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Opinion

‘Joelinton – From long running joke to latter-day closer to Patrick Vieira, how’s that happened…?’

1 month ago
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“I didn’t know you were that….good”.

The tone used on Joelinton from the Sky Sports interviewer was clumsy and tactless, bordering on disrespectful, but it’s sentiment was echoed in living-rooms up-and-down the country last night. Not least on Tyneside.

In four games, the £40million punchline to a long running joke (at our expense) has transformed into something closer to a latter-day Patrick Vieira.

How the hell did that happen?

Yes, I know, that’s a bit far and it’s very early days, but this wasn’t a one-off, just the latest, most public and emphatic, step on the big, likeable Brazilian’s evolution under Eddie Howe and his redemption in the eyes of the Toon Army.

“Big, likeable Brazilian”…

Full disclosure.

I have spent more hours than I want to remember calling this guy everything under the sun these last few years. “Big, likeable Brazilian” was never one of them. Let’s not go into the details, I’m sure you have a fair idea. However, something has clicked this year. It was there in flashes even under that clueless moron before (the endeavour, energy and technique) but it’s under Eddie Howe his true potential has become clear.

Howe wowed Staveley and the consortium with his depth of knowledge about the club and his ideas of how to better utilise the players already there – moving Joelinton back into the number 10 position being one of them. Optimistic he could salvage something from the player who looked to be runaway contender for the worst signing of the Premier League era. Certainly Newcastle’s worst (and that’s a tough competition on it’s own).

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and it was Ciaran Clark’s stupidity against Norwich that forced our hand, and Joelinton’s selfless performance for the ten men showed the manager, the fans, maybe even the player himself, his potential even further back the pitch, at Number 6.

He covered every blade of grass that night and the further promise of the Leeds and Man City games were capped off in front of the cameras on Monday night.

Tenacious in the tackle, eating up the ground with those big leggy strides, box-to-box from the first minute to the last; the skill to nutmeg in one attack, the vision and composure to set up Almiron late-on

It was a midfield masterclass.

As Carragher and Neville cooed in the studio, Sean Longstaff gave an impassioned defence of “the best player” in training and the “disgrace” of his treatment by the media, while the big, likeable Brazilian (there I go again..) stood bashfully beside him, occasionally twitching in front of the cameras, unwilling to talk about anything other than what he wanted to do for the team.

The last couple of years have been horrible to watch.

As Bruce gormlessly persisted on playing him as the focal point up front (admittedly, other centre-forward options were often limited), you could see the player’s confidence ebb away. Week after week, chances went begging, as commentators drew attention to goalscoring figures that only got worse. The enthusiasm for our new superstar Brazilian turned from bemusement, to disappointment, to anger. His dream move going sour; his very name a by word for hapless incompetence throughout his new home country, the symbol of the previous regime’s brainless transfer policy.

It was excruciating. For us, waiting all those years for the purse strings to open only for that. Though also on a human level. Even I could empathise (once I got past the anger) to watching a guy try his best but come up short. Every single week. Despite that languid style, I never doubted the application (just maybe the ability).

All this has been grossly unfair on Joelinton himself. He has been crucified for not being something he has never claimed to be.

Did Ashley actually think he was a striker? On what basis? Surely not his goal record or his position at Hoffenheim.
And, with the benefit of what he could see on the training ground, why the hell did Bruce compound the mistake and persist sticking him up top? Lack of options? Or lack of imagination?

His first few seasons remind me of Jon Dahl Tomasson. The much-hyped Danish number 10 we bought from Heerenveen who tore it up pre-season, only to get forced up top when Shearer did his cruciate. A few gilt-edge chances spurned on the opening day against Sheffield Wednesday later and his confidence never recovered. He didn’t make it to his second season and it took a few years rehabilitation back in Holland before he reaffirmed his potential with a big move to AC Milan, becoming one of the world’s very best in his position. Number 10.

We…and I very much include myself here…have been judging Joelinton by impossible standards. Standards forced on him by his mis-application in the team. Like buying Virgil Van Dijk, sticking him left wing, then complaining that he doesn’t beat his man enough. Well, actually he could probably do a job on the left (for us anyway), but you get my point.

Eddie Howe can take a good chunk of credit for looking past the stature and the number they put on his back and seeing what was actually there. But the biggest credit goes to the man himself.

In March this year, conscious his dream move was drifting away from him, Joelinton enlisted the services of Outlier FC, a Brazilian based agency who analyse his performance and compile dossiers for him to help give feedback on his performance, areas he could improve and Zoom tutorials on how he could do it. This humility, initiative and dedication came to fruition when he finally found a manager who was willing to work with the attribute he actually had, not the ones he wanted him to have.

Their analysts confirmed that skill set, the physicality, technique and the pressing “machine” that Julian Nagelsmann spoke about in Germany, was a perfect fit for the way Howe liked his teams to play, and with the arm around his shoulder as soon as he arrived, he hasn’t looked back. And this transformation couldn’t have come at a better time.

We all know the gaps in the squad, and priority was said to be that excuse for a defence and a more mobile option in centre midfield (the player we thought we were getting with Joe Willock). However, with Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin picking up injuries last night, Joelinton’s emergence may make the latter chase a less pressing one, allowing us to turn our attention to another option up front.

As much as we love Wilson, we wouldn’t want our survival hopes depending on him staying fit for the last 19 games. Already, the next 3 or 4 look unlikely, and that’s a best-case scenario…

However this rollercoaster season pans out (is it still a rollercoaster if it’s all downhill?), thanks to the faith of his manager and the player’s own resolve and dedication, Joelinton is fast turning from the symbol of the previous regime’s incompetence to the symbol of the new one’s hope.

From “that f.cking donkey” to “the big, likeable Brazilian”. I, for one, couldn’t be happier to choke on my humble pie.

Big Joe, I’m sorry.

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