Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce will wrap star striker Callum Wilson in cotton wool as he attempts to nurse him through the new season.
Wilson paid off a sizeable proportion of last summer’s £20million investment in his services with 12 goals in 26 Premier League appearances during his first campaign on Tyneside, and his figures might have been even more impressive had he not been hampered by a series of hamstring problems.
Handed the number nine shirt – worn so famously by the likes of Jackie Milburn, Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Shearer in the past – over the summer, the England international will once again provide the focal point for the Magpies with Bruce acutely aware of his importance to the team.
The former Manchester United defender said: “He scored 12 goals in something like 24, 26 appearances – something like that.
“By those statistics alone, you can see how crucial he is, so it’s vitally important that he stays well, he stays fit. That’s the big thing because from last Christmas, he’s had two or three hamstrings, which is a concern.
“He’s worked tirelessly through the summer to make sure that they’re strengthened, and when you’re explosive like he is, of course you always prone to it – (Allan) Saint-Maximin is the same.
“He’s crucial to us. We need our big players available. For too long last year we didn’t have them and it’s fair to say we struggled without them.
“We’re not alone. Even the huge, big, big clubs, when you miss your biggest and best players, it becomes a struggle.”
Wilson will attempt to get his season up and running at the first time of asking when West Ham visit St James’ Park on Sunday with he and his team-mates desperate to avoid a repeat of the scramble for points to avoid relegation before securing a 12th-place finish at the end of the last campaign.
Asked what would represent success for the club, which completed a £25million swoop for Arsenal midfielder Joe Willock on Friday, Bruce replied: “An improvement on where we finished last year.
“We’re never going to be able to just instantly transform ourselves into where we would all like to be – that’s not going to be the case.
“But little by little, signings like Joe will definitely improve us. Little by little, we’ve got to improve and that’s my aim. Can we go a little step further than we did last year?”