“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.”