NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has backed Callum Wilson to put his Newcastle United injury struggles behind him and prove he can lead the Magpies’ line into a new era.
Howe is targeting a Premier League goal-getter in the summer transfer window, but Wilson, this season’s top-scorer, is still a major part of the manager’s plans for next season.
The former Bournemouth and Coventry man came back with a bang after four-and-a-half months out, transforming the dynamic of the United frontline in a cameo off the bench at Manchester City last weekend.
And Howe believes the 30-year-old, who cost Newcastle around $24 million in the summer of 2020, can prove his fitness and goal-scoring ability in the final two games of the 2021/22 season.
But can Wilson stay fit enough to be a key player for the Magpies? “Absolutely, he can,” said Howe.
“I would say that’s going to be a challenge for him and for us to find a way of working that keeps him in prime physical condition.”
He added: “The way he’s come back in the couple of days’ training we’ve seen already has been pleasantly surprising how physically good he’s looked, but that’s going to be a lot of work from all of us connected with the coaching team, the medical staff and the sports science staff to find a way to keep all of our players fit throughout the season.
“A big part of that is a very good pre-season because players need a good load behind them to make them resilient and strong. You have to get the balance right because if you go too high or too low, then you risk injuries both ways, so trying to find that optimum spot goes a long way for your whole squad trying to remain fit through a tough Premier League campaign.”
Wilson was subbed on to replace Chris Wood, who was signed in the January transfer window to provide cover for the United No.9 while he recovered from a calf operation.
The totally different players offer alternative attributes, with both providing their own unique value to the United XI — but can they play together?
“It’s not how we’re playing at the moment,” said the head coach.
“We’re playing a different way to that, not with two strikers.
“I’m not saying (it’s) impossible but I think it’d be difficult for us to incorporate both into the same team and still produce a team that is strong enough off the ball to withstand that.
“The problem with two strikers and why it’s going out the game, is because off the ball you have big spaces in your midfield and have huge spaces to defend.
“It’s not something I’m saying I wouldn’t ever do but certainly, it’s not among my immediate plans to play that way.”
It’s fair to say Wood has divided opinion on Tyneside since his winter window arrival from Burnley.
With just the two goals — and only one which has come from open play — has led many to question the player’s value to the team.
That’s not a perspective shared by Howe.
The United boss said: “He’s someone that immediately grasped the tactical importance of the position. So I would have regular meetings with him, and what I wanted him to deliver tactically. I would never have to tell him twice.
“Whatever I told him, straight away he’d go and deliver it. That comes with his experience at the various clubs he’s played for. And then he enabled us to take the pressure off certain situations, goal kicks, for us in the sense that when we were battling relegation, and the difficult position that we found ourselves in, I wanted to make the game very simple for the players, and not too complex. Chris enabled us to do that.”
Howe added: “I just think his general, all-round leadership has been very good. So he’s a vocal presence in the changing room. He’s a support if things aren’t going well. You can hear him vocally if things are going well. He’s a galvanizer of those around him.
“He’s given the team a lot, and he’s scored a couple of key goals for us as well, so let’s not forget those. We’re really pleased with him and the impact he’s made.”