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Opinion

The Joelinton dilemma

3 months ago
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Name the Newcastle United player, I’ll give you plenty of guesses…

“The bloke is an animal. He’s a machine. It’s hard to stop him.”

It’s difficult to believe, given the wretched debut season Joelinton has had at Newcastle United, that these are quotes from his previous manager at Hoffenheim, Julian Nagelsmann.

Nagelsmann, now manager at RB Leipzig knows his stuff, and at just 32 years of age has been managing successfully in the Bundesliga for over four years. He’s considered one of the best young managerial talents in the game.

So what is the truth about Joelinton?

Is he really as bad as we all think he is, or are there significant mitigating circumstances that have prevented him reaching his full potential in his first season in English football?

Before the season was suspended, Steve Bruce had made a concerted attempt to move the struggling Brazilian to the left hand side of the attack, where it was claimed that Joelinton had thrived during his time in Germany.

Only some of this is true.

It’s something of a myth that Joelinton likes playing out on the left hand side. In fact he enjoyed most of his success at Hoffenheim as part of a front two. Although that would sometimes mean cutting in from the left hand side, he certainly wasn’t a left winger. This was evident in his very average display in that position in the 0-0 draw against Burnley at the end of February.

However, it would be very unfair to suggest that all the blame for his lack of goals should lie firmly at the door of the player. I think the failings of the team, and in particular the style of play implemented under Steve Bruce, are more to blame for failing to get the best out of the £40million striker.

A perfect example of this would be the defeat to Arsenal away. Newcastle lost the game 4-0 and after the game Steve Bruce was asked for a response to the fact that Joelinton had only had three touches inside the Arsenal penalty area.

Bruce responded:

“In the opposition box? Really? That seems a strange stat. We have to find a way of scoring more and certainly Joe of being more selfish.

“He has played a lot of his career to a side and not played as an out-and-out number nine. He is 22 years old, he has a lot to learn and give.”

Now the stats for that game follow a similar pattern to the rest of the entire season – mainly that Newcastle had so little of the ball. In that Arsenal game we had just 32% possession.

This is reflected in our stats across the whole season, where we average just 40.1% of the ball. The only teams lower than this in the Premier League are Burnley and Watford. This statistic is skewed significantly by our final two league fixtures before the season was suspended.

Against Burnley at home we had 54% possession (this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given they are one of the two teams worse than us) and the 1-0 win over Southampton where we had 62% possession. However, Southampton were reduced to 10 men for over two thirds of the game.

This complete lack of ability to retain the ball is hardly conducive to helping a struggling striker. Following the thrashing we received by Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester earlier in the season, Bruce reverted back to a more defensive game which requires the defence and the midfield to sit incredibly deep. This inevitably therefore attracts the attacking players deeper as well, as they attempt to provide an outlet for their midfielders and influence the game in some way.

Over the past few months I’ve been writing a series of articles for The Mag, looking at players that ‘got away’. Ones that, for one reason or another, couldn’t make a success of things at St James Park. At this moment in time it’s difficult to say whether Joelinton might fall in that category, or whether he might yet have a future at the club under a new regime and with better players around him.

Because despite all the disappointments, I have seen encouraging signs of the player that so impressed during his time in the Bundesliga.

One of the things I like about him, is that despite being obviously low on confidence, he has continued to work hard and battle for the team. This was particularly evident in the 1-0 win over Chelsea in January. It was obvious to anyone watching that game that he had experienced a bit of a lift after scoring against Rochdale. In a game when we were really under the cosh, he led the line well, held the ball up and almost scored in the first half when a header crashed off the crossbar. He also won the corner from which we eventually scored the winning goal, after battling with two Chelsea defenders.

Interestingly, Joelinton is also second in the list of aerial duels won in the Premier League this season, suggesting he is up for the physical nature of the league. This, though, also highlights the other clear problem – simply that we pepper him with long balls and don’t provide him with any decent service,

I’m not saying he has the potential to be the next Alan Shearer but there is evidently a player there if he can regain his confidence. Performing well is ultimately the individual’s responsibility but it certainly helps if a manager can set up a team that allows the attacking talent to thrive.

Joelinton is made of stern stuff and I admire the way he has fought from a small club in Brazil to the biggest professional league in world football.

The potential is undoubtedly there. It remains to be seen whether he will ever be able to deliver on it.

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