Newcastle fans witnessed record spending highs this summer following last season’s uncomfortable flirt with relegation.
Following chairman Mike Ashley’s promise-laden interview ahead of the must-win final game of last season, few supporters could have truly believed the tycoon’s bravado.
Alas, the unpopular owner’s words bore fruit as according to Sky Sports, Newcastle finished second in the net spend table, only behind the ever affluent Manchester City who nearly trebled the Magpies in player purchases.
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Can the summer window be regarded as a successful one on Tyneside? In many regards, yes.
Five players arrived at St James’ for combined fees of £49.4 million with Georginho Wijnaldum the eldest at just 24-years-old. It’s clear Newcastle have a strategy in place while maneuvering the dangerous waters of the transfer market.
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Managing director Lee Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr have strayed away from English talent for numerous years now due to the inflated prices placed upon an increasingly rare commodity. QPR’s £15 million valuation of striker Charlie Austin – who has just one year left on his contract and one solitary year of Premier League football under his belt – is testament to such a notion.
Making use of the French and Dutch markets have been the club’s recent hallmark, with mixed results. The acquisition of young duo Aleksander Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba from Belgian side Anderlect is proving to be just as conflicting thus far.
20-year-old Serbian forward Mitrovic has shown signs of bringing attributes to the table that the Toon desperately lacked up-top last season; presence, strength, aerial ability and a reliable focal point.
On the flip-side, Mitrovic exhibits extremely questionable temperament. The near 6-foot 3-inches front man collected two yellows in his first two league appearances – which totalled 22 minutes – before being shown a red card in just the 15th minute against Arsenal in his fourth league appearance last Saturday.
Mbemba on the other hand has been widely praised for his athletic, commanding defensive displays; another missing trait from last year’s struggling outfit. The DR Congo international may only be 21-years-old, but he has managed to establish himself as a guaranteed starter almost immediately. He can’t do it alone, but he’s a start in the right direction.
Florian Thauvin arrived from Marseille with Remy Cabella, a player of similar ilk to that of Thauvin, going to the other way on loan after an underwhelming maiden season.
The 22-year-old French under-21 international made a sensational start to life in the north-east with a goal and three assist in the League Cup victory over Northampton, giving the St James’ faithful a glimpse of his attractive capabilities.
Dutch international Wijnaldum is certainly the cream of the crop, though. Rumours circulated within weeks of the former PSV’s man arrival that Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were keeping a keen eye on his progress.
Whilst the Magpies still await their first league victory this campaign, Wijnaldum’s quality has stood out in an otherwise creatively bereft middle of the park. A stunning header on his debut against Southampton gave the league a glimpse of what’s in the playmaker’s locker, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if come next summer a Champions League club offered north of £20-25 million to prize him away.
And that’s Newcastle’s overall strategy that I mentioned earlier. They purchase young players outside of the Premier League to give them a platform to develop. Mike Ashley obviously sees it as a win/win situation; the club can reap the benefit on the pitch and eventually, in the coffers.
In an open e-mail to the fans, Charnley has promised Newcastle will continue to spend in the same vein as the summer in the next few windows, and that has to be considered a bare minimum requisite as the squad rebuilds.
The signings thus far indeed have made encouraging strides, but much of the deadwood that dragged the club south of the Alan Pardew's mid-table steer has remained on Tyneside.
Mike Williamson, Yoan Gouffran, an outspoken Papiss Cisse and even a declining Cheick Tiote have all lived to fight another day despite speculation surrounding their futures.
Boss Steve McClaren must know that ridding the squad of established sub-par performers – who are lucrative earners in many cases – is just as important as who they get through the door.