When a manager takes a player to task in public it can be a compliment rather than a criticism.
That’s the way I think Lucas Joao should take Steve Bruce’s observations on his, as yet, only partially fulfilled talent.
If Joao didn’t have the ability to succeed – and in a big way – then his boss wouldn’t have bothered. This is the intriguing one as Bruce deliberates over the future of Sheffield Wednesday’s seven (“too many”) forwards.
Here, in full, is Bruce’s assessment during a recent conversation:
“It’s all the stuff between his ears.
“He has to have that mentality. We all know he’s got talent.
“He’s been here now in England I think four years (in July).
“So we’re not talking about a young one any more with promise.
“He has to come and deliver ... he’s got all the bits and pieces ... and to be fair to him, though, since I’ve come he’s been struggling with injury. But we’ve let him stay out of the squad and not rushed him back too quickly.”
The “bits and pieces” Bruce refers to are pace, power, fast and clever feet, an ability to finish and an aerial presence demonstrated by some impressive headed goals.
In short, the whole package – if it can be put together.
People are often harsher in judgment on players with natural gifts than those without them.
This is not meant to be unkind or unfair.
Joao can make an enormous difference to Wednesday, much more than he has done so far.
The 25 year’s English goals-per-starts record is not bad at all – 31 in 68, including three goals on loan at Blackburn two seasons ago.
But his total appearances, embracing those from the bench, stand at 138 and the Portuguese has never been a consistent starter.
It could be argued he should have had more of a run – but in the long run players tend to pick themselves.
Joao still has two seasons on contract to the summer of 2021 and so, barring a sale which cannot be ruled out considering his ability, still has a big chance to make a major impact.
If he takes it then he will have applied himself to Bruce’s words.
Right now all Wednesday’s strikers are under the microscope whether they are out of contract or not.
When I asked Bruce if he feared losing anyone – for financial reasons – he’d like to keep, he admitted: “Possibly. We’ve got six strikers – seven if you include Jordan Rhodes (likely back from loan at Norwich).
“That’s not healthy for anybody.
“How can we keep seven who all have the attributes and could all play in the Championship?
“We might have to make one or two sacrifices.”
Among those seven, Fernando Forestieri has, says Bruce, “bounced into life all of a sudden.”
He added: “We look as if we’ve got him fit and I’ve seen the real Forestieri.”
Bruce hastened to insist that improved fitness levels across the board is his primary target.
But there are many variables outside of that, largely dependent on hard-headed judgments on every player, especially any who attract a substantial bid.