Newcastle United's famous No 9 shirt weighs heavy on struggling £40m striker Joelinton

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Fittingly, the milestone was brought up in a 0-0 draw. As Newcastle and Burnley ground out a stalemate that, until football was postponed, no one would have objected to missing, Joelinton made it 2000 minutes of football since his last league goal.

Which, to put it another way, was his only league goal for Newcastle. August’s winner at Tottenham Hotspur feels a different time: it was Spurs’ first defeat since the Champions League final, Newcastle’s first win under Steve Bruce.

Seven months on, Bruce represents one of the surprise success stories of the season – procuring 35 points and reaching an FA Cup quarter-final in difficult circumstances, exacerbated by his failing forwards – and Joelinton one of the more predictable failures.

Hindsight is not required: rewind to last summer and plenty pointed out that £40 million [Dh171m] felt an excessive fee for a striker who had never scored more than eight league goals in a season. Especially as Newcastle appeared to have miscast one who often played in a wider position for Hoffenheim as a striker.

The role of Newcastle’s lone striker, stranded in a different postcode to his team-mates and operating in a side with the least possession in the Premier League, can be a thankless one.

Yet every game serves as a reminder of how well Salomon Rondon performed the task. The Venezuelan’s haul of 11 league goals last season may sound respectable rather than remarkable but his player-of-the-year award was thoroughly merited.

He could hold the ball up, chase lost causes and head the ball like Les Ferdinand; little wonder Rafa Benitez prioritised his signing to such an extent he ended up taking Rondon to Dalian Yifang. Rondon and Ayoze Perez, another summer departure, scored 23 goals between them.

Minus each, Bruce has had an illogical dynamic; his forwards have five league goals – Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin getting two apiece – and his defenders 12.

It speaks to a resourcefulness, but it is hardly a long-term formula. Almiron has endeared with his efforts, Saint-Maximin with his ball-carrying ability and mesmerising solo runs. Joelinton has been the major disappointment.

His total of 42 shots gives him a chance conversion rate of 2.4 percent; needless to say, everyone else with more shots has more goals.

Indeed, some 147 players have more league goals, including five Newcastle defenders. Conferred with pressure, drained of confidence, an ever greater focus of attention, he has floundered, a victim of Newcastle’s decision-making as well as expectations.

“The great strikers, the goalscorers, all they're interested in is scoring a goal – Joe is not like that,” Bruce said in February. “We were hoping for 10-12 goals a season.”

Gallery from last round of Premier League matches

Leicester City beat Aston Villa 4-0 on March 9 in the last Premier League game to take place. Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring the third goal. EPA

Pedro of Chelsea celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the 4-0 win over Everton. Getty

Anthony Martial scored the first in Manchester United's 2-0 win over rivals Manchester City. EPA

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring their second goal in the 2-1 win over Bournemouth. Reuters

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette scored the only goal against West Ham. Reuters

Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew scores the goal in the 1-0 win against Watford. Reuters.

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp strikes in the 1-0 win over Norwich. Reuters

Newcastle United's Allan Saint-Maximin celebrates scoring their goal in a 1-0 win a Southampton. Reuters

Brighton's Lewis Dunk (left) and Wolves' battle for the ball during the 0-0 draw at Molineux. PA

Tottenham's Dele Alli scores their goal from the penalty spot in the 1-1 draw at Burnley. Reuters

They have got one as Joelinton serves as an indictment of Newcastle’s recruitment process. This was a failed attempt to outwit the market that was made all the more perplexing by the hefty price tag. Newcastle have profited in the past by importing undervalued players and selling them on but Joelinton came for £40m; long before football’s finances were imperilled by coronavirus, it was apparent that no one would have paid Newcastle £40m to take him off their hands. If he leaves, it will be at a sizeable loss.

If he stays, Newcastle need a striker whereas, in Saint-Maximin and Almiron, they have players for Joelinton’s more fitting role on the sides. This feels an avoidable error.

Benitez did not want to sign him; Bruce had no choice in the matter. Earlier in the season, when it was at least apparent his efforts were unstinting, Bruce would refer him to affectionately as ‘Big Joe’. It became the more formal ‘Joelinton’. Before long, perhaps, he may just be called ‘Linton’. If Newcastle’s No. 9 shirt is famous, his has become a form of infamy.

Updated: March 23, 2020 06:19 PM

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