Newcastle United played Royal Antwerp in a friendly during their break in Spain at the weekend, and youngster Victor Fernandez was perhaps a surprise inclusion in the squad to face the Belgian club.
The 19-year-old had also been part of the club’s pre-season tour to the Republic of Ireland last summer, but he has failed to make the jump up to be involved with the first team so far this term, instead appearing regularly for the U23 side in the Premier League 2 and the EFL Trophy – until at the Pinatar Arena on Sunday that is.
However, the talented teenager has obviously caught the eye of Rafa Benitez in the past and in recent weeks, and the experienced manager has hinted at a possible involvement for the wide man in the crucial run-in to the season by giving him a 45-minute run out against Royal Antwerp.
The fact that the Tyneside outfit already have the likes of Matt Ritchie, Jacob Murphy, Christian Atsu and loanee Kenedy on the flanks mean that Fernandez is unlikely to get any first-team minutes for the foreseeable future, but of course injuries or other issues could quickly change that situation.
Fernandez was the standout performer in the final 45 minutes at the weekend, and while he was deployed on the right by Benitez, he is equally as confident on the left wing or even as a centre-forward in a front three on occasions.
The versatile attacker made an instant impression by linking up with Dwight Gayle before unleashing a shot that was saved by Kevin Debaty in the opposition goal.
The tricky teenager then coaxed former Southampton defender Jelle van Damme into a challenge that saw the Belgian booked, after he had been beaten by a clever piece of skill from the youngster, who excited the Magpies fans with his display.
The 19-year-old showed a lot of promise in his cameo in Spain, and while he clearly has flair and the ability to be a real threat in the final third, he will probably have to toughen up a bit in the next few months before trying to impress Benitez again in pre-season.
Newcastle signed Kenedy from Chelsea on a loan deal until the end of the campaign during the January transfer window, and the Brazilian has largely been playing on the left-hand side of midfield ahead of Paul Dummett at left-back.
The 22-year-old has already made a huge impression for the Toon with two goals – both in the 3-0 win against relegation rivals Southampton last time out – and one assist in the 1-1 draw at home to Burnley at St James’ Park on his debut.
He also made a big impact in the 1-0 success against Manchester United last month, and it would be no surprise if Benitez was already contemplating making a move to bring him to the north east permanently at the end of the season.
It was reported on March 12 that Newcastle would probably have to pay £15m to convince the Blues to sell, and while that certainly isn’t out of their league it would be getting on for the club-record £17m fee they paid for Michael Owen in 2005.
Whether owner Mike Ashley would be willing to pay that much or if Benitez thinks he is worth that much remains to be seen – even if the supporters have been loving his performances and want a permanent deal – and perhaps Fernandez can save them having to make that decision in the coming weeks and months given he can play on the left.
If the 19-year-old continues his emergence and makes a huge impression on his Spanish compatriot – and if Newcastle secure their Premier League status for another season, which will look likely if they beat Huddersfield Town at St James’ Park on March 31 – he could be on involved with the first team from the start of next season and prevent them having to splash out £15m to sign Kenedy permanently.