Newcastle United confounded expectations and surprised us all by finishing in fifth position last season, one place ahead of Champions League winners Chelsea. However, the club’s lack of activity in this summer’s transfer market signals a clear lack of intent from the Magpies.
It ought to be stressed that the performance last season was no fluke. This did not constitute another “Ipswich Town – 2000/2001”. It was not a flash in the pan achievement. Manger Alan Pardew has an array of genuine top class talent at his disposal, yet Newcastle continue to pass under the radar. Despite this, discerning observers ought not to let the media’s lack of acknowledgement fool them. After all, “why don’t we just talk about Liverpool instead?” Does this sound familiar? It should.
In terms of the spine of side, particularly Tim Krul, Davide Santon, Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tioté, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé, few sides in the top flight boast a better collection of players. In fact, it may be confidently said that the Newcastle starting XI is superior to both that of Everton and Liverpool. Further to this, it is not far away in terms of ability from Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the aforementioned players have been courted by “bigger and better” clubs.
The problem is, however, that the club is fatally lacking in squad depth beyond the first team. When watching a Magpies game, if one takes a look at the substitutes bench, it is rather startling to think that this club was able to finish in the top five with the likes of Gabriel Obertan and Mike Williamson as understudies to the starting XI.
With this in mind, why did United demonstrate such reluctance to add to their squad and build on last season’s impressive league placing? Pardew himself has said he was merely happy to see out the closure of the transfer window with his squad still intact.
A few of league games into the new season, followed by a couple of injuries, and the lack of strength in depth at Newcastle is already beginning to show. Ivorian midfielder Cheick Tioté suffered a groin injury in the opening day win against Spurs and has been out on the sidelines ever since. Full back Danny Simpson limped off against Aston Villa at the weekend, meaning that Tioté’s initial replacement – new signing Vurna Anita – had to drop back into the defence as there was no one able to fill in on the right hand side of the defence. To compound these difficulties, last season’s success means the club will also have the added burden of Europa League games to contend with. This may well serve to amplify these problems and stretch the squad ever thinner.
The 25-year-old’s recent injury makes it all the more frustrating that the club failed to agree a deal for Lille defender and French international Mathieu Debuchy. The north east club were heavily linked with the highly rated 27-year-old throughout the summer; however, they refused to budge from an initial offer of £6m. Reports suggested that the French outfit would have let him go for £7.5m. Alas, it is too late now. Such a stubborn approach in the transfer market is often applauded, yet the additional outlay amounted to a mere £1m or £2m, measly figures for any Premier League club. Thus, it is easy to appreciate and understand the roots of discontent among Newcastle supporters.
I am not suggesting that Newcastle ought to “do a Liverpool”, splash out £100m and go for broke. However, there is a middle ground, and considering the club’s sensible transfer record in recent times, it is in as good a shape as ever to capitalise upon its recent success.
Two or three sensible, business-wise additions could quite possibly have elevated the Magpies to the Champions League places. These need not have been marquee signings, simply a couple of reliable, talented players to bolster an already over-achieving and talented squad. After all, are Arsenal and Spurs really anything to be scared of right now?
United’s recent transfer policy, particularly over the past 12 or 18 months, demands a certain degree of respect. Letting go of big names and high wage earners such as Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique, Joey Barton and Andy Carroll was a significant gamble. However, it paid dividends, and Mike Ashley has successfully reduced the wage budget and brought in superior players for modest transfer fees and lower salaries. Despite this, financial prudence must go and-in-hand with success on the field: the two should not be mutually exclusive. Now the club have a perfect opportunity to fight their way into the top four and establish themselves among the “elite”, so to speak.
It now appears that Newcastle are trying to be “too sensible”, if there is such a thing. The club is acutely aware that it should not be seen as overpaying, however small the margins are in individual cases, such as that of Debuchy. Again, this is an enviable approach given the financial troubles that have plighted many clubs up and down the country in recent times. Every side, however, has their own unique situation and the Magpies ought to be steady enough by now to push onwards and upwards.
So what lies in store now? With the progression made by the likes of Everton, Swansea City and Sunderland in the transfer market, the ‘Toon Army‘ could potentially find themselves back in mid-table. Which would be a crying shame, given the talented nucleus Pardew has managed to assemble. It could be worse, however. Newcastle they could be without a win as well as a recognised striker, having gained notoriety for wasting millions of pounds on average British players while yearning for the return of past heroes. Sorry Liverpool fans, is that a bit too harsh?
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