The transfer market is a strange, distorted animal. There are so many variables that determine a fee or a player’s availability that it’s hard to understand any consistency or read any correlation in the market.
Any precedents set are usually superseded by another in swift fashion. Trevor Francis was the first million pound Englishmen in 1979, while Gareth Bale moved to Real Madrid last summer for a world-record £86m. The point being, the market evolves. In a day and age where oil tycoons and Sheiks buy world-class players like penny-sweets, it’s a buyers’ market.
No matter what the club’s resources, we fans always believe we know better. Every window transfers come and go which you would think make the world of sense for your club, they’re almost logical, yet the opportunity seemingly passes by and all that remains are a managers excuses and a rival one player stronger. Champ Manager isn’t real life, sadly.
As a Newcastle United fan, I can assure you the litigious Alan Pardew (litigious means someone who is readily the subject of legal action, by the way) has cut an increasingly lugubrious figure with every passing window.
After the inspired, Graham Carr recommended signings (Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba) helped lead Newcastle to fifth place back in 2011/12, to say the club have floundered in the market since would be a grievous understatement.
Despite a very obvious opportunity to build on a squad who had so narrowly missed out on fourth place, Vurnon Anita – a decent squad player by all accounts – was the only first team addition to the ranks. The Magpies had done half the job by keeping their star players, however failed to add real depth to the squad with European competition and cope with what came to be an additional 14 games.
None-to-surprisingly after a terrible first half of the season, a panic-ridden January followed. Chelsea activated top-scorer Ba’s £7m release clause causing United to purchase five Frenchmen (none of whom were strikers) to make sure they survived another year. They secured Premier League status after defeating QPR in the campaign’s penultimate fixture, but the powers that be at St James’ Park didn’t appear to learn their lesson.
To be concise, what followed was the embarrassing appointment of Joe Kinnear to preside over transfers. A grand total of £0 was spent in transfer fees, two loan signings were acquired – one dreadful, one first-class, and the sale of arguably the Toon’s best player to PSG.
Now, I don’t know what Kinnear did at his desk every day, but I suspect it wasn’t sounding out potential signings, let alone English ones. No suitable back-up plan to the obvious Cabaye departure were made, and if there was it certainly weren’t executed. I can only imagine in between windows Kinnear sat around counting his money in disbelief. One of many erroneous acts from ever the fan-favourite Chairman, Mike Ashley.
The Geordies secured a ninth place finish last season despite being fifth on Boxing Day and some direbolical form in the second-half of the season. It’s been reported Pardew’s position in the United hot-seat is safe for the time being and he will be handed a £60m kitty to rejuvenate and progress the club.
How much say Pardew actually gets in the targets is debateable, but below I have made a British list of my own to show, in theory, putting together a home-grown core that the fans can relate to isn’t too unrealistic at all, especially with £60m behind you.
Tim Krul is undeniably one of the top keepers in the Premier League today. At 26-years-of-age, the Dutchmen’s time for a big move is probably upon us. In my opinion, Krul could easily cut it as the No.1 for a top-four club and Newcastle could expect to make a 10-15m profit on someone the Toon paid just under £200,000 for. With no ready-made replacement at the club, Newcastle would really need to open the cheque-book.
Alex Smithies, 24, is a Huddersfield academy product who has made a name for himself in league-football. Smithies has been linked with a few moves to England’s top-flight down the years but with several years’ experience behind him and likely to be available at a reasonable price, now could be the right time to move.
Another option is the 29-year-old David Marshall. Fresh off being relegated with Cardiff City, Marshall was one of the precious few bright spots in the Bluebirds season, providing a highlight reel of excellent reflex saves. The Scot proved to all potential suitors he can be a worthy last line of defence in the Premier League should he wish for an immediate return there.
Defence is a very delicate area for Newcastle. There is currently four options at St James’ in Captain Fabricio Coloccini, Mike Williamson, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and hometown boy Steven Taylor. At 33 next January, Coloccini is in the twilight of his career, but his experience and overall quality is vital to the heart of Newcastle’s defence. Mike Williamson appears to only be effective in an aerial duel and is a liability.
Yanga-Mbiwa has failed to convince since his move from France and despite his impressive physical attributes, his positional sense and anticipation are more than questionable (as showcased in the early season loss at Everton). What Steven Taylor boasts in passion and heart he sadly lacks in composure, making the centre of defence a very vulnerable area for Pardew’s men.
Jamaal Lascelles, 20 and Eric Dier, 20 of Nottingham Forest and Sporting Lisbon respectively would be my primary targets. Lascelles has just enjoyed his first break-out season in the Championship and has reportedly been attracting interest from Everton, a team who through Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott in the past have taken excellent gambles on young, Championship centre-backs.
Dier had a six-month loan spell with Everton in 2011, but has since then made his Lisbon debut and played in European competition. It would appear both men would be available at a reasonable price, especially Dier who is known to want to return to England one day.
