Dele Alli and Jonjo Shelvey – Are Newcastle United finally getting the message?
It’s ironic, isn’t it?
At one end of the country, Newcastle United were striking a £12m deal to sign an England international to solve their central midfield problems.
At the other, Spurs extended the contract of another central midfielder that the Magpies could have had for half that price a year ago.
To say that Dele Alli has been one of the surprises of the season would be an understatement. The teenager has shown absolutely no signs of struggle as he has tormented Premier League defences.
At a cost of £5m, Tottenham took a gamble on potential from the lower leagues and it has paid off extremely nicely for them.
For a club that was once stocked with seemingly endless mediocre midfielders, the North London side have developed a young English core in what feels like no time at all.
Ryan Mason, Tom Carroll, Eric Dier and now Alli, have given Spurs a spine that should be able to grow together and with Harry Kane leading the line, Mauricio Pochettino is in an enviable position.
If Steve McClaren were able to take even one of those midfielders, it’s questionable whether Newcastle would be splashing the cash on Jonjo Shelvey.
A player who likes to attack from midfield but is also happy to put a tackle in and can help dictate a game – it’s a description you could use for either Alli or Shelvey.
After watching Jack Colback, Vurnon Anita and Cheick Tiote toiling in the middle of the field, Mike Ashley has been persuaded to pay out for a Premier League player for the first time since Gabriel Obertan (ED Albeit one who had only started four Premier League matches) arrived from Manchester United.
That was in August 2011.
Since then, there have been a series of free agents, loan signings and imports, with varying degrees of success – as happens with any club.
The risk factor undoubtedly goes up the further you move away from the Premier League. Will a League One player be able to deal with the increase in quality? Will a Ligue 1 player be able to deal with the increase in physicality?
In the case of Newcastle United, the bulk of the scouting work has gone on overseas talent as domestic dealings typically come with that trademark British mark-up.
That was part of the problem with Dele Alli.
Newcastle were well positioned to sign the teenager for £4m from MK Dons last January but when other clubs entered the fray, the price moved to £5m – too big of a gamble it would appear.
Instead, Alli completed the season with MK Dons and has played a starring role in Tottenham’s impressive season.
To say Premier League clubs should have taken the risk sounds like hindsight but MK Dons boss Karl Robinson said he first saw the true extent of the England star’s talent at the age of just 15.
Manchester United saw first-hand what the Milton Keynes kid could do when he helped Robinson’s side demolish the Red Devils 4-0 in the Capital One Cup.
The talent was clear to see but if unconvinced by one game, there is always the option to see the youngster in action more than once.
For Newcastle United, long-term targets like Florian Thauvin, Remy Cabella and Siem de Jong were all watched a number of times.
If you offered most fans – or the board in all likelihood – the option now of Alli or any of those three, you would be hard pressed to find many who would look beyond the Spurs man.
On paper, all of those signings looked reasonable but should an extra one million pounds for Alli really have turned Caesar Ashley’s decision from a thumbs up to a thumbs down?
All three had their own (seemingly minor) flaws and yet Newcastle were far happier to risk more money on all of them than a potential diamond in the rough closer to home.
The English premium will always exist, especially for talented teenagers.
The problem is the club have hidden behind that as an excuse to look exclusively beyond these shores.
There has been a complete false economy with the way Newcastle United have approached their transfer strategy – proven by their love of French wingers.
Since Obertan arrived, Yoan Gouffran, Cabella and Thauvin have all been brought in to play out wide.
It is a sorry reflection of how they have performed – and the scouting work that went into their signings – that two appear surplus to requirements, one has been loaned out and one has been derided by supporters after only six months.
Even Georginio Wijnaldum, Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko have also tried their hand on the wing this season alone.
It’s odd that the club seem determined to buy in ready-made talent and not risk signing a few more hot prospects when said ready-made talent has been so hit-and-miss and so much more costly.
If Newcastle are to go the way of Spurs, they have to be prepared to take calculated gambles at home, as well as abroad.
Shelvey is one such example – £12m is a lot for a man many in Wales considered inconsistent and temperamental, but could be worth it if his technical ability keeps the club up.
Dele Alli could have been another but instead is the one who got away.
His rise to the top of English football should serve as a lesson to the club – in the Premier League, there is no such thing as a sure thing and sometimes a risk closer to home can be just as fruitful as a one from overseas.
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