An Inside Look at Aleksandar Mitrovic and Why It Was Always Him OR Charlie Austin

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47

Written for NUFC360 - a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates. Follow them @NUFC360

Alan Shearer tweeted out “Welcome to NUFC Aleksandar Mitrovic. If you score goals at this club, the fans will adore you. I hope you have as much fun as I did”. No firmer words have ever been spoken; one simple tweet speaking a millions words. When Steve McClaren was first appointed manager of Newcastle United, a change of culture was in order. The Geordie nation had doubts regarding Mike Ashley’s spending promises, but he has thus far pulled through. Although I do not think it will turn over fans emotions and sentiments towards the Newcastle United owner, it is a step in the right direction. First Georginio Wijnaldum, now Aleksandar Mitrovic; two of the top four most expensive signings in club history, that speaks volume. NUFC are finally spending, I wonder how Alan Pardew feels (that’s another conversation for another day). With Mitrovic’s ex-Anderlecht teammate Chancel Mbemba due for a medical on Tyneside, which will cost NUFC approximately £8.5million, that would bring the total sum up to more than £30million spent on 3 players this summer. Only Man City (£67M), Man United (£65.4M) and Liverpool (£48M) have spent more than Newcastle thus far through the summer window. Now back to the main topic, “_Mitrogoals_”.

Newcastle United had shown interest in Aleksandar Mitrovic for quite some time now. As a matter of fact, there’s an article from the Daily Mail that was published on May 5th saying Anderlecht had agreed to terms with NUFC on a £15m fee for Mitrovic. It ultimately cost Newcastle United £13m to sign the 20-year Serbian striker sensation, the 4th most expensive signing in club history (after Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Wijnaldum). Mitrovic joined Anderlecht from Serbian club Partizan for a club record fee of €5m at 18 years old and made 90 consecutive appearances at Anderlecht. In the 2014-15 season, the Serbian international scored 20 goals (which happens to be more than Papiss Cissé, Ayoze Perez and Rivière combined this past season, by the way). Expecting to wear the #9 jersey, like his childhood hero Alan Shearer, Newcastle United are also expecting big things from Mitrovic.

“I also know about the famous players who have played for Newcastle United, like Alan Shearer who is a hero of mine. I hope I can play like him for this club. It will be an honor. Alan Shearer is a real legend and one of my heroes. That and Drogba is how I like to play. I’m a physical sort of player. I like to fight and score goals”.

You can sense how much it means for him to wear the Black and White, which you also felt through Wijnaldum’s quotes. That is what Steve McClaren meant when he said he wanted to bring the right players in, and that could also be why it took a while for the signings to start rolling through. A change of identity does not occur overnight, it is an excruciating procedure to ensure you bring in the right players for the locker room. So far, McClaren and Lee Charley have helped address two of the biggest needs of the club (Striker and Midfielder), and with Mbemba almost signed, it will be 3.

When asking about Mitrovic’s game and his weaknesses, a handful of Anderlecht fans tend to always have the same responses: he’s crazy but an abundance of talent.

“Very strong in the air, scores a lot of headers but has to work on his finishing with his feet. Scored 20 goals last season but could/should have 30. Not fast or speedy and is quite inconsistent, will disappear at times. Also has a temper, missed 10 games due to suspension. However, he embraces physicality, which is clearly a good thing in the Premier League. Surround him with good players and watch him go to work”.

Yes, he does have a temper and is not the most levelheaded player. He returned from an international break 5KG overweight and blamed it on eating too much pizza. He’s got an absurd celebration that looks like… Well, I’m sure you’ve got an idea, but Mitrovic claims it’s a gesture of cutting his tongue to get back at his critics. Despite all of this, he’s astoundingly talented and when he puts it altogether, will shine in the PL.

On a side note, I have never claimed to be an insider, or an “ITK” but have played football my whole life and understand the complex structure and philosophy of the game. I have previously gone on record and said that Newcastle United was always going to be Aleksandar Mitrovic OR Charlie Austin, never the both. First off, McClaren typically plays the 4-2-3-1 formation, with a lone striker on an island up top, meaning one of Mitrovic or Austin would sit on the bench. Why would either sign at Newcastle to sit on the bench?

Secondly, they are both quite similar players, big body strikers that are great in the air but lack pace. Some may suggest starting both of them at the same time; but that would make NUFC quite vulnerable defensively, with two slow strikers who rarely track back and that are more involved offensively. Pairing Mitrovic with someone like Ayoze would make a lot more sense than with Austin, for example. Lastly, there was a rumored budget that Mike Ashley was willing to spend (said between £40-60M, but who really knows). If using those numbers for speculation purposes, that would leave Newcastle with a range between £10M or £30M left to spend. Now, would it make sense to spend another £15M on a striker when there are much bigger priorities and needs? Another CB comes to mind, not to mention a winger and possibly a LB. With Mitrovic, Cissé (if not sold), Perez, Riviere and Armstrong, I will go out on a limb and say they are set at that position. Even if they do sell Cissé, it would not make sense to spend that money on a striker like Charlie Austin. A striker with pace would fit a much bigger need than another player like Mitrovic. Of course all of this is based on my opinion and knowledge of the game. Could I be wrong? Of course I can be wrong. Would I be upset if we signed Charlie Austin? Of course not, as a matter of fact, I’d love to be wrong. Charlie Austin is a very, very talented football player. However, in my humble opinion, I don’t think it makes sense to keep pursuing Austin.

With that said, NUFC fans should definitely have reason to enjoy Mitrovic’s (raw) talent. He will bring much-needed flare and character to a club that was emphatically lacking that last season. As a matter of fact, the great Jose Mourinho knows greatness when he sees it and 2 years ago he said that Mitrovic is destined for that path. “Mitrovic was the best player on the pitch. He managed to keep the ball well and that was the key. That boy has everything to be a European star”. And Mourinho also recently said “Newcastle is a big step forward. I hope he’ll play everything. He can score goals and become a top striker but he first has to settle as a good scorer. He’s more mature than before”.

Newcastle United are certainly hoping they get the more mature version of Mitrovic, a player who will put his team first and that represents the #9 like his childhood hero did.

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