Newcastle United supporters are some of the most passionate fans in the world. When a player recognizes and takes advantage of the special opportunity they have to play in front of 50,000 raucous fans at St. James's Park, they often can win over the affection of the entire city.
Enter Aleksandar Mitrović.
From a young age, Aleksandar Mitrović has not been shy about where he would want to play. This has undoubtedly earned the affection of the fans. In the current climate of players that only have their sights set on higher wages and show next to no loyalty to their current club, the comments Mitrović have made cause supporters to get behind the 22-year-old Serbian international, and potentially give him a break when things don’t necessarily go his way.
Wearing the number 45 shirt, his antics often remind us of another number 45 that graced the Premier League. Aleksandar Mitrović embodies a lot of the qualities Newcastle United supporters see in themselves and want to see in their players. Passionate, hard-working, and not afraid to get in someone's face when challenged.
All that said, there's another side to the story. NUFC desperately need a striker that can score goals. Passion is great, but goals are better.
Papiss Cissé, the de facto striker on Tyneside for 5 seasons, is gone. The club has been, embarrassingly by the end of it, going after Loic Remy for the past 3 seasons, with no luck in closing a deal. Players like Emmanuel Riviere, Facundo Ferreyra and Ivan Toney were shambolic signings that never had a chance to perform on the Premier League stage. Dwight Gayle is here, but there are understandable concerns about both his health and his ability to perform through a full season against top flight competition. Case and point: Crystal Palace, the team that sold him to Newcastle, had one player score more than seven goals last season. If they believed he could be an impact player for them, they surely wouldn't have sold him.
Looking at Mitrović’s time at Newcastle so far, it’s been quite a mixed bag. After bagging 20 goals in 28 league matches for Anderlecht the season before, expectations were quite high for the £14m signing. He had been Anderlecht’s record signing when they bought him from FK Partizan in 2013. YouTube highlights of goals against Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in Champions League football sent expectations into the stratosphere.
As a 20 year old, he netted 9 goals in only 22 starts for Newcastle in a season that ended in relegation. His season, while it had low points, were largely regarded as a success, and the prospects of him playing against Championship-level talent was salivating to say the least. However, things didn’t go so smoothly as he tried his luck in England’s second tier.
It turned out to be a truly disastrous season in 2016-17, as he only played in 25 matches, scoring a minuscule 4 goals (a goal every 280! minutes.) A nasty leg injury in January made matters worse, as he was already battling for playing time. The Championship season, while a massive success for Newcastle United as a whole, can only be described as a step back for Mitrović on a personal development level. His future under Rafa Benitez is surely in doubt.
So the £14 million question: What to do with Aleksandar Mitrović?
Option 1: Let him lead the line for the 2017-18 Newcastle United starting XI.
There’s a camp of NUFC supporters that feel if Mitrović is given time on the pitch, he’ll come out good. And there’s some evidence to back that up. He’s scored 7 goals in his last 10 matches for Serbia, and in terms of UEFA World Cup Qualifying, he’s sixth in goals scored, behind some massive names, including Ronaldo, Lewandowski, and Lukaku.
However, it will be very hard for Rafa Benitez to feel comfortable putting his attacking eggs in Mitro’s basket in what will prove to be a vital season for the club.
Option 2: Sell him and cut their losses.
This option seems the most unlikely of the four. Mitrović cost a fairly sizable price when Newcastle bought him, and there isn’t currently a logical fit that can both afford to pay the 13-14 million pounds for him, and wouldn’t need him to carry their team for the next few seasons. Most teams that could afford the price tag wouldn’t play him on a regular basis, and the clubs that would play him game in, game out probably can’t afford the transfer fee.
Option 3: Play him when Gayle/[insert new striker here] need a rest, and give him substitute appearances aplenty.
If Benitez and Charnley can’t find a club that will pony up the cash, they’ll probably want to use him as an impact sub, coming on to exploit worn out center backs and nab a few late goals in matches.
This may not be the best solution for the young Serb, as he really needs playing time to continue his development. If Rafa brings in another striker, and fancies starting Gayle on a regular basis, it’s probable that Mitrović will wane on the bench, stunting any confidence he’s built up from his international goal scoring streak.
Option 4: Loan him out for a season where he’s sure to get playing time.
This seems like the most logical option.
Rafa Benitez gets to retain Mitrović long-term, Mitrović can continue his personal development, and another club gets a passionate, potentially high-scoring striker that is sure to be a fan favorite.
No matter what you think of the lad, there’s something inside all Newcastle supporters that want to see him succeed at the highest level. Watching a big, hulking striker that loves the city smash goals and run around like a madman satisfies an itch that no one can deny. It would probably be in the best interest of Newcastle’s future to retain the rights to Mitrović, and either start him regularly next year, or loan him to a club that will give him starts each week. If he can rebuild some of his confidence and find his scoring boots in domestic play, he has the potential to be a legend on Tyneside.