When considering the lengthy list of Newcastle United footballers Eddie Howe has improved beyond natural boundaries the first name that jumps to mind, of course, is Joelinton, spectacular graduate from centre-forward flop to midfield dynamo.
However there have been many others – Miggy Almiron the headless chicken to relentless attacker, Fabian Schar dropping a major clanger every match to confident ball playing defender, Sean Longstaff from being on his way out to becoming United’s crucial midfield glue.
Even more recently Jacob Murphy has graduated from a nobody to valued member of the squad and Anthony Gordon from early arrival failure to crucial fleet-footed attacker.
Which is why we must remain convinced Howe’s magic dust will continue to work wonders with two newcomers in the last window who have endured the sort of start Gordon was confronted by after a much-heralded splash of the cash. What we seek is Sandro Tonali emerging from his betting hell and indifferent start to SJP life to become the £55m play making influencer he was bought to be and Lewis Hall, an 18-year-old adopted Geordie, confirming his potential despite suffering the obvious reality check of being substituted at half-time in his last two appearances.
If it has been tough for Hall, despite his goal at Manchester United, because first comparisons with another young full-back Tino Livramento leave him looking distinctly second best then it hardly means the boy will not be a star. He has had very little club football at any level either pre-season with Chelsea or during the campaign currently under way which naturally impacts not just on his performances but his ability to last a full high pressing game. When that improves so will he.
Of course United playing what is still his parent club twice in the next month which excludes him from participation is no help whatsoever. However against that Hall managing a full match for England Under 20s topped up by half an hour as a sub this international break will have helped sharpen his match fitness.
At the other end of the spectrum Tonali has found it grim. Put aside for a moment his lengthy ban, his gambling addiction, and the mental anguish of public humiliation. Even before that life had hardly been a gas. Apart from his sensational debut against Aston Villa he had fallen well short of expectations raised by a pedigree which included winning Serie A with AC Milan, reaching the semi-final of the Champions League, skippering Italy’s Under 21 team, and gaining a fair number of full caps.
There are a lot of justifiable reasons – language, new way of life and football philosophy – but if we are honest it is still way short of what United privately hoped for and, yes, expected. Bruno Guimaraes, another without an understanding of language or culture, settled so much quicker.
However class is usually permanent and Tonali is young enough to recover in a way a 30-year-old would find difficult. Nonetheless having lost the thick end of a year out of his career he is not in the same position as Hall, a mere teenager, with time stretching way out in front of him.
Starring in Milan will seem an awful long while ago when Tonali laces on his boots again for more than a practice ground kickabout. Still should he learn from his addiction and come back strong rather than demoralised then all is possible. The key is his mental strength and a burning desire to defy the knockers along with the impact of Howe and his coaching staff.
Language and lifestyle must be obstacles that are overcome while he is out. He must use his time to adjust because otherwise he faces a return to Italy which is a step into the past rather than a step forward.
United have made a significant commitment with both Tonali and Hall – a minimum of £55m splashed on Sandro and another £28m guaranteed with Lewis who though theoretically taken from Chelsea on loan carries the rider of a compulsory purchase in the summer. That is not a belief to be under estimated.
United in the main have struck gold in the transfer market since new owners and manager moved in. True, Chris Wood never made it beyond the mundane despite the considerable £25m outlay but then I believe United’s expectations in his case were realistically modest. They merely needed a centre-forward at that stage to help keep them up and Wood was available in a difficult market. Job completed, Newcastle managed to claw back a significant amount of cash from a desperate Nottingham Forest who unbelievably also went way over the top on Jonjo Shelvey.
However outside of Wood, United’s list of transfers have ended up mainly in the plus column. Maybe we can query Matt Targett but Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Nick Pope, Alexander Isak, Sven Botman, Dan Burn, and Anthony Gordon are definitely on the right side of good. Injury has currently taken Harvey Barnes out of the equation but hopefully he will join United’s long list of graduates.
All the positives mean we must have confidence that Tonali and Hall will enter the winners’ enclosure. What they have both got is natural ability which promises much with polishing. There is a basis to work on and that is a terrific beginning.
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