WHEN Eddie Howe took over at Newcastle United, he was aware what popular opinion was telling him he was getting with Joelinton. A £40m misfit. A striker who couldn’t score. The only Brazilian who had shown he was incapable of playing football.

Within the space of one training session, however, Howe had made his mind up for himself. Yes, Joelinton was short of confidence after joining Newcastle from Hoffenheim. Yes, he was struggling as a number nine. But somewhere within the South American, there was a world-class player waiting to emerge.

“I always go back to my first training session with him,” said Howe, in the wake of this week’s announcement of Joelinton’s new long-term contract on Tyneside. “I genuinely thought after that first training session, ‘What a player he is’.

“That then led very quickly to me being confused about why his time here hadn’t been a success. You could tell straight away he was a player who was immensely talented, although obviously, I was aware coming in that it hadn’t gone well for him.”

That is something of an understatement, but within two weeks of Howe taking charge, the course of Joelinton’s Newcastle career was to change at a stroke. Not, however, that the transformation was planned.

During Howe’s first home game in the St James’ Park dugout, as the Magpies were hosting relegation rivals Norwich, Ciaran Clark was sent off, necessitating a major tactical reshuffle. Someone had to drop back to bolster the midfield, and that someone proved to be Joelinton. The rest, with the 27-year-old having evolved from a struggling striker to an international-class box-to-box midfielder, is history.

“I’m not going to change history or pretend to be clever and say that I saw his transition to a midfielder initially,” said Howe, who remains hopeful Joelinton will be able to return from a thigh injury before the end of the season. “We stumbled upon that, and since then, he’s taken the opportunity to play in that position superbly well.


“He’s looked like a natural midfielder from the minute he stepped into that position. I know at previous clubs he had played in a deeper role, but that was more as a number one. This is a big positional change because the defensive aspect of being a midfielder is totally different to being a number ten.

“His defensive qualities have been as good as his attacking ones, and that’s why he’s the all-round midfielder that he is now. He deserves huge credit for that transition. It’s not easy to do, but he’s done it brilliantly.”

Hence why this week’s contractual developments felt like such significant news. Prior to signing his new deal, Joelinton was heading into the final 12 months of his contract with his future on Tyneside shrouded in doubt. If there was any risk of losing one of their prize assets for nothing next summer, Newcastle would almost certainly have felt compelled to sell.

Instead, they have secured the long-term services of one of their key performers, and sent out a message that, for all the ongoing challenges of the Premier League’s financial rules, the Magpies continue to be a club pushing forward in the present, and building for an even more successful future.

“It certainly helps,” said Howe. “It helps with the perception of our ambition, and shows that we're still desperate to grow and improve. For me, to do that you have to try to keep your best players, you have to try to create something that everyone wants to be part of. This is about trying to retain your best players and give yourselves the best chance to be successful long-term.”

It is also confirmation of the esteem in which Joelinton is now held. This week’s new deal makes the remodelled midfielder one of the highest-paid players in Newcastle’s squad, and involved a significant increase on the wage levels that were initially agreed when he left the Bundesliga.

With wage payments counting towards the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules, increasing Joelinton’s salary will inevitably mean there is less scope to spend elsewhere this summer, whether on transfer fees or wages for incoming signings.

Howe feels that is a price well worth paying, with the prospect of having to replace Joelinton far more alarming than the financial implications of keeping him in the North-East.

“I say this about a lot of the players we have,” said Howe. “They're not easy to find replacements for. Joe would be one of those. He's 6ft 3in, he plays different positions, he's strong, he's quick, he scores goals, he's competitive, he's got a great attitude. Those players aren't around to recruit easily. That's why we've got to treasure the good ones we have.

“Of course, something like this will have ramifications. You're potentially lifting wages, and that has an impact on your Financial Fair Play sheet. But the alternative is that Joe leaves on a free transfer, which for a player of his quality, would be really bad business from us. I think what has happened has alleviated that problem. But, of course, it maybe gives you problems elsewhere that you need to fix.”