Newcastle United’s ‘transfer strategy’ has come under ever increasing scrutiny, particularly with recent matches seeing close to £30m worth of summer signings, in the shape of Mitrovic and Thauvin, on the bench.
It isn’t a new problem to see the concept of Newcastle buying ‘better value/cheaper’ young players from abroad in the hope of their value increasing, falling flat on its face.
However, the stakes have been ramped up because of the higher price tags in that summer 2015 spending and the position Newcastle now find themselves in – encamped in the relegation zone with Christmas only days away.
Having only survived relegation on the final day of last season and with every other Premier League club prepared to spend big money to try and succeed/secure their place for the increased TV riches from next season, Newcastle were up against it in terms of attracting players to St James Park.
Desperate times call for desperate gambles and this is what happened with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Florian Thauvin.
Thauvin was seen as a bit of an ‘enfant terrible’ and a difficult player to manage, having had his attitude questioned at times despite his short career so far.
It is hard to judge on the very little we have seen so far but the jury is most definitely out on whether he will be a longer term success at Newcastle.
However, it is Aleksandar Mitrovic where Newcastle took by far the biggest gamble.
United were absolutely desperate for a credible goalscorer and indeed had been ever since Demba Ba walked out in January 2013, Loic Remy providing a temporary sticking plaster in 2013/14.
The Mitrovic transfer to Newcastle stretched on for what seemed forever in the summer, as despite his impressive goalscoring record in Belgium the top teams didn’t want to gamble on him, then repeated claims that he was waiting for a lesser club that could still offer Champions League football.
Eventually he ended up at Newcastle amid claims that this is where he had always really wanted to end up…
It was over a year ago when rumours of Newcastle interest in the striker first surfaced but already he had a record of not being the easiest player to handle and his immaturity showing up in his public behaviour.
In November 2014, after international duty with Serbia, Aleksander Mitrovic’s agent Nenad Jestrovic said;
“He (Mitrovic) let himself go with the national team and came back five pounds overweight. A catastrophe!¨ Aleksandar moved little on the field and then I had a good conversation with him.¨
“I said to Aleksandar: ‘Women, food and entertainment is for later, for now you have to concentrate on the football.”
Moving forward to November 2015 and Aleksandar Mitrovic went away on international duty with Serbia and they were stuffed 4-1, with many recriminations afterwards from the Serbian media, fans and indeed amongst the players.
Mitrovic was accused of being overweight and sluggish on the pitch, argued with a teammate at half-time about conceding from a corner and the coach having to allegedly separate them, then Mitrovic and three other teammates were criticised for leaving immediately after the defeat and flying back to Serbia on a private jet, rather than travelling on the team plane the next day – one of those four players allegedly was out partying that night in Belgrade but so far hasn’t been named.
Mitrovic later explained that yes he had put on weight but that it was muscle and Newcastle United were happy about it, he said the half-time row was simply a normal conversation between teammates, whilst he said the private plane journey was necessary so he could see his pregnant girlfriend in Belgrade as he was expected to travel to Newcastle the next day (Saturday).
This is not to persecute Aleksandar Mitrovic but it just sums up the scale of the gamble Newcastle have taken on him, which has left us relying on Papiss Cisse to play, a player who had been written off as not up to the job and whose own commitment has been called into question earlier this season and beyond.
Hopefully, the penny will drop with Mitrovic that if he wants to be a success in the Premier League and the Champions League, whether it is at Newcastle or elsewhere, a lot more is needed to score goals in England than in Belgium.
As for Newcastle’s transfer strategy, the answer is also self-explanatory. Yes have a gamble or two on young players from abroad but you have to also buy some experienced proven players who have done it in the Premier League or at least one of the other stronger leagues.
Steve McClaren has now had his say on why Aleksandar Mitrovic is sitting on the bench whilst his team remain in relegation trouble.
Asked about the absence of Mitrovic at his latest press conference before Spurs.
Steve McClaren 10 December 2015:
“It was generally viewed that during the international break he had kind of a bad time with Serbia.
“It looked as if he needed to come out of it a little bit, which he will do and recharge those batteries – he is doing that.”
Let’s hope those batteries are recharged pretty quickly because Newcastle are desperate for Mitrovic to come good.
Steve McClaren admitted early in the season that his team’s strategy and formation for this campaign was all built around having the Serbian striker as the focal point.
Cisse can hopefully help a little in the short-term but if anybody expects Ashley to sanction another £14m/£15m forward in January to help save the day then I’m afraid they are in dreamland.
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