You’ve got to feel for Newcastle United fans, haven’t you? A huge club with unwavering loyalty from their fans, held to ransom by an owner who vows to sell the club yet doesn’t seem interested in matching the ambitions that the players, staff and fans all hold together.
The standard and norm have fallen so far for the Magpies, and after Rafa Benitez left the club struggling to agree on a new contract, a star player in Ayoze Perez has also moved on to new ventures as Leicester City forked out £30m for the foward.
Now let’s get this right. Few would have expected this fee to be paid when Ayoze’s time at the club would come to an end. But it has, and the valuation is far higher than any would have anticipated, and as if Benitez’s departure wasn’t painful enough, the agreed fee is only further testament to the amazing job he did on Tyneside.
Ayoze was a somewhat confused player during his Newcastle days. To the naked eye he had skill, plenty of speed though, quick feet, intelligence, a good passing range and certainly an eye-for-goal. However, despite these wonderful traits, his stats are fascinatingly underwhelming, and no one quite new what his best position was.
In 143 Premier League appearances for Newcastle, Ayoze managed just 33 goals, one every four games. That’s not terrible considering some of the players and managers he’s had to work with. However, when you factor that 12 of those came this season, you’re left with 21 goals in 106 appearances, which is distinctly average. Coupled with his grand total of just nine assists over his whole Premier League career, his statistics are nothing to gloat about.
Statistics don’t always tell the story though. I for one have always liked Ayoze Perez and call on Newcastle to start him regularly. Why? I don’t know really, I just like him. Sometimes the naked eye and what’s in front of you is all you need to make your mind up on a player. Stats can go only go so far, and I’d be very surprised if Brendan Rogers opted to bring Ayoze to the King Power based off his all-time Premier League stats.
However, in his final season at St. James’ Park, Benitez managed to get the best out of a previously inconsistent forward. His 12 goals in 37 league games is a strong tally, especially as he found form just when Newcastle needed it most, to round off another strong league campaign, scoring nine goals in the final 12 games of the season.
Quite frankly, without Benitez, Newcastle may never have got the money for Ayoze that they did. He improved the forward immensely in his time up north and discovered a work rate to go with it. Ayoze made 60 tackles in his final season at St James’ Park, 42 interceptions and 28 clearances, whereas in his first season he made just 38 tackes, 27 interceptions and 21 clearances. His second season yielded 56 tackles, 28 interceptions and 13 clearances, some way off the impressive numbers Benitez got from his forward.
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It will have been this aggression and work-rate that has appealed to Rogers as much as any of the attacking talent. The Leicester boss is renowned for setting his teams out to press the opposition and work relentless all over the pitch.
Benitez’s departure will always bring the question of ‘what could have been’ at Newcastle, especially if they are bought by a new owner. However, the more immediate questions will now have to be answered by the current crop of players, a group Benitez was able to get the best out of, elevating their performances to new levels time and time again.