Eddie Howe insists Newcastle have signed the right type of midfielder in Sandro Tonali and says it will take time for the Italian to show his best self, revealing he has trained only once with his team-mates in a month.
The Magpies paid Milan £52million for the 23-year-old international in the summer, and the player confessed on his return to the San Siro in the Champions League this week that he had felt ‘lost’ following the move.
Tonali received a noisy and heartfelt welcome from the home fans – Howe says that is an indicator of his pedigree – but he was subdued during his 72 minutes of a goalless draw.
Newcastle’s midfield has been the subject of much analysis this season, with many believing they needed to sign a holding player to anchor the engine-room.
Eddie Howe insists Newcastle have signed the right type of midfielder in Sandro Tonali
But Howe had no time for that theory when it was presented to him on Friday.
‘Not in my opinion, no,’ he said when asked if his team was lacking a holding midfielder, a No.6. ‘We’ve got three players who can play that position, so I didn’t want to add a fourth.’
Tonali enjoyed a brilliant debut against Aston Villa – scoring after six minutes of a 5-1 win – but has failed to reach that level since. What does Howe want him to be in his midfield?
‘I want him to be himself, which is an outstanding technician, a very good athlete,’ he said. ‘For me, he can play all of the positions in midfield. But we need to give him time. I don’t think we can judge him, or any signings, within a month. Let’s take our time and be patient, because I know the quality of the player that we have.’
He added: ‘There is no doubt we can get the best out of him. In the short period of time he has been here, his performance against Aston Villa was high level. There was no surprise that performance came when he’d been with us for pre-season, which is four-and-a-bit weeks of intense work getting to know his team-mates.
Midfielder Tonali impressed on his debut but has struggled to make an impact since
‘Since then, he has hardly trained with us – internationals, injury. I think he has had one training session in near enough a month, which then gives you a clue. That is tough for any new player transitioning into a team. You need to train regularly. He is adapting well. He is an incredible personality, stable, committed to the project here and he will grow as time goes on.
‘It’s worth remembering he is still a young player. I was so pleased, for him, the reaction he got from the Milan fans. That is a mark of how he conducted himself in Milan and how a good a player he is, the recognition that he had given everything from the club. It’s a marker of what big a talent he is.’
But can Tonali play alongside Bruno Guimaraes? Their partnership is yet to click, and Howe said: ‘I get the point, but they can play with each other. They are two top level players with very similar brains. I have no problem with that. Making sure both players fit into our midfield structure and making sure the team is functioning is a big part of our success.’