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Does Aleksandar Mitrovic deserve one last chance?

4 years ago

Sorry, another Aleksandar Mitrovic article. I can’t help but add my own opinion to the stacks of articles and comments that have been published over the last few seasons and especially in recent months.

I almost wrote an article after the 4-1 victory over Preston North End, that saw us confirm promotion, last season. Don’t get me wrong, Gayle was fantastic last season and should be regarded as our star striker in that Championship year – but I felt Mitrovic was getting a lot of stick at the time for not being mobile enough, having poor hold up and link up play and inefficient finishing.

Watching that vital win against Preston, though, I felt Mitrovic led the line fantastically well. He won everything in the air, bringing players into the game with headers and chest downs. It was a slick through ball from him, on the counter, that gave Atsu the opportunity to put us 2-1 up.

This season Mitrovic hasn’t had many opportunities in a Newcastle shirt. I accept that he can be his own worst enemy. What he was doing when he borderline assaulted Lanzini to get a retrospective ban is anyone’s guess. This certainly isn’t the only example of him losing his discipline but that seemed to be the moment that really put paid to his likelihood to get a game.

He’s got plenty of critics. There’s those who say he’s a liability and Rafa doesn’t trust him, others say he’s simply not good enough. But is he really worse than Joselu?

I’m one of those people that half the fanbase mock. I admire his passion and actually believe he’s a pretty decent player. He’s still young and, if recent events are anything to go by, has still got the potential to become a real threat.

So, onto current times.

As everyone is aware, Aleksandar Mitrovic is plying his trade at Fulham now. There’s a couple of stories on how this came about. One is that he received a text from Slavisa Jokanovic asking if his Anderlecht move had gone through. It hadn’t and on deadline day Mitro headed to West London to join his compatriot. The other story is that it was Mitrovic who texted Jokanovic speculatively, as he flew back from Belgium and his failed loan, and the Fulham boss agreed to take him on.

What has happened since has caused plenty of debate.

He’s scored 10 goals in 14 games (12 starting, 2 from the bench), 5 goals in his last 6 home appearances and Fulham have been unbeaten with him in the team. Championship or not, that’s impressive stuff. I’ve seen some of his goals this season too and they’ve not all been tap ins or headers. He’s scored some great goals; shots outside the box, clinical finishes to conclude excellent moves. He’s been doing the same with Serbia over the last 2 years. This guy can score goals.

On Saturday, I was loitering about, doing very little and watching football. Having seen Liverpool go 2-0 up in their game I decided to flick through the channels and saw that Fulham were on TV as well. I decided to switch over and see how Mitrovic was doing. It was 0-0 but literally, and I mean literally, within a minute of me putting it on, Mitrovic scored. It was an incredible left footed finish from outside the box, bending round the defender to crash in off the post.

As it happens, Brentford equalised and Fulham sit 3rd in the league but the impact of Aleksandar Mitrovic is unquestionable.

I watched the game against Leeds a couple of weeks ago and Mitro was fantastic in a man of the match performance. The first goal came from a flicked header on by the big man, which hit his teammate McDonald on the backside and deflected in. The second goal saw a tremendous counter attack which culminated with Mitrovic playing a one-two with Tom Cairney, before sweeping it home to seal the victory. This performance didn’t just come down to his assist and goal though. He was outstanding all game and looked like the player many of us would love him to be in a Newcastle shirt.

I went to West Ham away back in December, before Mitrovic went on loan. The tension between fans on the subject was unbearable. Two groups of fans were furiously arguing. One set were insistent that Mitrovic is our best striker and that Rafa is a fool for not playing him. The other set claimed that Mitrovic is the worst player in our squad and shouldn’t be anywhere near the first team. I don’t agree with either standpoint but is he worth a go next season? I think so.

The difficulty comes with the fact that he only has two years left on his contract. If we take a chance on him next season and it doesn’t work out, we’ll be in a weak position when it comes to selling him with one year left on his contract.

I’d see how he fares in the World Cup. His detractors are right to say he’s playing Championship football, maybe he’s found his level. But let’s see how he gets on against the defenders of Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica. If he can bully his team through to the knockout stages with good performances and a couple of goals, he can surely hold his own in the Premier League next year.

He’s 23, powerful, full of confidence and loves our team. I think he deserves one final chance to prove himself. Dare I say, he’d be like a new signing.

Maybe he’s not good enough, maybe Rafa’s tactics don’t play to his strengths, maybe we can’t trust him. Maybe he’s got it in him to be the striker we thought we’d signed three years ago.

I wrote an article many years ago asking fans whether they’d prefer to keep Ben Arfa or Pardew, when HBA fell out of favour. This is a very different scenario. There’s no doubt that if it’s a choice between Benitez and Mitrovic, I’ll be waving goodbye to the Serb.

I would just really love it if I got a chance to see both next season.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin


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