This season has been one of great success. For most that arrived, Newcastle have proved a fine stomping ground. For some that remained, fortunes have turned dramatically. A lot of questions have been answered, but one hasn't. In fact, the answer has seemed to become more complex. At the beginning of the season, I wrote an article explaining how a certain Serbian could well be the center forward fans have craved for years. Many like myself, were convinced that this Championship slog would be just what Aleksandar Mitrović needed. At 21 and on the back of a stop-start debut Premier League campaign, surely Rafa Benitez would be the man to get the best out of him?
As of now, those same believers still lie in wait. Hoping beyond hope that those ideologies will still be realized.
The amount of critics has multiplied. Some have lost all patience with the number 45 and some are bordering on just that. They all point to the fact that his ill-discipline is yet to be curtailed. They say he will simply never be a goal-scorer. They say that Dwight Gayle is miles ahead of him. The thought of selling Mitrović for a hefty fee in the summer really appeals. Perhaps Newcastle could recoup the £13 million they forked out on him in 2015? That sounds good on the face of things.
My issue is that by agreeing to his release, not only are you losing the player, you are also losing the enormous potential that comes with him. Like it or not, under the right management, Mitrović has all the tools to be a better Premiership center forward than Gayle. It is easily forgotten that as good as the Englishman has been this season, his best tally in the top flight was 7 (back in 2013/14). To put that into perspective, our resident Serbian notched 9 in our ill-fated relegation campaign, at the age of 20 no less.
In the top division, defenders are faster and much more mobile. Gayle has used his pace on many occasion against big, bustly central defenders in the Championship, and it has been great for the team. Will he be able to do that next season? Certainly not every week. Benitez knows fine well that someone has to offer an aerial presence up front for his side. He also knows just as well as fans do that Daryl Murphy can not be that man.
So my question is... if not Mitro, who? Until I see a replacement found that offers MORE than what the big Serb does, then I would keep hold of him. I really do feel we would regret letting him go without allowing him to reach the potential that we all know lies within him.
I'll leave you with some stats, those are always interesting.
This season, Mitrović has started 11 times across all competitions and managed 6 goals and 3 assists.
Last season he started 23 times, scoring 9 times and providing 4 assists.
So, in 34 starts for Newcastle United, Aleksandar's record stands at 15 goals and 7 assists. 21 years old, with a record like that next to his name, I think its time to lay off him a bit.