Points (and pounds) to prove.
“£40 million for those two? Waste of money.”
There are some who believe otherwise, but the general consensus among Newcastle United fans seems to be that Andros Townsend and Saido Berahino would not be worth the monumental figures that have been touted in the press. It’s not hard to see why the majority would reach such a conclusion.
One has struggled to break into the first team at Tottenham Hotspur in the past twelve months, filling his time with reserve games, television punditry and one-sided shoving matches with members of the backroom staff.
The other has endured an exile of his own making, a potential Hawthorns hero becoming the club’s pantomime villain ever since Spurs showed an interest in his services this time last year.
Both come with much-publicised question marks hanging over their attitude and commitment, let alone their ability to perform on a consistent enough basis to warrant such outlay.
They would, it seems, be decent acquisitions for a little less cash, but the quoted numbers – £25m for Berahino, £14m for Townsend – have seen the pair labelled as overhyped and overpriced in most quarters, their inflated price tags based on potential and the ‘English premium’ (roughly speaking, an extra 25% slapped onto their value for being born and raised in Blighty – in Berahino’s case he was born in Burundi but arrived in England as a child) rather than recent performances.
Value, however, is a funny thing, in that it is relative rather than absolute. To a side like Southampton or Everton, well clear of the drop zone and well stocked across the pitch, a Berahino or a Townsend would be a frivolous purchase.
But for a team struggling to fill their homegrown quota ahead of 2016/17 and scratching around for goals in the present, they might be a better fit.
From a club perspective – one eye on the jeopardised £120m Premier League pot, the other on potential resale value – the quoted prices might not seem quite as extortionate as they do to the man on the street.
At the very least, United know this time what they would be getting. After splashing out £45m on foreign faces in the summer, only Wijnaldum and Mbemba have produced performances on the pitch that tally up with their price tags. The other £25m spent on Mitrovic and Thauvin has yet to see a meaningful return.
Thauvin in particular, signed for £12m off the back of a poor season in Ligue 1, has made frustratingly slow progress at St. James’. One year prior, United paid the same amount to bring in Remy Cabella from Montpellier, with similarly underwhelming results.
The chase for Berahino and Townsend, along with the capture of Jonjo Shelvey, signifies a potential break from tradition for Newcastle in the Ashley era.
Sure, the club missed out on Charlie Austin – a baffling decision, even when taking the supposed contract demands into account – but they are opening the chequebook for tried and tested Premier League talent for the first time in seven years.
These are players who know the footballing culture and have valuable minutes under their belt at this level. No acclimatisation period, just attackers who can come straight in and hit the ground running.
Most important, however, is that they would come with that vengeful fire in their bellies. Shelvey, for example, arrived up here with fierce intent, disgruntled at his rotation within the Swansea City line-up.
He showed the Swans just what they were missing on his debut, that raking 67 yard pass against West Ham an early glimpse of his ability with the ball at his feet.
Another solid performance followed despite defeat at Watford, leading many to put him forward as a key name in Newcastle’s fight against the drop. With any luck, Berahino and Townsend also take out the frustration of the last twelve months out on United’s opposition.
The supporters are justified in questioning the payment of big bucks for players who have lacked consistency and exhibited less than professional behaviour at their current clubs. But if we can play devil’s advocate for a moment, United would be adding two hungry young English prospects to their ranks; a direct winger with a penchant for shots outside the area, and a pacey striker with great awareness and a lethal right boot.
These problem players are undoubtedly talented, but both have room to grow and a lot of points to prove. If they can follow Shelvey’s early lead and do just that at St. James’, the pair will go some way to proving their ability in the Premier League – and their worth to a club like Newcastle United.
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