While spending was kept to a minimum at St.James’ Park in the summer, O’Neill was given some £25m to bring in Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson, two players who every other Premier League manager was well aware of. While Sunderland have also dipped into the overseas markets, their main purchase again was homegrown (as a Geordie!) Danny Graham for a fee of around £5m, again a player that was well know to everybody in England.
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In contrast, Newcastle have continued their raiding of Ligue 1 and have added Mapou, Sissoko, Haidara, Gouffron and Debuchy for some £18m, three of them already French internationals. These were added to the stellar signings of Ben Arfa and Cabaye who are reported to have cost anything up to £11m for the pair.
So for rough figures you could say that Martin O’Neill has brought in three proven Premiership players for around the same as Newcastle have paid for five French internationals plus the youthful Haidara and Gouffran with a decent goalscoring record in France.
Sunderland may be just ahead of Newcastle in the league at the moment but who will be the transfer market winners in the end? Newcastle v Sunderland, France v England/Scotland?
I would say a fair reflection must be based on what happens next season, the anti-Newcastle faction will no doubt be hoping/praying that Newcastle’s over reliance on the French market will lead to cliques/players not settling/not enough quality French restaurants in the toon/ the step up to Premier League proving too much – and so on.
I would find it very hard to envisage Newcastle coming out on the wrong end of this contest, especially taking into account other factors.
Newcastle’s problems going into this season were not that we didn’t have decent players, it was that we had some excellent/decent players but if anybody was injured it was almost certain to lead to a massive drop in ability from their replacements. The challenge was to add quality to quality and now belatedly that appears to have happened in January, plus with real value for money.
By contrast, looking from the outside Sunderland looked to have a very mediocre team and could just about put out two different teams and you would be hard pressed to say which was better. Bringing in players who would be better than they had would hardly be difficult and so it has proved, Fletcher and Johnson proving easily to be two of Sunderland’s best players but it comes at a price by going for the obvious, even with players already proven in the Premier League at a middle of the table kind of level.
If both teams hang onto their best players then there will be only one winner but maybe that is Newcastle’s biggest weakness in the contest.
Clubs with big resources may see there is still big value in players like Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Sissoko and others, whatever prohibitive transfer fees are placed on their heads by Mike Ashley. In contrast Sunderland have already had to pay right up to the value (and beyond?) for their signings, both in terms of wages and transfer fees.
As always, the greatest threat to Newcastle United is whether there are any self-inflicted blows in the summer.
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