Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

My dad always says to me whenever a certain player emerges from nowhere, you know, the likes of a Kante, a Vardy or a Mahrez… “hey, why didn’t we think of him?”

The truth is that there have been some pretty good Newcastle United players down the years…and we have let a lot of them go.

This season, more than ever, we have come to appreciate the so-called ‘average’ footballers. The likes of Ciaran Clark and Darryl Murphy have been instrumental for Newcastle United in picking up key points and key times to push us towards promotion. In years to come most Newcastle fans may have forgotten they even played for us… but you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if a few of those ones that were deemed ‘average’ had stayed at the club.

Would we have deteriorated from 1997-2001 had we kept a few players?

Would we still be a European team if we hadn’t have sold certain players after Robson left?

Would we have been relegated last season if we hadn’t sold players that helped us back into the Premier League in 2010?

Now while plenty of great players have left Newcastle, it is important to distinguish between the ones that we could let go and the ones that we had to let go.

For example, the likes of Andy Carroll, Yohan Cabaye and Jonathan Woodgate don’t feature in this list because we had no choice but to sell them to the likes of Liverpool, Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid. Similarly, at times Newcastle United have been in positions where they had to let players go, such as Sebastien Bassong and Andros Townsend moving on after relegation.

These are the players we shouldn’t have let go, the ones deemed ‘not good enough’ who would later go on to be more than good enough… just for the wrong team.

  1. Wayne Routledge

The first on the list is probably the most debatable. I am sure many fans will disagree with me on this one but I think Routledge was a very good player for Newcastle United. Strength, fitness, pace, and a decent delivery from the right side of midfield, he offered genuine width to the team and was a key part of the side that got us promoted.

Routledge was sold for next to nothing to Swansea City. In the following 5 years he has been an ever present in the Premier League and won a League Cup winners medal. We certainly could have done with him… rather than Gabriel Obertan.

  1. Lee Clark

The first local lad on this list and the only one that we actually did bring back! Although he was too old to have any sort of impact by the time he did. The fact that Clark did return at the age of 33, and didn’t look out of place in the side, goes to show that he probably could have been a good player at Newcastle had he not left.

After being let go by Newcastle, he became the Division 1 Player of the Season in his first year at Sunderland and captain of a Fulham side that cemented themselves as a solid Premier League side, I cannot for the life of me understand why he was let go.

  1. Davide Santon

A strange one considering our problems at Left Back in the past few years. Santon was no world-beater at Newcastle but he was a good Left Back. Sold for a comparatively small transfer fee, we haven’t had a Left Back as good as Santon since he left.

newcastle united players

Now playing for Inter Milan. While it is true that Inter are no longer that world force that they used to be, it does go to show that Santon is still more than good enough to compete at the top level.

Since leaving Newcastle he even got a recall to the Italy set up… don’t be shocked if he returns to SJP this summer.

  1. Patrick van Aanholt

Yes, he did actually play for Newcastle. Van Aanholt’s short but positive spell at Newcastle United was a success! I would have liked us to have signed him on the back of his loan spell. This was a time when he was certainly never going to make it at Chelsea and would have definitely been available.

He has since gone on to establish himself as one of the leagues best Left Backs with a certain team in red and white and now Crystal Palace after a £13,000,000 move.

  1. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa

As a close follower of French Football and O’L, I can tell you that Mapou is still a top drawer defender. I actually thought he did well at Newcastle. His problem was two things; being consistently played at Right Back and the fact that he was played alongside Coloccini, a Centre Back with a very similar style to himself.

At O’L Mapou is partnered by Nicolas N’Koulou, a towering defender, and he is excelling again. Expect him to move on to a bigger club in Italy or Spain soon.

  1. Danny Simpson

A key player in the years that we were promoted and finished 5th in the league. During his time at Newcastle he got a lot of stick from fans on his performances which I thought were unfair. He may not have been the most exciting of Full Backs but he did a job for sure.

We were sure that when he was replaced by Mathieu Debuchy that we had swapped him for a far better Right Back. It turns out that wasn’t the case. Simpson would go on to win the Premier League with Leicester City, and although he certainly isn’t world class, he is nevertheless a solid defender who could have done a good job at Newcastle had he not been let go for nothing..

  1. Fraser Forster

The perfect example of the benefit of hindsight. When the decision was made to go with Tim Krul as the Newcastle no.1, nobody could have really complained.

Consequently, Forster was sold to Celtic and went on to become an England international and one of the best keepers in Britain. Hopefully he will return to SJP one day.

  1. James Milner

From a young age it was obvious that Milner was always going to go on to bigger and better things. However, to sell him to Aston Villa was another scandalous decision… this time thanks to Wise and co.

Sold in the season that we were relegated… if a player like Milner had remained in the squad rather than the likes of Geremi then we would have picked up a few more points that would have kept us in the Premier League.

