Jeff Hendrick - by the numbers
Jeff Hendrick isn't the caliber of player I thought we’d be signing this Summer but given where we’re at with the PIF takeover, we now have to considerably lower our expectations for this transfer window. The arrival of Hendrick at least signals something is happening in the corridors of power at St. James' Park, and there needs to be with the start of a new season only 3 weeks away. So, putting any negative preconceptions of this transfer to one side, this article will take an look at what Hendrick can bring to the Newcastle squad based primarily on his stats from last season, supplemented with some video analysis. It’s important to note that a player's stats are only one piece of the jigsaw and, whilst they can (and do) give a good indication of strengths and weakness, they do not pick up on everything and they can also be heavily influenced by the team’s overall style of play.
Hendrick was born in Dublin on 31st January 1992 which makes him 28-years-old. He joined Derby County as a youth player in 2008 and made his first team debut in the 2010/11 season where he went on to make 196 appearances over 7 seasons. In his most productive season for Derby (2014/15) he produced 7 goals and 2 assists in 41 appearances, but it was his performances for the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2016 that really put him on the radar. Hendrick played a key role in helping Martin O'Neill's team get through to the knock-out stages before succumbing to the eventual winners France. His displays in the Euros helped convince Sean Dyche to break Burnley's transfer record and sign him for £10.5m in September 2016. Hendrick would go on to play 122 times for The Clarets before deciding to reject a new contract and instead opt to become a free agent, leaving Dyche disappointed that he was not able to keep a hold of the 54 times capped Irish international.
Since his move to Burnley, Hendrick hasn’t quite reached the same heights as Euro 2016 and the midfielder has cited one reason for this as him being played out of his preferred position which is center midfield. This is interesting because Hendrick was used primarily in right midfield last season, starting 22 games and clocking up 1,931 minutes in that position. This means he only actually played 360 minutes in central midfield and a further 167 minutes in attacking midfield, so it'll be interesting to see where Bruce uses him, although comments shared by Lee Ryder on Twitter suggest it will be in central midfield as a Bentaleb replacement. It's clear Hendrick struggled to make the CM role his own at Burnley and the arrival of Josh Brownhill from Bristol City in January pushed him even further down the pecking order which was perhaps a factor in him rejecting a new contract.
From right side of midfield last season, Hendrick scored 2 goals and made 2 assists at a rate of 0.09 goals and 0.09 assists per game. His xG was 1.6 meaning he outperformed this for the season, something he has consistently done throughout his time at Burnley, scoring 9 PL goals in total compared to an xG of 7.30. Whilst not big numbers by any means it does show he’s a player who is efficient in front of goal – just don’t expect him expect to be challenging for the golden boot any time soon as he’s never scored more than 3 league goals in a Premier League season.
For a player that’s been deployed as an attacking midfielder I was expecting to see that he can influence attacking play more, however, both his assist and goal stats are low. He’s not someone who’s going to play a defense-splitting pass on a regular basis, and he ranks in the bottom quartile for PL midfielders across the creative metrics. It would be easy to write him off in an attacking sense based on this but where Hendrick does have an impact on attacking play is in his clever recycling of the ball. He has good positional and tactical sense (a pre-requisite for versatile payers) and he often finds himself in the right place to win the second ball and keep the attack moving.
Last season he achieved a pass completion rate of 73% which puts him ahead of only Jonjo Shelvey (72.5%) out of our current midfielders. The key difference here is Shelvey averages over 250 progressive passing yards per game which accounts for his lower completion rate, whereas Hendrick averages only 80 progressive yards per game. The Irishman’s passing becomes even more questionable when you start to look at the types of passes he plays with 7.82% of them being classed as short passes - less than 5-yards - which is 2% higher than any other Newcastle CM (Isaac Hayden is the closest at 5.5%). What’s concerning is his completion rate for these short passes was only 20% suggesting he’s either sloppy in possession and/or struggles when put under pressure. Conversely, his completion stats for medium and long passes are OK and he has taken corners for Burnley which suggests he does possess some quality in his delivery.
