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Mike Ashley hands Steve Bruce a massive problem: “Joelinton was the test”

1 month ago
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Steve Bruce has a big Joelinton sized problem.

A seriously big problem with Mike Ashley at the heart of it.

The Newcastle United owner demanding last summer to be in total control of transfers in and out of the club, forcing Rafa Benitez out in the process, as well as happily sending both Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez on their way.

Mike Ashley demanding at all costs that Joelinton had to be signed, declaring this in July 2019 (in his infamous Mail piece – see below) about Rafa Benitez and Joelinton, after the former had gone and the latter arrived:

‘…he [Rafa Benitez) thought the £40m for Joelinton wasn’t worth it. It’s too much and the club shouldn’t spend it.

‘And very occasionally, I get to be me in this world. So here’s the deal. I’ll pay £20m of it personally. Nothing to do with the club. Above and beyond the budget. Rafa valued him at £20m. So that’s what would come out of the club budget. The rest, £23m – I’ll pay. And he still didn’t sign it off. Looking back, I think he knew for a long time he was going to China because it was like we couldn’t do anything. Joelinton was the test.

‘Why on earth would you not want that? As a football manager, with all the things you have said, why wouldn’t you want Joelinton? It wasn’t even as if it was him or Salomon Rondon. And we told him that. We just wanted Joelinton secured.’

The idea that Mike Ashley would honestly have allowed Rafa Benitez to also sign Salomon Rondon, if he only agreed Joelinton could be signed as well, is laughable.

A bit like paying the £23m, no indication whatsoever that Mike Ashley followed through and still paid this £23m out of his own pocket for Joelinton.

However, coming up to date on 18 September 2020 and Steve Bruce has this major Joelinton conundrum, with Mike Ashley having been behind the disastrous £40m / £43m signing of the Brazilian.

Clearly Newcastle can’t have him playing up front this season, then even though he has done a little better at times in his favoured position wider on the left, with the likes of Almiron, ASM and Fraser all competing to also play in the positions supporting the central striker, there is no way the Brazilian should be getting a game there ahead of the other options.

Joelinton going out on loan would be the obvious solution in many ways, to save money on his wages and more importantly see him hopefully find some form, either to come back into the Newcastle team / squad or be sold. However, politically that just doesn’t seem an option with it having been Ashley himself who for still unknown reasons, said Joelinton had to be bought, whatever the cost.

There is surely no question that whatever you think of Steve Bruce, he would surely snap your hand off if he could do a cut price deal to sell on Joelinton and use the cash to bring in another striker who could compete with and / or compete with Callum Wilson.

That same problem though, with Mike Ashley having his ‘reputation’ so tightly linked to Joelinton, I doubt Bruce would even dare to suggest to Ashley that moving the Brazilian out is something he wants to do because that would then be automatically questioning the owner’s judgement.

It is very interesting to look back at what happened last season, this is who made the most Newcastle United appearances in 2019/20 (all competitions):

44 Joelinton

42 Miguel Almiron

39 Martin Dubravka

35 Isaac Hayden

35 Federico Fernandez

30 Jamaal Lascelles

30 Allan Saint-Maximin

Joelinton played in every single one of Newcastle’s 38 Premier League matches (32 starts and six sub appearances) and all six of the FA Cup ones (five starts and one sub appearance).

I am pretty sure that no other Premier League club has ever spent so much money on a player, then played him in every single game. Joelinton arrived less than three weeks before the 2019/20 started and yet lined up on the opening day against Arsenal and started every single Premier League match until the final one (Southampton away – 7 March 2020) before lockdown, with the exception of Sheffield United away in December 2019. Maybe it is very telling that the only time Joelinton was given an entire match off, was the League Cup defeat to Leicester in August 2019, the game directly after he scored against Tottenham. Maybe the feeling at that point that the expectation on the record signing and pressure had been eased and now the goals would roll in…

Once again, despite Steve Bruce’s clear limitations as a manager / head coach, surely he didn’t think this was a good idea. Especially with the Brazilian played week after week through the middle and looking ever less likely to score. Very difficult not to believe that Bruce was under orders from Mike Ashley to play Joelinton regardless of form or common sense.

It didn’t do the team any good AND it certainly didn’t do the player any good.

It appeared that Ashley believed that through sheer force of will and number of games, things would finally click…they never did.

