Some months ago, I was on the verge of writing a blog about Joelinton, It was to be headlined, ‘How do you solve a problem like Joelinton?’ and while it would be sympathetic – I really don’t like to crucify Toon players – it would also highlight the fact that here was a player that initially, no one seemed to have craved and yet now we were all stuck, the player included, not knowing what to make of him. I’ll repeat though, that my aim was never to hang Joelinton out to dry. I mean, I couldn’t if I wanted, given the size of my audience, but content is king with this type of thing and it had gotten to the stage where I felt like I couldn’t not write about him.
Something stopped me writing that blog post. I’d love to say that I knew Joelinton would come good, but the truth is, I didn’t. I think I just didn’t feel it was right to be so openly critical. Even when watching matches, I never found myself screaming and shouting about him. It was clear that he was working hard and that he wasn’t hiding from the ball. And he kept getting picked too. So, I just didn’t feel like it was being productive to be critical. I recall commenting on a Tweet that someone had sent out of a picture of Joe and his partner flying off to Brazil. I just put, ‘I hope she’s a striker’s coach’ and it was definitely just in jest more than being critical. Yet still, a few fans jumped on it like I’d just insulted their mothers. It was a joke at Joelinton’s expense and about his prredicament. But it was only a joke.
As a Newcastle United fan, I always wanted Joelinton to do well, but he was becoming a lost cause and the more I willed him to do well and he didn’t, the more he reminded me of similar lost causes that I’ve adopted over the years. One in particular sprung to mind- Kevin Dillon. Dillon was a mackem midfielder played for us between 1989 and 1991 and seemed to do everything he could not to score for us. I’d go to games, tipping him to score, week after week after week. Sometimes, when watching from the Scoreboard, a goal would go in at the Leazes end and I’d swear it was Dillon. It never was. Clearly though, Joelinton is no one’s Kevin Dillon!
On top of this, it seemed clear to anyone watching – apart from the likes of Bruce and the Steves, Mike Ashley etc – that it just wasn’t working out for Joelinton. It didn’t make me angry, it just made me feel sympathy for the player. He wasn’t scoring, he looked awkward even when just running and no system or position seemed to suit him. Even when Newcastle’s social media posted videos of him doing stuff like scoring in training, it looked like an accident. I began to notice the times he spent sitting getting treatment during games, thinking ‘here we go again’ but never once considering the fact that he was throwing himself into challenges that I’d just run away from!
Fast forward 6 months or so and I’m so pleased that I didn’t write that blog post! Joelinton is clearly a player reborn, seemingly brought back to life by our Lord and saviour, Eddie Howe (and his disciples Tindall, Jones et al).
As we’ll all no doubt remember, Big Joe’s redemption began in earnest on Tuesday 30th November 2021, in the game against Norwich at home. Ciaran Clarke’s early sending off forced Eddie Howe into a quick tactical change that saw Joelinton drop deeper into midfield, alongside Willock and Shelvey. The hope seemed to be that he could slot in there and do a job with his undoubted physicality. However, it was immediately apparent that Joe was going to provide much, much more than this. I remember watching and as each minute passed, just feeling more and more impressed. And I think we were all just delighted for him.
That night Joelinton was a hero. His work rate was phenomenal and he operated more as a box to box type midfielder than anything, linking things from back to front really effectively. He bullied the opposition midfield and his legwork allowed Jonjo Shelvey more time on the ball. Importantly though, in a game where we could easily have been picked off by a team with an extra man, he never allowed Norwich players to settle. If he was within touching distance, they were going to feel him challenging them. That night, after Clark’s dismissal, someone like Billy Gimour could have ran the game from midfield, but instead Joelinton took charge.
Four days later in the next game, against Burnley at home, Newcastle won their first match of the season. In what was a physical grind of a game, Joelinton again played in midfield and again put in an all action performance the like of which surely none of us had seen coming! Perhaps more importantly his status as a cult hero was growing as this was the first home match to hear the ‘He’s Brazilian’ chant.
In the final game of 2021, following on from a run of three heavy defeats, we played Manchester United at home. Not quite the daunting prospect that they once had been and yet no easy task for us, especially once Callum Wislon pulled up injured and had to be subbed off just before half time. Allan Saint Maximin had given us a lead early on, but Man Utd came after us in the second half, equalising with around 20 minutes still to go. It was all hands to the pump to secure a valuable point and once again Joelinton was brilliant with Eddie Howe commenting “I cannot praise him enough” afterwards. Howe’s influence has been amazing and he’s made it known just how valued Joelinton was from pretty much his first week in the job, which must have been a boost for the player after having to endure the poor man management of Steve Bruce.
