Aleksandar Mitrovic has to be one of the more interesting characters at Newcastle United.
He cost the most money (almost £15m), is on the biggest wages, and yet is one of the least used of the NUFC first team squad.
Saturday saw only the fifth Championship start of the season for Mitrovic, on the pitch for 84 minutes before Sammy Ameobi replaced him.
In fact, the Serbian striker has only completed two full 90 minutes in the second tier this season, the 1-0 home defeat to Blackburn and 2-1 win over Cardiff.
Fans are undoubtedly split on the former Anderlecht forward.
Those in the Mitrovic camp will quote the fact that he has scored 12 goals in only 27 league starts at Newcastle, whilst his detractors point to the 12 goals coming in 49 league matches, once you include substitute appearances.
Maybe the true statistic is that the number 45 has played 2653 minutes in total (2114 in Premier League and 539 in Championship) and so his 12 goals have come at a rate on one every 221 minutes in English league football – roughly scoring every three and a half hours he is on the pitch.
The wildly different views that Newcastle fans have on the striker is quite amazing.
I hear some people still talk of him as the natural successor to Alan Shearer, whilst others doubt if he even deserves a place on the bench in the Championship.
Sitting up in the family enclosure of Level 7 in the Milburn Stand is an eye-opener.
The teenagers love him, he can do no wrong. Excited when Mitrovic starts the odd game, great expectation when he comes on as a sub, even warming up he gets plenty of attention.
Maybe it is an age thing because ignoring all the stats, we can surely simply see with our own eyes what the situation is.
I have tried to give him every chance but I am most definitely in the Rafa Benitez camp when it comes to our Serbian superstar.
Yes, the Manager will always talk up Mitrovic but then he does that with everybody, he isn’t a Pardew or Carver who will make scapegoats of players.
To keep the club’s most expensive signing (currently at the club) and biggest wage earner out of the first eleven for 24 of the 29 Championship matches – what more evidence do people want?
Yes, there are plenty who still clearly believe that Rafa will have Mitrovic leading the line if Newcastle make it back to the Premier League next season.
When subbed late on against Derby County he got a standing ovation from those still left in the Family Enclosure (whatever is happening in the game, there is always a mass family enclosure exodus from 80 minutes onwards, or before that if Newcastle are losing), I just shook my head. My sanity was restored when I saw the player ratings from fans on The Mag and Mitrovic got the very lowest mark.
In Dwight Gayle’s absence and with Daryl Murphy maybe not able to play two matches in such quick succession, Rafa probably had little choice but to play Mitrovic.
However, what we watched was painful most of the time he was on the pitch. Unless he was carrying an injury, the movement from the Newcastle centre-forward was laughable, even after 10 minutes when required to close down a defender he was huffing and puffing.
At the age of 22 that has to be worrying, as is his seeming lack of fitness. Before he arrived at Newcastle, Mitrovic had been accused a number of times of unprofessional behaviour off the pitch in terms of the way he looked after himself, with large weight gains in particular.
Watching him against Derby County, you have to really worry if that is Mitrovic trying and playing at his maximum.
I have never seen such a big bloke win so few headers and his only contribution on Saturday was that a few times in the first half he helped link play up quite well, including in the build up to Matt Ritchie’s winner. However, it is very noticeable that the only time Mitro is in any way effective is if his teammates manage to get the ball exactly into his feet and he is stationary at the time – a lack of tight marking also a big help.
The big problem of course is that Aleksandar Mitrovic perfectly represents the failed Mike Ashley/Graham Carr transfer policy, whereby massive fees and wages were paid out to young, untried in major leagues, players in the hope/gamble that they would be worth far more money in the future.
This is why we ended up relegated for the second time in seven years, a 20 year old Mitrovic who had played in only the very weak Serbian & Belgian leagues, expected to instantly deliver the goals to prevent yet another desperate relegation fight.
Mitrovic is a constant reminder as to why Mike Ashley needs to leave well alone and allow Rafa Benitez to make all the important decisions, especially on transfers.
If we return to the bad old days of stooges like Charnley and Carr having the power, then we will simply be counting down once again until the next relegation.
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