I read a comment from a Burnley fan on Twitter the other day which stated Hendrick was “forever being pick-pocketed” and lost the ball regularly. The Burnley fan claimed this was the reason they weren’t sad to see him leave, even adding they were surprised another PL club was interested in him. That might be a little harsh but there’s truth behind the claim he gets pick-pocketed - he was in the top 10% of midfielders for the number of times he was dispossessed which was on average 1.63 times a game. I noticed in the video analysis that when he does lose the ball it seems to be in dangerous positions in the middle of the park, leaving his side susceptible to a quick counterattack. He tends to want too long on the ball and can panic when under pressure leading him to surrender possession too easily on occasions.
Of the four areas I’ve focused on, defending looks to Hendrick’s weakest - he averaged in the bottom 16% of midfielders last season for the defensive actions listed above. He’s neither a busy tackler nor a very successful one and his tackle success rate of 6.7% was the lowest of all PL midfielders. At 6’1’’ and 79 kg he’s got a decent frame, so I was expecting to see him perform better in defensive duels but he can be easily out muscled, and he lacks aggressiveness and bite on occasions. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given he’s clocked up a decent amount of minutes in the attacking midfield role, but I’d be concerned he’d be too light-weight to play in the middle unless he was paired with Isaac Hayden.
When I look at a new player coming in, I always ask myself “what are they going to add to our team?” and in the case of Hendricks, I think my answer has to be - not a lot based on his stats alone. His best attribute looks to be his efficiency in front of goal – only Shelvey and Matty Longstaff were better with their finishing last season from an xG perspective – although even this is tempered with the fact he only scored 2 goals. For almost everything else I looked at, he is a below average Premier League midfielder
But as I said in the intro, the stats don’t pick up everything and there’s plenty of intangibles that make a good pro footballer. One of these intangibles is a player’s mentality and we can look to other sources for evidence of this. Indeed, there was an article in the Chronicle carrying quotes from one of Hendrick’s former Burnley teammates, Paul Robinson who is quoted as saying Hendrick was a “hard-working midfielder” who would “fit in very well at Newcastle” and that he was a “really good lad”. Whilst this isn’t the most insightful analysis it’s still important to hear that Hendrick was popular among his teammates. In terms of on the pitch, Robinson also listed the following qualities for the Irish international – he has a great engine (very fit), he will score goals and he doesn’t mind doing the hard yards.
Some of the comments from Burnley fans about Hendrick’s departure also offer a good insight, and even mirror some of Robinson’s comments:
Todclaret1882: Huge loss. We'll miss his flexibility and work rate.
Liam Taylor: Hendrick will be a huge loss and I’m by no means his biggest fan
Jordan Hunt: Gutted to see Hendrick leave. Massive scapegoat but always gave 100% and scored some absolute worldies.
This is of course just a small selection of comments and there are others from Burnley fans suggesting they can do better. What the comments do show is a theme of an underappreciated player that gives his all for the team - we’ve seen a few of those in the past at Newcastle, and James Perch was the first name sprung to mind. Another positive for Hendrick is his fitness record – according to Transfer Markt, he hasn’t missed a game through injury since the 2015/16 season and has only missed an average of 3.42 games a season during his entire professional career - this is an important point given our notoriously bad injury record. It’s clear that Bruce is looking to build his squad around a core group of largely British based players and he may be willing to sacrifice a certain amount of on-field skill in favor of a good mentality, flexibility,grit and determination.
Considering we’re likely to be involved in another relegation battle next season this perhaps isn’t the worst idea in the world. At the end of the day, Hendrick is a free transfer who has played 122 Premier League games and won 54 international caps and, on that basis, there is little downside to this transfer. Bruce wants to have players he can call on when the chips are down and who he knows will go out and give their all for the team. By all accounts, Hendrick is that type of player and Bruce's comments to the Chronicle would appear to support this assessment - "With Nabil going back and the sort of money Nabil was going to be at , I thought Jeff Hendrick was a better bet with his experience and know-how in the Premier League... of course, the beauty is he is on a Bosman."
However, in the context of some of the names we were all dreaming of earlier this Summer, I can understand why this signing is being met with discontent in some quarters. My own initial gut reaction was one of being underwhelmed but I've now shifted to believing he’s a useful addition to the squad, and will be a good presence within the dressing room. One thing is for sure, we should all give him our full support and try our best to suspend any judgement until we’ve at least seen him play a run of games for us and you never know, he might even surprise a few people, me included.
Photo credit: Lee Parker - CameraSport