Joelinton: Newcastle's number 9 has the personality to succeed in the Premier League

“We’ll have to protect him and help him,” said Newcastle manager Steve Bruce when asked about his Brazilian striker Joelinton before his team travelled to take on Chelsea, “because he’s finding it tough at the minute. He’s getting used to a new environment, new team-mates, a new way of playing.”

It has been a difficult few months for Newcastle’s £40m record signing since his move from Hoffenheim in the summer. There has only been one goal in his 11 games so far and the 23-year-old has spent much of the season ploughing a lonely furrow in a disjointed Newcastle attack.

But according to those who worked alongside him at Sport Recife, the Brazilian club where he started his professional career, Joelinton has the personality to deal with the current adversity and the quality to succeed.

Leandro Duda, a coach who mentored him for four years as he progressed through the youth teams and into the professional ranks, clearly remembers the first time he laid eyes on the big forward. “He came into the U15s,” Duda says, “and in the first training session he really caught my attention because of his personality.

“Generally new [youth] players arrive and are shy, but he wasn’t. I remember I blew for a foul and he asked me, ‘Coach, can I take it?’ There was a boy who had been there for longer and wanted to take it, but I said, ‘No, let the new boy have it.’

“He took it and hit it badly. It went wide. He said to me, ‘I know how to hit the ball well, I’ll take the next one and score.’ And after that, the next foul, he took the ball and scored. That’s my first impression of him.”

Joelinton had come to Sport, the most popular and most successful club in the north-eastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, from his hometown of Aliança, a couple of hours drive outside the state capital Recife. Aliança, Duda says, “is a small, humble town. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for the people there. Sport held a trial there and discovered him.”

And that, he believes, has shaped Joelinton’s desire to succeed. “He’s always humble, friends with everyone. But he’s very dedicated to his work and because of that, he’s always evolving. He’s the first to training. In the fitness work, he was always first.

“After training, he was always there doing some extra physical or technical work, working on his finishing, heading. Because of this perseverance, he’s become successful and is playing at a big club.”

It is a point that journalist Pedro Galindo, who covered Sport on a daily basis at the time Joelinton was coming through, also highlights; “Joelinton’s personality was eye-catching from the beginning. He comes from a small, poor town, but never appeared dazzled by his quick ascent. He always demonstrated maturity beyond his years.”

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That maturity, both physical and mental, was such that then-Sport manager Eduardo Baptista was happy to make Joelinton his first-choice centre-forward when he had just turned 18. “For some players, it’s difficult [to step up],” says Duda, “but not for him. He’s got so much personality. He approached it as if it were another youth competition. He went straight in and took it on.”

So impressed was the manager, recalls Galindo, that “after just a few games, Baptista gave the ‘prophecy’ that Joelinton would go on to play in Europe.”

That prediction quickly came true. Less than a year after he had broken into the Sport first team, he was whisked off to Germany by Hoffenheim, where he spent a year on the bench before being loaned out to Rapid Vienna.

“He told me he had the usual issues,” Duda states, “but after that, he adapted well. He speaks German well, he can give interviews. It’s a difficult language, but he’s dedicated and focused even when it comes to that. He learned it fast.”

After those two years in Austria, he was taken back to Hoffenheim to be part of Julian Nagelsmann’s team as they went into the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Now though, the situation is different, as Galindo points out. “Until now,” he says, “Joelinton has worked in controlled, safe environments. First with Baptista, at a time when Sport were well organised on the pitch and had a stable coaching staff. Then he went to Hoffenheim, a club that laid out a plan for him to grow, which they always do for their players. He had the opportunity to play in Austria, developing without pressure.

“So, Newcastle is the first explosive situation in his career. The tumultuous administration, low-quality coaching staff and that constant pressure to not get relegated. Being the most expensive player in Newcastle’s history gives him a certain obligation to be decisive, to score regularly, something that was never really a characteristic of his game.”

And that point is crucial. Bruce has been using Joelinton as a target man; the Brazilian has disputed more headers than any other player in the division this season. Statistically speaking, he has done it well, too, being involved in more moves that have led to a shot than any other Newcastle player.

But that, Galindo and Duda agree, is not his natural game. “In the academy, he was an attacking midfielder,” remembers Duda, “One of the youth coaches, Fernando Lasalvia, started playing him as a centre-forward because of his physique. [But] he’s not that static centre-forward. He has mobility because he has already played as a No.10.”

Galindo makes a similar point. As well as being able to perform as a target man, he says, Joelinton “became first choice [for Sport] in large part because of his tactical discipline and intelligent movement, exploiting space.”

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Coming from that role at Sport and a similar one in Nagelsmann’s energetic Hoffenheim side, finding himself going up for endless aerial duels against tough Premier League centre-halves must be a shock to the system.

Joelinton, then, may benefit from a tactical set up that allows him to spend less time backing into the opposition defenders and more moving in between the lines, creating chances in a different way.

Despite the initial teething problems, Duda, who still does fitness work with Joelinton when he is back in Recife on holiday, believes he will come good; “I’m sure that he’ll stand out for Newcastle and make it to the Seleção. He played for the Brazil youth teams and I’m sure he will play for the full national team. Who knows, he might be at the next World Cup.”

“He’s a young player, so he’ll evolve a lot still. He’ll be up against tough defenders in the Premier League, even better [than in Germany], so he’ll improve naturally. He needs to evolve but he’s got everything he needs to be one of the best.

“He told me that he wants to play in the Premier League, and he talked about his interest in going to Newcastle [before the move]. He told how passionate the fans are. I spoke to him afterwards and he said he’s really happy to be pulling on the shirt.”

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