When you look back at the most appearances last season, playing up front is one of the most demanding in the team, centre-backs fair enough, but when did any team play their centre-forward to such an overwhelming extent? Playing Miguel Almiron so many times was inviting trouble with him due to possible injury but with Joelinton, the expression that definitely comes to mind is ‘flogging a dead horse’, or as Mike Ashley thought, surely if he keeps playing he has to score…

That thinking is a bit like owning a very slow racehorse and believing that if you put it in more and more races, it will finally win. That only works if you drop the level(s) and race your horse against equally slow, or even slower, horses. Which comes back to Joelinton needing a move elsewhere to a less competitive league, even if only on loan initially. To win a few races against slower horses and get some form and confidence back.

Imagine if you (or Steve Bruce) could push a button and instead of Joelinton still standing there, Newcastle had another £40m / £43m to spend this transfer window. Get that other striker bought in, the other centre-back Bruce wants, possibly even buy an equally promising right-back to complement Jamal Lewis on the left, Manquillo is great cover but not at the level we ideally need.

Instead the reality is that due to Mike Ashley’s maddest of all acts, Newcastle United have a £40m+ player who isn’t good enough to get in the first eleven but the squad desperately needs at least another couple of signings but Ashley not willing to allow them to be brought in, unless other players (not Joelinton…) leave first. To clear out some wages and hopefully bring in some transfer fee cash as well.

Joelinton has so far played in two matches out of two, a sub at West Ham and starter against Blackburn.

Will Mike Ashley still be insisting that his signing plays in every single match? I’ll be keeping an interested eye on it.

Mike Ashley PR statement in The Mail with the help of Martin Samuel – 26 July 2019:

Mike Ashley insisted on Friday night that it was ‘impossible’ for Newcastle to have kept Rafa Benitez – and that the former manager was determined to take a lucrative deal to China from the start.

Ashley revealed he even floated the idea of an eight-year contract with Benitez at a meeting on May 16, and that the manager’s refusal to commit could have cost the club record signing Joelinton.

Ashley claims the club suspected there would be problems with the Benitez negotiation when he declined to sign off on the £40m deal for new striker Joelinton in February. As manager, Benitez had the final say on all transfers, but would not give the go-ahead on Joelinton even though Newcastle had the fee and personal terms agreed, and the player had passed a medical.

Ashley revealed: ‘We delivered Rafa’s number one target in January, Miguel Almiron, but Hoffenheim wouldn’t sell Joelinton. Then in February they said we could get him early, but it would cost £40m. He was a name we had discussed with Rafa, and our recruitment people had him top of their list. I thought it was one of those that would keep drifting away, but no, we had it done.

‘I was so excited to tell Rafa we’ve got another one coming, but when Lee Charnley, our managing director, had the conversation, his view was that he didn’t want to commit to the transfer until he knew what his position was with the club next season. And I didn’t get that. Is this the bloke who had given it to me for the last 12 months?

‘Proper given me bucketfuls – which I may or may not deserve, but I don’t deserve it on this one, because I’ve done it. I’ve got his first choice, Almiron, and this other player who was so exciting we thought he’d be out of our range. When we first sat down with Rafa, we didn’t think we would pay this much for a player. We’d never done that before.

‘From there, the relationship deteriorated very quickly. I was personally very disappointed, and that’s putting it politely. I was freaked out. I’m thinking, “I clearly don’t understand anything about football” because I’m all for celebrating and going mad and suddenly it’s, “No – you’ve got to sort my deal out first.” So we had another few weeks of correspondence and then it wasn’t just his deal, it was that he thought the £40m for Joelinton wasn’t worth it. It’s too much and the club shouldn’t spend it.

‘And very occasionally, I get to be me in this world. So here’s the deal. I’ll pay £20m of it personally. Nothing to do with the club. Above and beyond the budget. Rafa valued him at £20m. So that’s what would come out of the club budget. The rest, £23m – I’ll pay. And he still didn’t sign it off. Looking back, I think he knew for a long time he was going to China because it was like we couldn’t do anything. Joelinton was the test.

‘Why on earth would you not want that? As a football manager, with all the things you have said, why wouldn’t you want Joelinton? It wasn’t even as if it was him or Salomon Rondon. And we told him that. We just wanted Joelinton secured.’

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