Even in the Championship when he started only 11 matches (scoring 4 goals) and Dwight Gayle scored 23, there was still only one striker people wanted to talk about really.
It is a bizarre one, maybe it just because we live in a football era where it is all about systems and formations, rather than individuals, that Mitrovic stands out.
Football fans say why don’t we have more characters like the good old days? Then when a ‘character’ does come along, they typically get slaughtered by supporters and fans alike.
The advent of social media in particular, means there is little wriggle room for players being a bit of a larger than life character.
Imagine if George Best had been around now. He wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks before the constant circulation of nightclub images would have had the moral majority demanding he was punished for stepping out of line.
Aleksandar Mitrovic hasn’t made headlines via nightclub visits, at least from what I have seen, but he does have the knack of tapping into something with many Newcastle fans. He is ‘interesting’, for want of a better word. He has character, personality, larger than life – supporters like that, well a lot of them do.
With Rafa Benitez not allowed to bring in quality up front last summer, the Newcastle team’s struggles in terms of scoring goals, meant many fans were puzzled as to why Mitro was not given some kind of a go this season.
When your top scorer has only five goals after 29 matches, clearly there is something not quite right.
Aleksandar Mitrovic was a topic brought up at an event Rafa Benitez appeared at last month (see below), the manager explaining (or trying to) why he never started the striker and then loaned him out despite the lack of goals.
Rafa basically said that Mitro didn’t fit his system of trying to keep a tight defence and then quickly counter-attacking. Though he did claim that he WAS playing him this season ‘sometimes for 20 minutes…because I wanted him to score the winning goal’.
Well before he went on loan to Fulham, Newcastle had 25 Premier League matches so far this season and Aleksandar Mitrovic played 89 minutes in total, not many ’20 minutes’ there.
It isn’t any criticism of Rafa, just confirmation that he probably fancies Mitro even less as a player than he lets on.
Arriving at Fulham on loan on deadline day (after first choice Anderlecht revealed at the last minute they couldn’t even afford a loan deal), Mitrovic failed to score in his first three appearances.
However, he has now scored five goals in his next four games.
Predictably this has led to much gnashing of teeth from his NUFC fanbase, questioning Rafa’s decision to loan him out.
People need to calm down. Even if Rafa had kept Mitrovic at St James Park he wouldn’t have played him.
Plus, just because he has scored a few goals in the Championship (just liked Gayle did 23 times last season…) doesn’t mean he would suddenly have scored loads of goals in the Premier League if he’d stayed. After all, whilst he wasn’t a disaster in his first season in England, Mitrovic still failed to hit double figures in the PL in 2015/16.
Nothing wrong with welcoming Mitro’s goals in the Championship AND still being fully behind Rafa’s efforts to keep us in the Premier League against the odds.
The two things can both happen at the same time you know…
Rafa Benitez appearing at an event in February at the Tyneside Cinema organised by The Times – Asked about the wisdom of loaning out Aleksandar Mitrovic:
“Mitro…I have had a lot of conversations with him.
“He needed to play (in the second half of the season), I couldn’t guarantee he would play.
“Some people say: ‘Oh Rafa is stubborn, he doesn’t want to recognise he has made a mistake…’
“No, it is not like this, because if it was like this, I wouldn’t play Mitro at all…
“But I was playing him, sometimes for 20 minutes, why?
“Because I wanted him to score the winning goal.
“People forget one thing.
“For me it is about picking the right team to ensure that we can win.
“Mitro needed to play and I couldn’t guarantee (that) the way that we wanted to play (that he would play).
“If you know Mitro really well…if you do attack and create a lot of chances and crosses, he will score goals, no doubt aboutthat.
“But a team that has 40-45, even 35% possession in some games, you have to defend, you have to play counter-attack.
“If you don’t have all these players who can do that, you have to sacrifice something.
“It is the team, the organisation of the team, if we don’t do that we will be exposed.
“The team is the key and the characteristic of the players are crucial – I have to do the best for both.”