The Premier League spent almost £1.5billion on new signings last summer and no position proved more precious than centre-forward, as Arsenal and Chelsea set club-record fees on new front-men and Manchester United forked out £75million to win the race for Romelu Lukaku.
And yet, the Premier League’s best deal of summer 2017 didn’t involve a gigantic transfer fee, a superstar name or one of the division’s title-chasing big spenders; in stark contrast, it set Newcastle United back just £5million, purchasing a player in Joselu whose Premier League career after an unsuccessful stint at Stoke appeared dead in the water.
Make no mistake, Joselu will never be a world-beater and he won’t end the season with similar tallies to Lukaku, Alexandre Lacazette or Alvaro Morata. In fact, as things currently stand, he stakes a claim for being the least talented first-choice front-man the Premier League’s 20 clubs have to offer. One of his two goals for the Magpies thus far was a Joel Matip tackle that ricocheted off his shin that typified the Spaniard’s cumbersome nature. Tellingly, also, his pass success rate this season is just 63%, while he’s averaged 2.1 unsuccessful touches per match – the second worst return of any Magpie after Ayoze Perez.
But in many ways, Joselu epitomises the unseen positive of a transfer window that had most Newcastle fans spitting feathers at Mike Ashley. While the kind of talismanic talent we’ve come to fetishize in the Premier League simply didn’t arrive on Tyneside, the players Rafa Benitez did receive the financial backing to sign have helped make Newcastle a more effective team – a collective approach that has seen them take eleven points from the first eight games, moving up to ninth in the league table.
And much of that is owed to Joselu’s influence at the tip of the attack, providing the physical presence Dwight Gayle couldn’t offer without the discipline problems of Aleksandar Mitrovic. It’s changed the whole complexion of this Magpies side; during their first two games of the season with Gayle leading the line, they failed to find the net and averaged just nine shots at goal and 37% possession. Since Joselu took the mantle, using his height and power instead, Newcastle have scored nine times in six games, averaging 17 shots and 40% possession.
Of course, there are more factors at play than simply Joselu. Newcastle have inevitably grown into life back in the top flight after gaining promotion from the Championship and their first game of the season against a formidable Tottenham side was disrupted by Jonjo Shelvey’s petulant red card – that’s skewed the stats somewhat. Likewise, Mikel Merino has proved somewhat of a revelation in midfield; most Newcastle fans would likely label the Spaniard as the club’s signing of the summer over his towering compatriot.
But in many ways, it’s Joselu’s shortcomings that make him such an inspired signing on Rafa Benitez’s part. He certainly wasn’t the most talented striker available to Newcastle this summer – in fact, he’s arguably less talented than Gayle and Mitrovic – but his aerial menace and ability to hold up the ball suits the system perfectly, and his importance to the Magpies is already clear. They’re actually yet to win a game without him across all competitions, or win any points in the Premier League.
Indeed, Joselu’s mere presence in the final third has transformed a side that appeared on the verge of crisis after the first two weeks of the season into a functional team that are currently surpassing expectations. And while there may be more glamorous signings at more prestigious clubs who will go on to enjoy better seasons in terms of individual performances, £5million is an incredibly small price to pay for that – especially if the Magpies are still in the top flight this time next year, and especially during a summer in which the Premier League decimated all spending records.