By Luke Andersen
After a successful spell on loan at Fulham last season, Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic looks set to sign for them permanently within the next fortnight.
Grabbing 12 goals for them since the turn of the year was a good enough return to sustain Fulham’s interest, and a fee of around £20m is generally thought to be the price at which the transfer will go through.
It seems he has a new group of admirers in the Fulham support, and perhaps the feeling is mutual after he was seen kissing the club badge whilst celebrating one of his strikes. But for the time being, Mitrovic is still a Newcastle United player, and the prospect of losing him for the proposed fee has divided a large part of our fan base – especially when fans are not fond of his likely replacement; Salomon Rondon.
At 23, and after having his most goal-rich season in England yet, a lot of fans are calling for him to be given another chance at Newcastle. Given our financial situation and Mike Ashley’s complete unwillingness to loosen the purse strings this summer, you could argue they have a point.But the top and bottom of it is that Mitrovic isn’t fancied by Newcastle’s world class manager Rafa Benitez.
On too many occasions Mitrovic’s discipline has clearly angered Benitez, who has doubtless ended up with the opinion that the Serbian is a loose-cannon who can’t be trusted to follow his instructions when on the field of play.
I’m by no means a Mitrovic basher (I don’t think many folks would fancy their chances of bashing Mitrovic) but I’m willing to accept that his days at Newcastle are over and we need to move on. And in the same way as with Chancel Mbemba, once Benitez feels that a player has overstepped the mark or gone ‘Maverick’ one too many times, then their bridges are burned and he looks to move them on.
Like it or lump it this is the way Rafa Benitez manages his players, and there’s no denying the man’s credentials as a manager. The Newcastle faithful are in complete support and admiration for not only his ability as a coach, but also the way he conducts himself – so the decisions he makes with his squad should follow suit.
Benitez has constantly had to adapt to the various constraints above his head during his time at Newcastle, but in doing so he’s proved he knows best about most scenarios. In not able to buy the types of top level players he’s had access to in the past, he has moulded Newcastle into a team of grafters with the emphasis on the spirit of togetherness, and a willingness to work harder than the opposition.
But in Mitrovic he sees a ‘black sheep’ to that philosophy – a player who (in the same way Steven Taylor used to) feeds too heavily off the crowd and often uses the atmosphere more negatively than positively. Rafa simply does not trust him; and presumably won’t go back on his word after ‘Mitro’ spurned his last chance to cooperate.
The most likely replacement for Mitrovic is seen as West Brom’s Venezuelan forward Salomon Rondon. And in the same way as Mitrovic’s supposed sale has caused waves among fans, so too have rumours of his arrival. Rondon is probably not Rafa’s first choice… Probably not his second; But if he is indeed the player who has now been pinpointed to fill the gap Mitrovic will leave then he’s a player Rafa has himself identified – and is confident he can work with.
Given Rafa is a thorough, thoughtful and intelligent manager then he’ll know already what he can and can’t ask of, or improve in Rondon. And whilst Rondon might not be a world beater; he fits into the Mitrovic mould in terms of hold up play, and definitely has the edge in terms of pace. He’s known for his work rate and team-play – the exact opposite to the opinion Rafa holds on the big Serb.
During his time in England, Rondon has scored a goal every 4.5 games, and at 28 (he’s 29 in September) he’s almost five year’s Mitrovic’s senior. Having said that though, I would fully expect that if Rondon goes into the season as the new number 9, or at least first choice striker in a counter attacking side with two speedy wide men either side of him, that he would score more goals than if playing in a West Brom side managed by Alan Pardew, Roy Hodgson, or Tony Pulis for example.
By looking at his goal tally; we can see clearly that Rondon isn’t prolific by any stretch of the imagination, but in buying someone with his effort and commitment to the cause Rafa perhaps believes his role up-front will lead to a success that won’t simply be judged by the strength of his goals total.
Due to owner Mike Ashley’s baffling behaviour and inability to support Rafa with any top-player purchases, the likes of Rondon may well have to do, for now – but at least it’d be a striker being brought in under Rafa’s request, and at least Rondon would be starting at Newcastle with fresh impetus and with a new Rafa Benitez made plan in mind.