Injury-hit Siem de Jong has been told he faces a fight to get into the Newcastle United team – but has been backed to be a success on Tyneside.
The Dutchman has suffered a stop-start career at the club since his £6million move from Ajax last season.
He’s going to take a while getting to the right tempo and the right level, but we can see it every day, that he’s improving, getting better and he can see that, too.Steve McClaren
A succession of injuries, including a collapsed lung, have meant his impact has been minimal after he arrived from Holland with a big reputation.
De Jong’s latest setback was a minor knock to his shin, which saw him miss the weekend’s defeat at Swansea City.
It came on the back of being left out of the team for the season-opener against Southampton, where he was restricted to the final 20 minutes as a substitute.
De Jong was disappointed not to feature from the start against the Saints, having worked hard in pre-season where he featured in the majority of Newcastle’s friendlies.
But head coach Steve McClaren believes the attacker is still playing catch-up with his fitness after his numerous problems.
McClaren said: “Because of the injuries he had last season, and the start, and the pre-season he’s had – he did terrifically well and hadn’t missed a day’s training (before his latest setback), he’s worked hard – I think Siem has found that year out catching up with him, shall we say.
“He’s going to take a while getting to the right tempo and the right level, but we can see it every day, that he’s improving, getting better and he can see that, too.
“But, yeah, at the present moment he’s fighting to get into the team.”
De Jong spoke last week about his desire to get match time under his belt, saying: “I feel strong – I just need to play games.”
But McClaren says the Dutch international may have to bide his time before forcing his way into the starting line-up with compatriot Gini Wijnaldum in possession of the No 10 role.
Asked if De Jong needs to be patient, McClaren said: “Yeah. They all do.
“Believe you me, the 1-11 I kind of ignore. I’ve always said that the most important people in a squad are the 11-18 and sometimes 18-23, because they are the ones, like against Southampton, who have got to come on and win you the game, or draw it, or make sure you secure the game.
“Everybody is as important and everybody has to be patient – and everybody knows that in a tough Premier League, everybody will play games and everybody will play their part. Everybody.”
McClaren is well aware of De Jong’s capabilities from his time in Holland in charge of FC Twente.
De Jong was one of Ajax’s shining stars, and skippered them to Eredivisie titles and Champions League qualification.
And the Toon boss is confident De Jong can recapture that form and ‘light up’ St James’s Park when he gets his chance.
“Of course he can (make a big difference),” McClaren said.
“He can assist and he can score and that’s a big weapon to have, those two things.
“He’s going to be a big asset for us.
“I remember when he came here, I remember thinking what a good signing that was.
“He’s yet to light the place up, but that’s purely because of injuries.
“He’s just building up to get that chance.”
De Jong could return to the squad for Newcastle’s trip to Manchester United on Saturday.