Eddie Howe lauds forgotten Newcastle United 'leader' ahead of comeback

It’s been more than four months since Federico Fernandez last kicked, or headed, a ball in anger.

The Newcastle United defender has had a series of injuries since Eddie Howe took charge late last year.

Fernandez – who signed a new two-year contract last year – has only made two appearances off the bench under Howe.

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However, one of those appearances, an immaculate 79-minute stint against Norwich City at St James’s Park in November following the dismissal of Ciaran Clark, will have made an impression on Howe.

Fernandez, signed by then-manager Rafa Benitez from Swansea City in 2018, was outstanding in what was his first appearance of any kind for almost two months.

The 33-year-old, behind Fabian Schar, Dan Burn and Jamaal Lascelles in the pecking order at St James’s Park, is close to fitness after recovering from the “side strain” Howe reported last month.

Fernandez, a dressing room “leader”, could soon join 32-year-old winger Matt Ritchie – who recently recovered from a knee problem – on the relegation-threatened club’s bench in the coming weeks.

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Asked if Fernandez still had a role to play this season, Howe said: “Yeah, he does. Again, he’s very similar to Matt. He has a big voice, a leader of the group. A great character, I love Fede. Really level-(headed) guy, very intelligent.

Newcastle United defender Federico Fernandez.Newcastle United defender Federico Fernandez.
Newcastle United defender Federico Fernandez.

“I think he knows what the group needs. He’s had various injuries since I’ve been here.

“I wouldn’t say at this moment in time he’s 100% fit, but he’s building up his resilience. He needs more training time. He’s had various injuries which have just knocked him slightly.

“He’s someone we can rely on when we need him to never let us down. He’s one of those great characters that every squad needs. We’re delighted to have him.”

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The former Argentina international – who also played for Benitez at Napoli – was left out of the squad during Graeme Jones’s brief stint in charge following Steve Bruce’s departure.

Speaking last October, Jones said: “I really like Feddy as a defender, but I didn’t see any value in putting him on the bench. Feddy needs to start – or not.”