Watford’s young Irishmen (though English born) Tommie Hoban, also 20, has shown significant promise in his 27 Championship appearances thus far. A tall, yet footballing centre-half, Hoban won Watford’s young player of the year in 2012/13. A more pricey, yet intriguing option is the recently relegated Steven Caulker.
Though Cardiff failed to avoid the Premier League’s trap door, they’re unlikely to want to take a loss on the £8m they shelled out for the 22-year-old from Spurs last summer. The tall and commanding Harry Maguire, 22, has also been impressive in League One with Sheffield United for a few years now, though it could be argued he represents a greater risk having not even played in the Championship.
When fit, this is actually a strong area for the Magpies, at least going forward. Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchey are certainly players who wouldn’t look out of place in a top six outfit. After them however…not so much. Massadio Haïdara, Paul Dummet, Ryan Taylor and occasionally Vurnon Anita are the next best options, which are quite steep declines on the aforementioned counterparts.
Not too many ‘cheap’ options knocking about in these areas. Joel Ward, 24, of Crystal Palace, Aaron Cresswell, 24, of Ipswich and Nathaniel Clyne, 23, of Southampton are probably the best money for value options. Even then, I would think all three of them are leaning towards £5m.
Ward and Clyne have both proved they have the ability to thrive in the top-flight, with Ward excelling in ground-covered and tackles made stats while Clyne, when able to oust the impressive and bound-to-be expensive Callum Chambers, has put in numerous energetic and adventurous displays which showcase his frightening pace. Cresswell has been a stand-out player in the Championship for some time and last season alone he grabbed 13 assists from left-back, leading to understandable comparisons with Leighton Baines and his dead-ball ability.
Swansea’s Welshmen Ben Davies, 21, has been impressive since deputising for Neil Taylor following his broken ankle, leading to speculation Spanish champions Atletico Madrid were sniffing around. I’d imagine he’d command a fee of at least £7m at this stage and I’m not convinced he’s going to be much better than Santon – though time will tell. Ashley Cole is going on a free…money isn’t the be all and end all to him - just ask Arsenal.
Martin Kelly, 24, is mooted to be a potential option on-loan from parent club Liverpool. John Flanagan’s rise to prominence coupled with Glen Johnson’s cemented place mean opportunities could be limited for the one-time England international. Micah Richards, 25, is also said to be available, and he has the ability to be England’s top right-back when playing regularly. His wages could be a stumbling block, but an athletic and hard-working presence like Richards would be welcomed into the north-east.
Tiote, Sissoko and Anita make up the core of Newcastle’s engine room and whilst they have undeniable qualities, the problem appears to be that they are all too similar, and very mildly creative. The invention from the middle of the park has been non-existent since Cabaye’s departure to PSG back in January and the hopeful acquisition of Remy Cabella, 24, from Montpellier is meant to address that. The young Frenchmen is supposedly already the subject of a £6.5m bid and would add an extra dimension to and industrial midfield.
Will Hughes, 19 of Derby County, Ravel Morrison, 21, of West Ham United and Nathaniel Chalobah, 19, of Chelsea are all exciting young Englishmen who could be available. Hughes would prove to be the most expensive target with a lot depending on whether Derby can beat QPR in promotion to the Premier League this Saturday in the Championship Playoff final. Hughes sports excellent technique and vision and has caught the eye since making his Derby debut at aged 16.
Though rumours persist Morrison can be a bit of a problem child for clubs (which is why Sir Alex washed his hands of him), the young QPR loanee does boast incredible footwork and the knack for popping up with classy goals – a desirable trait for any midfielder. It’s his attitude though which appears to have made him available. Chalobah is a deeper, ball playing option who has a vast array of passes in his locker to kick-start attacks. His talents were probably best show-cased on-loan at Watford two seasons ago, however Chelsea would be keen to send him out for Premier League experience or even part ways with the Under-21 international if the price was right. Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel and David Luiz are substantial road-blocks to his first-team aspirations.
Jordan Mutch equipped himself well in a dour season for Cardiff City and makes well-timed runs into the oppositions box reminiscent of Kevin Nolan. At 22-years-of-age, he too could be a wise, reasonable investment. Jack Rodwell and former Magpie James Milner are also said to be available as the revolving City door strikes again. Both players hold undoubted quality and would be welcomed on Tyneside with open arms, particularly Milner who work ethic in sticky times for Newcastle could never be questioned.
Just how astronomical the pair’s wages might be is another prudent consideration to factor in, especially given Rodwell’s injury history. Newcastle have also been linked with Jonjo Shelvey in recent weeks, who has just enjoyed a fine season with Swansea. After the Swans purchased the former Charlton man from Liverpool for just shy of £7m last summer, I can’t see that being a cheap endeavour at all.
Hatem Ben Arfa is by far and away the most exciting wideman to grace St James’ in recent memory, certainly this century. I don’t even think that’s a remotely rash statement. However, the Frenchmen, known to be a difficult personality from his time in Marseille, is now very publicly at odds with the boss.
