The bargain £12m striker who could supercharge Newcastle United’s Champions League hopes
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Ten matches, nine goals, three assists: at what point does a purple patch become something more? When do we begin to wonder whether a flash in the pan might in fact be the rising of an astonishing new celestial body?
Followers of the Bundesliga will be acutely aware of the heroics that Victor Boniface has been conjuring up for Bayer Leverkusen of late. The Nigerian striker, still only 22, signed for the German club from Belgian outfit Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in mid-July, and has since proceeded to demolish any and everything in his path. Only Bayern Munich darling Harry Kane and VfB Stuttgart gem Serhou Guirassy - a Guinean journeyman who has registered a freakish 13 stikes in seven outings - have outscored Boniface in the league this term.
And understandably, such a prolific return has been enough to arrest the attentions of certain aspirational Premier League clubs. In particular, The Sun report that Newcastle United are keeping tabs on the precocious striker, and even had scouts in attendance during Nigeria’s recent international double-header against Saudi Arabia and Mozambique. It is understood that the Magpies are eager to diversify their frontline, and believe that Boniface could bring with him a measure of bothersome physicality.
To that end, it is understandable as to why Newcastle are keen to strengthen in forward areas. An injury to Harvey Barnes has, in essence, shunted Alexander Isak out wide and inadvertently reiterated the relative shallowness of their striking options. Eddie Howe’s only other genuine alternative to Isak at the point of attack is Callum Wilson, who is 32 in February and has already started the slow and banter-laden descent from professional footballer to podcast host.
A swoop for a player of Boniface’s ilk, therefore, makes perfect sense. A full decade younger than Wilson, he has both time and untapped potential on his side, and while his price tag has probably ballooned somewhat from the £12 million or so that Leverkusen reportedly paid for him over the summer, the chances are that he would still cost notably less than a properly established superstar of the continental game. (Boniface’s compatriot Victor Osimhen, for instance, is said to be valued at anywhere up to £170 million by his current employers, Napoli.)
Already, we are seeing that these are the types of acquisitions that Newcastle’s absurdly rich Saudi owners prefer to pursue. Realistically, the coffers at St. James’ Park are bulging to the extent that the Magpies could go out and make a serious play for just about any player in the world. They are, after all, the most affluent club on the planet. But there is an element of sustainability to Newcastle’s recruitment that continues to impress. Deals for the likes of the aforementioned Isak, Bruno Guimaraes, and Anthony Gordon prove that while the Magpies are willing to spend big, they are also interested in luring players to Tyneside who still have levels left to reach in their personal development.
Bruno, in particular, is a good example of this trend. Signed for £40 million from Lyon, if the Brazilian were, hypothetically speaking, to leave Tyneside tomorrow, you would expect him to fetch double that figure and then some. It is a recruitment model for the here and now with one eye firmly fixed on the future.
And Boniface fits that modus operandi ideally. Here we have a player who is producing in the present, but whose future could yet hold untold excellence. Of course, the concern when a talent erupts into the mainstream consciousness is that it is some kind of fleeting fluke - an aligning of the stars that may dissipate as quickly as it came into being. But there is nothing about the Nigerian to suggest that is the case. So far this season, as per stats guru Whoscored, only the aforementioned Guirassy and Bayern Munich winger Leroy Sane have recorded a higher average match rating in the Bundesliga than Boniface, and nobody in the division comes remotely close to him in terms of shots per game. If that’s not enough, only Sane has registered more successful dribbles per 90 minutes than the Leverkusen star.
In short, Boniface is an incredibly prodigious ball carrier with a preternatural knack for finding himself in goalscoring positions. Generally speaking, these are not the kind of traits that suddenly vanish into thin air; a runner is a runner and intelligent movement is intelligent movement.
At the time of writing, there are no concrete indications that Newcastle plan on firming up their interest in Boniface. Scouts watch a lot of football, and it is inevitable that some lines of enquiry fizzle out into an abandoned nothingness. But the Magpies evidently need reinforcements up front, and as things stand, Boniface is one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. If United are to properly establish themselves as perennial Champions League competitors - and perhaps one day, maybe more - then this is exactly the kind of signing they should be looking to make.