they were only a couple of instances I do think that there are small signs that Rafa Benitez being brave enough to drop Wijnaldum has maybe benefited the player as well as the team.
When he came on as a sub at Liverpool, he made a break down the left and showed a pace we have rarely seen. The home defenders were trailing in his wake and when he squared it to an unmarked Cisse on the edge of the box, Wijnaldum was let down by some shocking control by the striker.
Recalled for the Palace match, Wijnaldum once again was anonymous in the first half but in the early stages of the second period, the midfielder picked up the ball on the left just outside the box and proceeded to run across and around defenders, feinting to shoot two or three times to fool the opponents – only to see him very unlucky to hit a defender when he unleashed his shot inside the box.
These are only glimmers of improvement but I think they are more substantial than we saw for months under Steve McClaren.
Having a season in the Premier League behind him can only do him good and with Rafa Benitez in charge, I would have total faith in him either finding a way to get much more out of Wijnaldum with new signings and team formation, or make the decision that the player isn’t for him and reinvest the money elsewhere.
Last summer was a toxic combination – players (Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, Thauvin) bought who weren’t the essential priorities and then handed to a totally useless Manager/Head Coach.
Gini Wijnaldum always says the right things to the media and you do sense that he is one of the good guys, just in need of a manager who will see how best to utilise him.
Gini Wijnaldum talking after Saturday’s win:
“When you hear an atmosphere like we had on Saturday then that’s what I always hoped we could get it like.
“The atmosphere helped us – they can go two ways: (also) go against you because supporters say: ‘I’m not going to support you because you are in the relegation zone.’
“Let’s hope I can get another goal, I was unlucky, a good reaction by the Palace defender who was standing in the way of the shot.
“You need a bit of luck at times and I will keep searching for the chances to get a goal.
“It is possible to enjoy it, I have enjoyed being here every game (despite fighting relegation), before I signed I knew it can be difficult because they (Newcastle) had a few difficult seasons.”