With confirmation that Pardew will reprise his role next term, it seems that HBA’s days are numbered. After being loaned-out to relegated Norwich, Jonas Gutierrez is another name that appears to be heading for the exit leaving the enthusiastic Gouffran and the frankly awful Gabriel Obertan. An injection of pace and imagination is now necessity in the ranks and there are many English options materialising.
Tom Ince, 22, soon to be clubless and Nathan Redmond, 20, of Norwich are both quick, nimble and tricky wide men who aren’t afraid to attack full-backs. Both carry the HBA trait of utilising the opposite flank to their strongest foot (Ince – left foot, Remond – right foot) enabling them to cut in and go for goal. Ince in particular, has a very impressive eye for goal and netted 31 league goals in 100 Blackpool outings.
A loan spell with Crystal Palace has proved frustrating thanks to the form of Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon, but being available on a free transfer makes it almost a no brainer. Redmond only moved to Norwich for an initial £2m last summer, but the Canaries relegation means Redmond could be available for a reasonable fee and his direct dribbling would excite a weary fan-base. Wilfred Zaha is likely to be available on at least a loan deal, manager-to-be Louis Van Gaal is unlikely to find a spot for the Crystal Palace academy graduate in his new-look, glazer bank-rolled outfit. For all Zaha’s skill and pace, it’s debateable how much of an end product the England international really has at the moment. His loan spell at Cardiff did very little to dispel that theory too. Rumours have also circulated about Andros Townsend’s availability, with Tottenham said to be frustrated with the 22-year-old. I’d be surprised if they let him go on the cheap, but he’d certainly be worth a gamble on Newcastle’s desolate wings.
This is another absolute must invest area for Newcastle United. With Loic Remy apparently moving onto bigger and better things, Shola Ameobi’s imminent release, and Papis Cisse breaking his knee-cap off the back of a very disappointing season, the famous black and white have literally got zero proven goal scorers.
Saido Berahino, 20, of West Brom, Jordan Rhodes, 24, of Blackburn Rovers and Troy Deeney, 25 are three realistic, attainable targets for Newcastle. Rhodes was brought to Blackburn for £8m from Huddersfield in 2012, and the Scot international bagged 51 league goals in 89 game since. Standing at 6”1, he’s more adept to the traditional expectations of a Newcastle number nine.
Blackburn would probably expect more than their initial outlay for Rhodes, which might be a stretch too far for potential suitors in the Premier League, who surely would have taken a chance on him by now if the price were right. Deeney’s 25 league goals this year have led to suggestions a host of Premier League clubs (Aston Villa, Burnley) are in the running for his signature. It’s speculated Watford could want up to £8m for the coveted front-man – but then again goals are an expensive commodity.
Berahino is a different kind of proposition. The pacey striker is a channel outlet that Newcastle have lacked in recent years (bar Remy this year) and he is comfortable at taking players on, which is an exciting and unusual prospect for United fans. After a well-publicised falling out with teammate James Morrison, it appears West Brom are prepared to let their young star seek pastures new and it would be the ideal signing to spark a revival in the worst front-line in English football in 2014. Newcastle probably do need a big money option and just for the record, I’d have big Andy Carroll back on Tyneside any day.
So there you have it, my overview of the English market and how it could potentially apply to Newcastle United. This truly is a sleeping giant in English football, with 69 years passing since its last piece of silverware (try that Arsenal). The Toon boast one of the top 10 average attendances in the whole of Europe last season, and need to provide their loyal fans with some kind of direction and ambition.
I can see their idea behind tapping into the French market. But it seriously appears as though Ashley was more concerned with saving a few pennies than long-term transfer goals. In moderation, the idea had some legs. The club’s identity isn’t that of a French sabbatical camp, it should be of English heart and attacking football – both of which have been dangerously diluted in recent years.
Realistically, not every club can secure established, big-name signings. I’m not saying continental buys are bad either, but within reason. The French heavy squad Newcastle finds themselves with at the moment is just not serving its purpose. For instance, Arsenal had a huge influx of French players once upon a time (Henry, Anelka, Vieira, Pires, Petit, Wiltord) but when you’re consistently in the top-four and winning doubles, fans aren’t concerned so much.
Is the French core on Tyneside good enough? The lack of progress is alienating fans from what made the club such a fun watch during the Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson eras, and the transfer strategy, or lack thereof, is at the heart of it. If Ashley had such foresight when dipping into the French market, he’d know English players command the highest fees. Young, English purchases are makes market sense and are fan friendly.
If caught young or in a lower league, the players can be moulded and progressed together to benefit the club and potential be sold at a massive profit. I.e Kevin Phillips, Leighton Baines, Steve Finnan, Danny Murphy, Ashley Young, Lescott and Jagielka just off the top of my head.
The time is now for Pardew if he is to ever truly win the fans over and have them believe he understands the club. Right now, it just seems like he’s along for the ride any blame falls absolutely anywhere else but his doorstep. After £60m, I’d like to hear him talk.
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