Tried and tested? Not since 2009…
New year, new transfer speculation, same old story.
When Mike Ashley splashed out £46m on four promising players in the summer, there was cause for cautious optimism. Four months since that latest of transfer windows closed, the investment hasn’t had the desired effect, and Newcastle United are once again fighting for their Premier League future.
The solution to the long-running problem? Another lap of the Ligue 1 circuit.
Undeterred by the successively unsuccessful signings of Marveaux, Yanga-Mbiwa, Amalfitano, Gouffran, Riviere, Cabella and, most recently, Florian Thauvin, United are back in France.
This time, Graham Carr has been in attendance at the Nouveaux Stade de Bordeaux, coveting in-form midfielder Henri Saivet – soon to become Newcastle’s sixth signing of the season – and, according to some reports, Uruguayan forward Diego Rolan has been on the radar.
The Chief Scout must be a well-known face in those parts, having plucked five players from the country’s southernmost provinces in the last three years.
Tellingly, not one of them has made a lasting impact at St. James’ Park.
With Jonjo Shelvey supposedly close to putting pen to paper, and a homegrown quota to fill ahead of 2016/17, it begs the question: when was the last time that Newcastle United paid for a player with proven pedigree at this level?
Signings such as Jack Colback, Demba Ba and Sol Campbell don’t fit the criteria, having arrived at the club without the need to pay a transfer fee. Nor does Loic Remy count, the Frenchman’s successful loan spell never likely to develop into a long-term move. Gabriel Obertan and Wayne Routledge come closest, but four league starts in two years hardly makes a strong case for the former, while the latter was back in the Championship by the time Newcastle paid £1m for his services.
Instead, we have to go back over half a decade to find the last established Premier League player for whom Newcastle United opened their chequebook. That was Kevin Nolan, a £4m acquisition from Bolton Wanderers, completed on the 30th of January 2009. That’s an incredible seven years ago.
Since Nolan’s transfer, a further thirteen transfer windows have come and gone, as have a series of foreign imports and hopefuls from England’s second tier. Not one of those thirteen has heralded the arrival of a familiar face in exchange for a transfer fee.
Of the nineteen other top-flight clubs, only two did not draft in more Premier League experience this season, and both Southampton and Swansea had signed three or four proven players the year before.
Season on season, United have gambled on potential, hoping to enjoy the double benefit of good performances and great financial returns when the stars are inevitably moved on. For that reason amongst others, Mike Ashley has avoided paying the Premier League premium wherever possible. But with the odds increasingly stacked against United in the relegation scrap, and one eye on the dwindling number of homegrown players in the first team, it looks like the club might have to pay a hefty price for its flawed foreign recruitment policy.
In Shelvey, United are on the trail of a player who is capable of producing moments of quality in the Premier League. Just how consistent that quality is, and whether or not it can be harnessed, remains very much to be seen.
When a grinning Nolan held aloft a Newcastle shirt for the first time in January 2009, the world was a different place.
Portsmouth were a Premier League side. Alan Smith was a Premier League player. Alan Pardew was in the dole queue. Newcastle United were in a relegation dogfight. The more things change…
You can follow Craig on Twitter @CraigDobbo
(To feature like Craig, send in your articles for our website to [email protected])