Cultured, composed, brilliant positional sense, great reading of the game, but injury prone. You could easily think this is a piece about, in my opinion, Newcastle’s best centre back of the modern era, Jonathan Woodgate, but it’s not. This is all about Florian Lejeune, a player who definitely shares some similarities with Woodgate, mainly the fact he’s a brilliant defender, and a bloody good footballer, but also spending nearly as much time on the treatment table as the former Newcastle and Middlesbrough man.
Florian was signed by Rafa Benitez for £9m back in 2017, and alongside Fabien Schar added some much needed silk alongside the steel provided by Jamal Lascelles in the middle of a superb back 3 defensive unit for Newcastle United. In his first season the Frenchman played 24 times for Newcastle, and won over the Toon Army faithful with some stellar performances.
We were hopeful for the beginning of the next season as we took on Spurs at St James Park, Lejeune looked more than a match for England’s star man Harry Kane, that was until the golden boy turned prime shithouse and nailed the Frenchman with a sickening two footed tackle, a challenge many would’ve seen red for, but not FA darlings like Harry. This resulted in ruptured ankle ligament damage for our cultured centre back,with a six week spell out this also seemingly set in motion an endless list of injuries.
A further ACL injury in the right knee would see him miss out on wearing the black and white until January, where he returned and looked as good as ever. Lejeune was an ever present in the side until disaster struck again. On the 7th of April 2019 during a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, the Frenchman was stretchered off with yet another ACL injury, this time in his left knee. We were all starting to think Lejunene was french for “Woodgate 2”. Desperately unlucky for Florian, who without question was at the time out best defender.
After being out for so long, Florian made his return to the starting lineup in a jam-packed Christmas schedule, beginning against the side he sustained his horror injury against last campaign in Crystal Palace. Steve Bruce used Florian far too much having been out for so long during this period, playing him 8 times in 10 games, including a brilliant brace in his cameo against Everton to rescue a dismal United a point at Goodison park. Undoubtedly causing a player with minited match fitness to burn out. Extremely poor management by this bumbling fool yet again.
As the 2020 season kicked off, we saw Florian loaned out to Deportivo Alavés, having enjoyed successful spells in La Liga previously with Villarreal and Eibar, Lejeune was hoping for a good season, and that’s exactly what he got. He played 34 times in total, and finished the season in the La Liga side of the year. Sadly back home, it appeared that his manager had already planned for life without the Frenchman, as much as many of us were excited to have a fi Lejeune back in the ranks, he’s just not 1990’s enough for the Baron of Bacon, and it looks like we’ve agreed to sell him to Alavés permanently. Au revoir Florian!
Some of us may be split on Lejeune, of course he looked a good player but he’s always injured, it’s true that he’s missed a grand total of 59 games for Newcastle United through injury, but let’s have a look at what he did when he could play, with thanks to my statman mate and blog partner from @SRPblog @faz1981.
As you can see in the stats below, looking at last season in isolation compared to our other centre backs, it’s no surprise that Florian comes out on top for passing stats, with nearly 700 passes more than Fernandez in just 12 more games, and with a completion rate of 80%, you can see where Lejeune’s ability to play out from the back shines through. Let’s not count out his defending abilities though, as you can see he put in more tackles, blocks and interceptions than his soon to be former colleagues at United, and with more success too. Not to mention the number of clean sheets, in a side that finished in a similar position to us in their respective league.
Many of you will think that La Liga isn’t as competitive a league as the Premier League, and to be fair you may be right, but if you look at how Lejeune stacks up across his United appearances alongside his other centre backs, you’ll see he stands out for his passing which we’ve already covered, but also he has the best blocks and interceptions of any of our other choices in that position. Still think letting him go is a good idea?
Not to sound like Chris Whitty, but I do have one more slide. This slide is for me to back up a theory I have as to why Lejeune is surplus to requirements, and that Schar is frozen out of the picture under Steve Bruce.
That reason is, Jonjo Shelvey. This is a topic we at True faith have covered before, in previous articles, and on the true faith podcast with Alex and the team. Jonjo comes far too deep to collect the ball off the defence that it nullifies the game of both Schar and most definitely Lejeune.
If you pay close attention to the stats in the slide below however, you’ll notice that based upon their impact to their sides last season, that despite playing in defence, Lejeune actually has comparable passing numbers to our supposed most creative midfielder, and what’s even more interesting is that the Frenchman has better completion percentages than Jonjo too.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Shelvey is actually preventing the progress of this side, and Bruce’s allegiance to him is completely disproved by these stats. If we had kept a hold Lejeune, I believe he’d of offered what Shelvey does, and then some, and it would have actually got our midfield 15 yards further up the pitch which is badly needed. Sadly, our manager doesn’t share that mindset and is willing to let Florian go.
I think the move will actually work out better for the player than for our club, as the stats in this piece has shown. We are losing a talented, if not fragile player that could’ve offered us a lot more than others who are deemed integral to this mediocre squad of ours. Good luck with the rest of your career Florian, you will be Bruced no more.
Chris Currie – @wig82