When Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow came to Newcastle in 2014 for £4 million each, I think few eyebrows were raised.
This was a central defender who, although in his scholarship years had attracted the interest of both Arsenal and Everton (the latter I think was even fined by the FA for their approach), was yet to show that he was about to fulfill the potential that had been touted in early years.
The fee was small and most importantly for me, the feedback from the people at Nottingham Forest that I know, as well as fans on social media, wasn’t entirely positive.
Despite being loaned back to Forest immediately and doing well, his first full season at Newcastle under Steve McClaren he barely featured. In the games he did play, I wasn’t too impressed. Even in the game against Watford when he scored his first goal, he didn’t look anywhere near Premier League standard.
Wen Rafa came in, Jamaal Lascelles was named in his first team selection , although even then his performances (like the rest of the team) weren’t very good. Off the field though he rightly got many plaudits, especially after the game against Southampton in which he is said to have laid into a few of his team-mates – including Darryl Janmaat.
I must say, by no means could anyone expect a young player like Lascelles to jump into what was a sinking ship and expect to perform miracles from the centre of defence. Perhaps Rafa was already preparing for the following season, and he clearly saw something in Lascelles that I, at first, didn’t.
In the Championship I think he did ok, especially in the first half of the season, taking into account that brilliant run of 9/10 games on the spin, he looked solid. By this point, I still wasn’t sure who our best centre half pairing was.
It might seem silly now, but at the time Ciaran Clark was by far our best performing defender, and I was still of the belief that Chancel Mbemba was too good for that level.
If I had been picking the team in that Championship season, I don’t think Lascelles would have been my first choice… which is probably why I am not manager of Newcastle United and that guy who has won the Champions League is.
Even then though, I felt my opinion was somewhat vindicated in the second half of the season, as I am sure Lascelles and other fans would admit that his form was poor from January-April. On many occasions he was hesitant, at home when we were on the front foot he kept getting caught under the ball on his own halfway line, and on the ball I think he lacked the quality to start attack from defence.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that all of the above has turned out to be a load of rubbish because Jamaal Lascelles is now our most important player… and on merit too! In my opinion, he is also our best player right now as well, and if there is one player at the club who you would want to hold onto this summer, it is without doubt Lascelles.
To put that into perspective, I wouldn’t sell Jamaal Lascelles for £75 million.
I laughed a little bit after the Swansea game earlier in the season when he scored the winner, because some people were claiming he should be in with a shout of an England call up, but it’s not so laughable now. I look around the division at the English centre-halves; Jones, Smalling, Cahill, Maguire, Keane and I don’t think they are better than Lascelles… with the exception of John Stones, I definitely don’t think any of them have been as good as Lascelles this season.
If England are going to go with a back three this summer, and assuming that Eric Dier will be playing centre midfield, then Lascelles would be in my starting eleven alongside Stones and Cahill.
If there are some of you that don’t believe me that Lascelles is now our most important player, then here are a few important stats provided by Chris Holt;
In the games when he was injured this season we picked up 0 wins.
Games with Lascelles: p21 w7 d6 conceded 19 (average 0.9 per game)
Games without Lascelles: p6 w0 d1 conceded 17 (average 2.8 per game)
His performance against Man United was the culmination so far this season of a player who has grown into one of the best English centre-halves in the country. Not just on form, he is a great centre-back and probably the best we have had since the likes of Woodgate.
He doesn’t hide.
He thrives on wearing the shirt and the armband.
He has played through injuries, even to the detriment of some fan’s opinion on him, unlike a certain Michael Owen…
Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong about Jamaal Lascelles.
If he isn’t your player of the year come the end of this season then I have to ask, where have you been?!
Never have I been so spectacularly wrong about a Newcastle player, or indeed any footballer.
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn