Was Rafa Benitez right to let Aleksandar Mitrovic leave Newcastle?

Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, for once, really is on fire – and Fulham fans love him.

The striker has scored five goals in his last four games for the Championship club.

But why did Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez let him go in the first place?

That’s the question that many supporters are STILL asking more than a month after he left on loan.

After all, the one thing Benitez needs, above all else, is goals.

Benitez’s preference in the January transfer window was to sell Mitrovic and reinvest the money in a replacement, but the Magpies didn’t receive any serious bids for the 23-year-old, signed from Anderlecht in the summer of 2015.

A lack of games over the previous 18 months – and a chequered disciplinary record – clearly put off many clubs, though many more were willing to take him on loan.

Benitez didn’t score too many goals in the Championship last season, but he didn’t play too much football.

And, importantly, he scored nine times, including two penalties, for a poor Premier League team the season before that.

Benitez believes Mitrovic’s biggest strength is his physicality. He lacks pace, but he is unquestionably a threat in front of goal.

However, United’s manager doesn’t trust him, and it’s unlikely that he will change his mind whatever happens between now and the end of the season.

Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic, a fellow Serb, has put his trust in Mitrovic – and, goal by goal, he is being repaid.

Benitez likes players who can follow detailed instructions, and Joselu, while limited, does what he’s told when he crosses the white line.

So was Benitez right to loan out Mitrovic once the club secured Islam Slimani – who is yet to kick a ball in anger for the club – on loan?

Benitez’s mind has long been made up about Mitrovic, a player who polarises opinion on Tyneside, and it was clear that his opportunities would be limited in the second half of the season.

And, in a sense, he did the right thing in letting the Serbia international get games ahead of the summer’s World Cup finals.

But is Joselu a better player than Mitrovic?

Maybe not, though Benitez, clearly, believes he’s a better team player.

The decision to loan out Mitrovic could yet come back to haunt Benitez, whose side are teetering above the relegation zone.

Fulham could even take their place in the Premier League next season.

That said, Benitez will be cheering every goal. Each one is adding value to a player who cost £14million.

If Fulham go up, they will surely try to sign him in the summer.

Many Newcastle fans hope to see Mitrovic in the black and white of their own club next season.

But it Benitez stays at St James’s Park – Mitrovic, almost certainly, will go.