WHEN Eddie Howe took over at Newcastle United, there were a few candidates to become the talisman of his team.

Callum Wilson or Ryan Fraser, who did so much good work for him at Bournemouth? Allan Saint-Maximin, whose scintillating attacking runs provided a series of rare highlights under Steve Bruce? Joe Willock, who was the star of the second half of last season?

Had you taken a straw poll of Newcastle supporters on the day Howe was appointed, all those players might well have been mentioned. It is a safe bet, however, that few would have been pinning their hopes on Joelinton.

Yet here we are, three games into Howe’s reign if you count the false start against Brentford, and Newcastle’s previously-derided record signing has turned from multi-million-pound misfit to surprise spearhead.

He scored in the 3-3 draw with Brentford and caused a series of problems as he cut in from the right. He was one of the few players to avoid criticism at Arsenal, and on Tuesday, and Newcastle dug in valiantly with ten men against Norwich, he was transformed into a midfield general, throwing himself into challenges to prevent his side from being overrun.

Whenever a new manager takes over at a football club, it is said that players begin with a clean slate. In Joelinton’s case, however, the reinvention has been genuinely remarkable.

“Joe has been fantastic for me since we came in,” said Howe, whose side return to St James’ Park tomorrow for a must-win game against Burnley. “We like him. He has a good mix of physicality, technical ability, superb footwork to get out of tight situations, and he covers every blade of grass.

“He has a selfless mindset, and there is more to come. He can improve, but he is going to be a huge player for us.

“Against Norwich, he started as a number ten, then moved to a number eight, into midfield. In terms of his best position, he can play in a number of areas. He has already played three or four positions for me, and played them well.

“He has a work ethic, a high technical level, physicality, the ability to score. Put them together, and you have an outstanding individual.”

The one major downside, of course, is Joelinton’s scoring record since he completed his £40m move from Hoffenheim.

In his 82 Premier League appearances, the Brazilian has scored just seven goals. He has never netted with a header. He has claimed five assists, and directed just 42 of his 110 shots at the target. Thirteen of the ‘big chances’ he has been presented with have gone begging.

The statistics do not make pretty reading, but perhaps they simply confirm that the 25-year-old is not at his best playing as a ‘number nine’. Steve Bruce gradually accepted as much, but still couldn’t work out what to do with a player that his predecessor, Rafael Benitez, did not really want.

Howe appears to be prepared to be more flexible, and given that he was not involved in any of the discussions that led to Joelinton being signed for £40m, perhaps Newcastle’s new head coach will benefit from being able to dissociate himself from a price tag that has hung heavy on plenty of people’s shoulders in the last few years.

“The price tags are irrelevant,” said Howe. “The prices in football since I was a kid, it is difficult to get your head around. That is not the player's fault.

“Joe can be whatever he wants to be, and I am looking forward to (working with) him. I wouldn’t swap him. I’ve found a player who has really impressed us with his work-rate and ability. We have made him feel valued – there’s just an eagerness to prove himself.”

Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie return to the squad tomorrow, and the former is expected to go straight back into the starting line-up to replace the suspended Ciaran Clark. Ritchie will hope to return at full-back, although Jamal Lewis performed impressively against Norwich.

Federico Fernandez could get the nod at centre-half ahead of Fabian Schar, having come off the bench in the early stages of Tuesday’s draw with the Canaries.

Newcastle (probable, 4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Lewis; Shelvey, Willock; Fraser, Joelinton, Saint-Maximin; Wilson.