This is the third in a series of analysis pieces to preview the restart of the Premier League season, on June 17. Read the first on Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes here and second on Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal here.
He has been described as one of the worst signings of the Premier League era, a £40m striker who does not score goals and has not had the impact to create many either.
Written off as either a flop or a misfit, Joelinton has failed to offer value for money at Newcastle United and there were few signs of improvement before the season was shut down by the Covid-19 crisis.
Quite why Newcastle decided to shatter their transfer record, despite the advice of former manager Rafa Benítez, who insisted they were paying too much for a player who had scored only seven goals in 29 games for Hoffenheim, nobody is entirely sure.
Benítez liked the player, not the price. Yet those in charge ploughed ahead with the deal, helping pave the way for the Spaniard’s exit. The transfer was agreed long before Benítez’s successor, Steve Bruce, was appointed.
Bruce, though, has handled a struggling player with a soft and gentle touch. Of all those who have expressed their support for Newcastle’s under-appreciated manager, Joelinton’s was the most symbolic.
Having failed to score since September, Joelinton finally found the back of the net in an FA Cup replay against League One Rochdale in January and ran from the Gallowgate End straight into the arms of Bruce on the touchline.
“I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve worked with a player in all my years as a manager who I would be happier to see prove the critics wrong,” Bruce told Telegraph Sport.
“It has been a really tough experience and I’ve felt for him at times. He’s a young man, he was 22 when he signed for Newcastle and he has the No9 shirt on his back and all the expectations that go with it.
“It has not gone as well as he would like. The thing is, he would be the first person to admit that. I like him, I really do. He has got a huge heart and he is desperate to do well.
“He is a smashing lad and he will come good. It’s easy to say, I know, but I see him in training every day, as do all the players, and they will say the same thing. We know how good he is and we know what sort of impact he is capable of having.”
What has been the problem?
Joelinton was effectively signed as a younger replacement for the 30-year-old Salomón Rondón. But while they may appear to be similar in physique, they are completely different players.
Joelinton was not even used to playing through the middle, deployed wide in a front three at Hoffenheim. In Germany, most of his best work came cutting in from a wide position.
Despite watching him more than 20 times, Newcastle decided he would be perfect to play as a target man centre-forward and broke their transfer record to sign him, almost doubling the £21m they paid Atlanta United for Miguel Almirón in January last year.
Quite how this mistake was made is unclear. Chief scout Paul Nickson appears to be to blame, although there is also a suspicion Newcastle were also keen as they felt it would help them bring in more South Americans playing in Europe.
Joelinton’s work ethic cannot be questioned. The main problem is that he does not look like he will ever be a prolific centre-forward.
He is good in the air and can link play well – not easy when he has been left so isolated – but he does not only miss chances, he does not get on the end of many either.
He is flat-footed in the box and for someone of his size and with his athleticism, does not attack the near or far post in the air. When you spend £40m on a striker, they are expected to score goals.
“It’s always been the same,” added Bruce. “Strikers are judged on goals and I don’t think Jo is a natural goalscorer. It is something we are working on constantly and until he starts scoring regularly, he is going to be a target for criticism.
“We’ve got to work through that and get him into more goalscoring positions. It’s not just about him, though. In too many games we have not had that offensive threat, we need to help him out by creating more chances.”
Could the move behind closed doors help him?
Everybody has said the same thing about Joelinton, privately and publicly: he looks a far better player in training than in matches.
The break may have done some good. His grasp of English is improving and he has had a few months to adjust to English football. This is like the start of a new season.
There is no question that the anxiety and disquiet in the stands had started to get to him. The fact there will be no atmosphere inside the stadium could be a blessing in disguise. A player who is better in training may well also be far more effective in matches that resemble training games.
“He’s just got to take what we see at the training ground into games,” Bruce added. “I hear managers say that sort of thing all the time, but with Joelinton, there is a top-quality player in there.
“He is young, he’s learning and I think the Premier League was a bit of a shock. He wouldn’t be the first and he will not be the last to have a tough first year.
“We’ve seen glimpses of it, but that’s not enough. It’s a big challenge for all of us, but I will never give up on someone like him.
“I just think he is one of those players who, in a couple of years, people will be saying what a talent he is. I certainly hope so.”