Football

How Have Things Gone So Wrong For Jeff Hendrick At Newcastle?

How Have Things Gone So Wrong For Jeff Hendrick At Newcastle?

While a transfer to Newcastle is certainly no bad thing, Jeff Hendrick's move to the club did underwhelm slightly after being linked to AC Milan over the summer. Despite this, it was seen as a good opportunity for the player to further his career.

It is still early days in his tenure in the North-East, but the reality has been far different up to this point.

If you were to judge things based on social media, it seems that the Irishman has become a largely maligned figure for the club's supporters. That culminated with the player's red card during the 3-2 win over Southampton this month, after which some fans said he should never play for Newcastle again.

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Is this a common opinion amongst Newcastle supporters? It seems to be.

Alex Hurst is the editor & host of True Faith Newcastle United Fanzine and podcast, and speaking to Balls, he said that the club's supporters initially thought that Hendrick would be a good addition to the squad.

They were getting a Premier League player, an international player, which was seen as positive.

Nobody knew anything about him, he was one of those players that seemed to go under the radar playing for Burnley. He has probably played against Newcastle loads of times but I couldn’t recall anything he had ever done.

People were fairly positive because central midfield was an area that would be reasonably deep as a team. Steve Bruce talked about him loads and said he was a player he liked for a long time, all that sort of stuff.

It wasn’t the signing of the century, but people thought it was a sensible move.

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Of course, he would get off to the best possible start at the club. Hendrick scored a goal and assisted another in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at West Ham on the opening day of the season.

Unfortunately, it has been steadily downhill from here. Operating from the right of midfield early in the campaign, he largely failed to influence games. That was both in and out of possession, although his struggles on the ball did draw the ire of some of club's supporters.

As Alex Hurst put it:  "He doesn’t touch the ball, he can’t beat a man, he can’t really cross, why on earth is he playing as a right midfielder?"

Instead, Hendrick was moved into a central midfield position. This is the spot he has largely occupied with Ireland in recent years, quite often with mixed results.

The same issues we have seen at international level have presented themselves at Newcastle. The 29-year old seems to drift out of games far too often and can be found wanting when he is required to take the initiative on the pitch. That is perhaps a little bit unfair, but it is clear that he does too often fail to get the basics right.

Despite this, he continues to be one of the first names on the team sheet, making 17 appearances in the Premier League this season.

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Hendrick works hard and that hasn't changed at the St James' Park. The issue is that his failings are often more obvious than what he can bring to a team. Alex Hurst admits that fans being away from stadiums has perhaps been a factor, but says Hendrick's deficiencies have become difficult to ignore.

A couple of local journalists who are allowed into the grounds to watch the games have kind of said that if you’re in the grounds, you might see what he does a little bit more than on TV in terms of the dirty work.

But he’s so bad on the ball for a Premier League midfielder, his touch is so bad, he’s so easily dispossessed and his pass accuracy is so low...

Hendrick has been absolutely diabolical in the middle of the pitch, he really has. He doesn’t add anything from an attacking sense, he’s not particularly good at tackling and gives away a lot of stupid fouls, pulling players back and stuff like that.

Not even smart fouls, just dangerous ones in attacking positions. He doesn’t seem like a particularly good footballer...

He’s probably the most unpopular Newcastle player in a long time, which is a shame because he seems like a nice bloke.

It is unclear why Hendrick has become so unpopular amongst Newcastle supporters, but there are a couple of possible reasons.

Firstly, he has been consistently selected ahead of a pair of fan favourites in Matty and Shaun Longstaff. The brothers came through the club's academy but have found themselves out of favour under Steve Bruce.

It is hardly Hendrick's fault that he has been selected ahead of that pair, but it is undoubtedly a factor in how he is viewed by some.

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Then you have the fact that his signing is perhaps indicative of the failings of the Mike Ashley era. Signing a solid, if unspectacular, lower half Premier League midfielder on a free transfer is exactly the kind of move you would expect Newcastle to make, the type of deal that has resulted in them becoming mired in mediocrity.

In other words, much of the feelings directed towards Hendrick seem to be about what he represents as opposed to the player himself. Again, that is something that is out of his control.

It may seem harsh, but many have already given up on the Irishman at Newcastle. Alex Hurst thinks there may be no way back for him.

If he was to come back in some sort of injury crisis then fair enough, but he’s got the Longstaff brothers who fans really like and contribute far more to the team when they play than Hendrick has.

It’s a bit like Joelinton, he’s so bad that it’s like starting the game with nine men if they’re both playing. It’s harsh because it’s not like he’s been scoring own goals or getting sent off every week, but he does so little...

Next time Newcastle are playing and you type in #NUFC into Twitter, you’ll see the reaction to him starting before he has even kicked a ball. People are just like ‘we’re playing with ten men’.

You watch games, even ones we are getting battered in, and you’re wondering where is he? Why isn’t he putting tackles in or winning headers? Fine you’re not great on the ball and you’re definitely not a right winger, but you could do some of those things.

This is definitely harsh, but the supporters would argue Hendrick has hardly done much to battle this perception. Then again, there must be a reason he continues to be selected by managers.

He was a favourite at Derby County, before Burnley broke their transfer record to bring him to Turf Moor. He was a constant in their team until he opted to run down his contract and move elsewhere. Consecutive Ireland managers in Martin O'Neill, Mick McCarthy, and Stephen Kenny have all viewed him as a key man.

Managers see something in Hendrick, but it's clear that Newcastle supporters do not. It certainly seems like a match made in hell at this point.

SEE ALSO: Another Crisis For Stephen Kenny - Who's Going To Replace John Egan?

Gary Connaughton

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