However, it was Big Joe’s post match interview that would not only make headlines, but cement Joe’s place in the hearts and minds of Newcastle supporters. After a now typical all action performance, our Brazilian was awarded the man of the match by Sky. All good so far. But then the interviewer, Patrick Davidson, opened up with this,
“Joelinton, can I be completely honest? I didn’t realise you were that good.”
To his eternal credit Joelinton seemed to see the ‘funny’ side of what the interviewer was getting at. As I mentioned earlier, probably not many of us could honestly say that we’d seen anything much in Joe, apart from a price tag up until that Norwich game. But this was disrespectful, sly and designed to get under the skin. I was disgusted when I heard it, as were a lot of other Toon fans. However, Sean Longstaff – stood alongside Joe for the interview – spoke for us all, telling Davidson how good Joelinton actually was and pointing out that “the disrespect he gets is a disgrace”. The revelation that players loved being on Joelinton’s team in training because it meant they always won also told us a lot about the player. I guess what you see in matches is never really the whole story. It felt like a night and a moment that helped to galvanise us all. We remained 19th in the table and now had 11 points, but there had definitely been a shift in momentum and performance levels, with Joelinton very much at the heart of it all.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Big Joe though. After all, he was in the side that lost to Cambridge in the FA cup and also played in the Watford game, after which I for one could only see us going down. But reinforcements were being brought in and fortunes were about to take an upturn.
After getting injured against Leeds, by the time we beat Everton at home Joelinton was back in the team and performing brilliantly. And now, in Bruno Guimaraes, he had a Brazilian compatriot in town too. We’d signed a Brazilian international midfielder who was about to be kept out of the team partly by our a Brazilian who we’d questioned as a player not long since. Joelinton’s rise was almost complete.
For me – and I’d imagine loads of others – one of Joelinton’s brightest moments of the season, and maybe of his Newcastle career, came in the away victory at Brentford at the end of February. Once again, he was dominant in midfield, but he also scored our opening goal, rising to meet a cross from the left by Ryan Fraser and plant a bullet header into the net. And then, brushing aside his team mates, he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the by now adoring Newcastle fans, some of whom were dressed in fantastic Hawaiian shirts bearing Big Joe’s face. No one could be in any doubt about Joelinton now! At the end of the game, Joe returned to the fans, giving his shirt away and then being serenaded by the ‘He’s Brazilian’ chant for a good few minutes. At this point Newcastle were now 14th in the table with 25 points.
Eddie Howe has gone on record as saying that they saw Joelinton as more of a number 10 than a box to box midfielder, but there can be no doubt of his influence on Big Joe. It’d be unfair to say that Joelinton didn’t having the backing of the previous management who tried to incorporate him in various positions and systems. But whichever way you look at it, Steve and The Steves never got close to realising the player’s potential.
As I write, we’ve just got through a remarkable Joelinton dominated weekend which has certainly helped to illustrate just how far he’s come in his time at Newcastle United. His performance against Norwich proved something else about him. And it’s something that we probably all very much doubted initially, especially when he was given the number 9 shirt. Joelinton’s got a goal or two in him!
Joelinton’s two goals against Norwich proved that there is a striker’s instinct in there. His first – a stunning hammer blow into the top corner of the net – showed power and precision that for me personally, was evident in his first ever Newcastle goal, a crisp left footed finish against Spurs away that arrowed into the net. Similarly, the first against Norwich was a great connection that no keeper was stopping. Then his second goal was the type of close range finish that good strikers will see as their bread and butter. I thought he showed great awareness and a cool head with that one.
Once again, Big Joe was serenaded by the travelling fans and stuck around, enjoying the adoration for a good few minutes. I wonder what was going through his head as he stood their clapping? Imagine the delight and the weight steadily lifting from his shoulders in these past couple of months. One minute you’re finding the shot that you’ve just tried to hit smacking you in the face and then, in what must feel like the blink of an eye, almost everything you touch is applauded and thousands of Geordies are singing your name week in, week out. What a time to be Joelinton! If there’s not room for a statue, surely there should be a Bielsa style mural of him soon?!
All we need now is to see him getting called up to the Brazil squad and maybe even to make the World Cup in Qatar and the remarkable rise of Joelinton will be well and truly complete!