As Newcastle cut ties with Aleksandar Mitrovic ahead of the Serbian striker Fulham move and Salomon Rondon seemingly moves into his old squad spot, it’s worth asking, at least in theory, whether the Magpies can defy the age math of the move.
There’s a load of well-earned respect amongst the Geordies for manager Rafa Benitez, who has rarely had time or patience for the productive but combustible Mitrovic.
[ MORE: Pochettino hopeful for signings as injuries pile up, deadline looms ]
Still just 23, the powerful forward had an amazing half-season on loan at Fulham and was a handful for defenses at the World Cup.
But Benitez has kept a short leash on Mitrovic since he took the reigns at St. James Park. Mitrovic scored 12 goals in 17 Championship matches for Fulham after scoring just five times in 31 appearances between the Championship and Premier League for Newcastle from 2015-17 (His first year at Newcastle was a nine-goal, four-assist, two red card campaign under Steve McClaren and then Benitez).
Given Mitrovic’s young age and success rate at Craven Cottage, there’s no reason for Fulham not to spend the reported $28 million.
The Magpies are expected to use a lot of that money to sign big West Bromwich Albion forward Rondon, who has scored 24 goals in three seasons as the focal point of one of the Premier League’s most conservative attacks.
Newcastle’s bet has to be that Benitez believes that feeding pieces around Rondon — Ayoze Perez, Yoshimori Muti, Matt Ritchie, Jonjo Shelvey, DeAndre Yedlin and Kenedy — are going to produce more feast-able material for the big man than the Baggies’ recent pieces (Chris Brunt, Matty Phillips, Kieran Gibbs, Jay Rodriguez, Jake Livermore, and James McClean).
Mitrovic played with such fury that cards were never too far away. Rondon is no shrinking violet, but has only taken one red in his career (going head-first into Bournemouth opposition, who was doing the same).
This is a pretty big risk for Benitez, who is one even marginally-big Mitrovic season away from having a $40-plus million striker on his hands. But Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s stingy nature has forced Benitez to find creative solutions to his squad needs.
Rondon is a short-term fix and the striker market is never going to be low cost, but the Magpies do have plenty of crossers and playmakers should they stay healthy. Might Rondon be the tonic for an attack dreadfully shy of finishers last season? He’s no doubt an upgrade on Joselu and Dwight Gayle, but that’s not saying a ton.
It’s not a big gamble, but admittedly it’s a gamble. Rondon can be a 10-goal man with terrific hold-up play for teammates, but a behaved Mitrovic has 15-20 in his locker. That’s asking a lot though.