“I didn’t realise you were that good” were the first words put to Joelinton in a television interview after his masterclass in Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Allan Saint-Maximin gave the Magpies the lead before Edinson Cavani’s equaliser denied them only a second win of the season. But everyone was talking about Joelinton, the £40m striker ridiculed for a lack of goals who is finding a new lease of life as a central midfielder.
So just how good was the Brazilian – and how has he turned things around at St James’ Park?
The 25-year-old has been mocked by football fans, including Newcastle supporters, since his club-record move from Hoffenheim in 2019.
Effectively a striker who rarely scores, he netted four times in 44 games in his first season – including against Oxford and Rochdale.
His tally now reads 11 goals in 99 games in English football.
But he has been reborn since a bit of fortune in disguise for Newcastle manager Eddie Howe.
“When we initially came in we thought Joelinton would play as a number 10, a second striker,” Howe, who succeeded Steve Bruce in November, said after the draw with the Red Devils.
But that changed when Ciaran Clark was sent off after nine minutes against Norwich in Howe’s first game in the home dugout in November.
“We went down to 10 men against Norwich and reshuffled and played Joelinton as an eight [central midfielder] and he was brilliant defensively,” said Howe.
“He has a tactical understanding. From then on I thought he had technical capabilities. You’ve seen tonight he’s been brilliant defensively.
“His work-rate and the amount of ground he covers is incredible. He’s a real team player. Such ability as well. He can only get better.
“His technique and ability to find space and control the ball in tight areas is of the highest level. I love the lad to bits. I’m really glad he’s performing so well.”
So what did he do well against Manchester United?
He had more touches (63), played more passes (33) and successful ones (25), created more chances (three), made more interceptions (four), won the ball more times (11) and carried it forward more often (13) than any of his team-mates.
His central midfield partner Sean Longstaff said afterwards: “We know how good Joelinton is and the disrespect he gets is a disgrace. Every day in training he’s the best player and if you get him on your team in training you’re buzzing because you’ll always win.
“He’s shown since the manager came in what he’s been like in training. Everyone at the club rates him so highly. The noise from outside is so disrespectful and if you watch him enough you see how good he is. I’m so happy for him and proud of him.”
Joelinton, who is yet to be capped, said: “It’s a new position for me. I try to give everything for the team.
“I understand what the manager is asking from me on the pitch. Some days things don’t happen but today I tried to work and I hope to continue this and do good work and hope we can win the game and improve this situation.”
In the first half, former Scotland winger Pat Nevin, at St James’ Park for BBC Radio 5 Live, said: “Joelinton is playing in his best position. He’s a player who drives from midfield, using his power and pace.
“When he first came to Newcastle he showed up well in that position. This is a formation that suits him well.”
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports: “He was brilliant. That was an outstanding midfield performance. He was fantastic, he was running with the ball, he was a goal threat, he had everything.
“He’s taken a lot of criticism and, let’s not sugar coat it, he was really poor as a centre forward but in that midfield position he’s looked Newcastle’s best player.”
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