Former NUFC boss Steve McClaren believes Aleksandar Mitrovic needs to be ‘loved, trusted and believed in’ and feels that’s why Fulham are getting the best out of him – something he clearly feels Rafa Benitez was not doing when they were together on Tyneside.
McClaren was in charge when the striker arrived from Anderlecht for £13m in the summer of 2015, with him going on to score 9 Premier League goals in his debut season at St James’ Park.
It’s not quite worked for him under Rafa Benitez, with McClaren suggesting that a lack of ‘connection’ between him and Mitrovic may have contributed towards him struggling to find form at NUFC over the past two years.
Speaking as a Sky pundit before Fulham’s recent 2-2 draw with QPR, here’s what the ex-NUFC boss had to say about the Serbian:
“He came in as a young boy at Newcastle, he needs to be loved, needs to be believed in, trusted”
“I think Jokanovic, being Serbian, I think they’ve got that connection and once you get the best out of him, he’s not only a good player outside the box, bringing other players into it, he scores goals.”
In fairness, McClaren is probably right (even if the notion of him giving Rafa advice is a laughable one). Mitrovic is a passionate and emotional character who clearly needs that arm around him to be at his best, however that doesn’t change the fact that Rafa clearly had his reasons not to play him.
Was he training well enough? Could he be trusted to follow instructions on the pitch? Could he put in the shift up front Rafa demanded? He may be our best striker if used right, but to play in a way that suits him (attacking/possession football, creating chances and getting balls into the box like Fulham do) would mean Rafa compromising his system and set up for one player.
Is Mitrovic good enough to justify that? I’m not so sure.