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Opinion

Joelinton – Misunderstood or just not good enough?

4 days ago
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For fourteen long years Newcastle fans pined for their beloved club to usurp the paltry £16 million record transfer fee spent on Michael Owen in 2005.

Hours toiled away watching Sky Sports News and tracking social media sightings of arrivals at Newcastle Airport were consistently to no avail.

And much like the proverbial buses, after a complete void of big money signings to alleviate fan malaise, Newcastle with the signings of Miguel Almirón and Joelinton broke their transfer record twice in quick succession.

Almirón for now remains fairly popular with the Newcastle faithful, despite his slightly haphazard approach to goal scoring.

Joelinton however, has faced much more criticism than his attacking colleague.

A lot has been written about Joelinton. Not much of it is particularly kind.

Even less of it seems to answer the key question surrounding Newcastle’s most expensive ever signing. What is Joelinton meant to be?

Straight away, it can be said that he was too expensive.

Even for a promising 22-year-old Brazilian forward coming out of the Bundesliga, £40 million seemed almost double his market value.

Those who watched the Bundesliga vociferously could hardly believe that Newcastle would shell out such a fee for someone who had far from set Germany’s top division alight. It seemed unlikely even at the time that Newcastle had unearthed a hidden gem.

However, despite an underwhelming, if not disappointing season by all metrics, there is more than one way to consider Joelinton’s far from illustrious first season in English football. The issue with Joelinton is more complicated than that of an Albert Luque…or an Emmanuel Rivière.

The argument is not simply whether Joelinton has been good or not thus far in a Newcastle shirt. The answer to that is obviously a definitive no. The argument is however, why hasn’t he been good and will he ever live up to his price tag for Newcastle?

The Newcastle supporters are not wrong in directing their ire at their record signing. However, a large part of Joelinton’s problem at Newcastle is a matter of perception. Newcastle’s biggest mistake perhaps was the decision, upon signing Joelinton, to give him the sacred number 9 shirt.

The number 9 shirt for Newcastle supporters is imbued with almost Biblical meaning.

Not only must a Newcastle number 9 shoulder the responsibility of carrying the hopes and dreams of all Newcastle supporters on their back, but also, they must be a true number 9. A target man? Highly likely. A talisman? Certainly. A goal scorer? Always.

Standing at 6ft 1in, Joelinton is a physically imposing figure. Unfortunately, along with the 9 on his back, this has led to the assumption that he is a Carroll-esque target man and a natural born scorer of goals. He has therefore often been lumbered with playing the role of a traditional Newcastle number 9 but without the means or ability of filling that role.

And that is where the issue largely lies. Like an actor miscast in a role, Joelinton has been cast as the leading man, when he would be better suited as a promising member of the supporting cast.

According to South American football expert Tim Vickery, the idea that Joelinton is a target man is a misunderstanding. Vickery instead compares Joelinton to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, making Joelinton a False 9 or 9 ½.

With Joelinton being lined up before Steve Bruce’s arrival, it appears that either the scouting network at the club had not figured out what he really was, or that their profile of Joelinton was not aligned with the system of the incoming manager. This has resulted in a facilitator, creator of space and occasional contributor of goals, being used as the team’s main goal threat and leader of an already limp attack.

Additionally, Joelinton is far from alone in Newcastle’s limp attacking output this season. Gayle, Muto, Almirón, Saint-Maximin, and Joelinton have only two more league goals than the derided former Magpie Joselu has this season (36 appearances 11 goals). Newcastle’s low possession stats, inability to sustain attacks and lack of a clear attacking structure or system has contributed to Joelinton’s lack of goals and inconsistent performances.

These factors have contributed to Joelinton getting just 1.3 shots on target per game. With a system better suited to his strengths (perhaps Joelinton playing off a more traditional centre forward), Newcastle might see an improvement in their record signing.

However, having made the case that a combination of the system and a stubborn commitment to playing him as a traditional target man have led to his meagre 2 goals and 2 assists this season, the Brazilian’s performances contain other reasons for worry and despair.

Whilst a dearth of goals has been the major concern for Joelinton, comparisons to Firmino also seem way wide of the mark. Despite being played in an unfamiliar role, Joelinton’s lack of mobility, poor touch and link-up play has also troubled supporters. The eye test has done little to assuage fan fears of his appalling statistics. Whereas Almirón was able to placate fans during his goal drought through his energy, cascading runs and apparent drive to create something, Joelinton has struggled to similarly appease critics and fans alike.

If Joelinton is to play as a False 9 or attacking creator, his first touch, pivoting, awareness and vision for a pass will all have to improve unless he is to hit a Papiss Cissé-like scoring spree. With a worrying lack of ball control and vision, as well as only 6 crosses and 3 big chances created all season, it appears that Joelinton being played out of position only goes so far as to explain his poor first season.

So, has Joelinton been miscast in a target man role, unable to demonstrate his ability as a Firmino-esque creator? Or has he instead showed that regardless of goals, his all-round play is not befitting of a Premier League player? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle. Either way next season represents a new start for the Brazilian who perhaps will benefit from Steve Bruce (or whoever is in charge) changing the system to give him more chances, enabling him to build confidence and to show why the club spent £40 million on him.

Whilst it does seem at times that he simply may not be cut out for the Premier league, his work rate, intelligence and potential all merit the chance to show what he can do in a Newcastle shirt. After all it was not he who agreed to shell out a ludicrous £40 million.

Miscast or poor scouting? Only time will tell.

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