  1. Dietmar Hamann

Debateable whether he would make this list given the fact that he would go on to a bigger and better club in Liverpool. However, if he had stayed for another season until Bobby Robson had came then he could have been a magnificent player. With the likes of Gary Speed, Rob Lee, Kieron Dyer, Nobby Solano and Hamann in midfield, we could have had a brilliant trio in the centre.

Granted, £8,000,000 was a great price in 1999 but could we have made more of an effort to hold on to a player that would go on to win a UEFA Cup, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and reach a World Cup Final?

  1. Louis Saha

The fact that Saha would go on to sign for Division 1 side Fulham after Newcastle United is a great shame. If we had signed him after his loan spell in 1999 then he would surely have struck up a brilliant strike partnership with Alan Shearer.

While his performances in ’99 weren’t brilliant, it can’t be argued (in hindsight again) that he should have stayed. Saha would go on to score almost 100 Premier League goals as well as win two Premier Leagues and a European Cup. Perhaps a natural heir to the no.9 shirt after Alan Shearer in 2006.

  1. Hugo Viana

It might have been his exotic name, gorgeous long hair or outlandish white boots, but I will go to my grave defending the fact that Hugo Viana was a good footballer. Signed as the ‘Young European Player of the Year’ he was the next best thing. Although he struggled to live up to his potential, he certainly wasn’t a bad player and contributed immensely to successful Premier League and Champions League campaigns. His downfall came under Graeme Souness, as did the whole club’s.

Hugo would go on to represent Portugal at major tournaments, play for Sporting Lisbon, Braga and Valencia, including 2 UEFA Cup finals… all of this during a time when Newcastle were rubbish.

  1. Craig Bellamy

Another one who Souness threw out of the door too early. Yes, he was a problem, and yes he was a troublemaker, but every team needs a player like Craig Bellamy. He undoubtedly would have left Newcastle at some point but for him to go Blackburn for £6,000,000 is scandalous.

newcastle united players

Bellamy would later go on to play for Liverpool (two spells) and Manchester City in what was a brilliant career. Most neutrals forget he even played for Newcastle…

  1. Steve Watson

The third of the four local lads in this list. After leaving Newcastle he went on to play for nine years in the Premier League, in a variety of positions from Right back to Centre Midfield to Centre Forward.

During a time when Newcastle arguably didn’t have an established right back, Watson would have fitted into the Newcastle squad well. You cannot underestimate the influence of having good local lads in the side.

  1. Sylvain Distin

Like a fine wine, he seemed to get better with age. While it is true that Distin actually turned down Newcastle after his loan spell – you can’t help but feel that we didn’t do enough to sign him. Rumour has it that the reason he turned down Newcastle was that Alan Pardew wanted to play him at Left Back… sorry Bobby Robson… force of habit.

He signed for Manchester City and would go on to be a solid Premier League Centre Back for the next 14 years until his retirement. Ironically during those 14 years, Centre Back was a position where Newcastle struggled most.

  1. Alan Thompson

A local lad that went under the radar to many of us simply because he played in Scotland. Sold by Newcastle in 1993, he went on to play at the top level, including the Champions League, for the next 13 years. He was so good in the early 2000s that he even got a call up to the England squad while playing for Celtic! The first ever player to do so…

If Newcastle had held onto him, which would have easily been done, then he would have fitted well into the likes of Dalglish and Robson’s sides at either left midfield or full back.

  1. Aaron Hughes

Without doubt Souness’ biggest mistake. Sold for £1,000,000 and replaced by Jean Alain Boumsong for £8,000,000. Amazing. From selling Hughes until he left Fulham for QPR in 2014, Newcastle spent money on Craig Moore, David Rozehnal, Cacapa, Abdoulaye Faye, Mike Williamson and Sol Campbell.

Hughes went on to to play for another 9 years in the Premier League, captaining Fulham to a UEFA Cup Final.

  1. John Dahl Tomasson

Another funny one. Tomasson would go on to win the European Cup and Serie A in what was possibly one of the greatest club sides ever, the Milan team of the mid-2000s. He was perhaps unlucky at the fact he was placed under huge pressure after Alan Shearer’s pre-season injury in 1997.

If ever a player deserved a second season at Newcastle it was this guy. Only after he left Newcastle would he go on to show just what a player he was.

  1. Hatem Ben Arfa

Ah, the one that got away. Ben Arfa will always have his critics amongst Newcastle fans but I am not one of them. I always feel sorry for young Newcastle fans today because they never had someone to look up to growing up.

newcastle united players

I grew up with Asprilla and Shearer. My dad grew up with Supermac and Keegan, my Grandad grew up with Jackie Milburn.

Ben Arfa was the closest thing in the modern day to those players. When he got the ball, your bum was on the edge of your seat. We will never know the true story as to why Pardew didn’t fancy him but there is no doubt that he was one of the most exciting players to have ever played for Newcastle.

  1. Scott Parker

Parker is one of those who you just wished could have stayed that little bit longer. Unlike other great players though, Parker didn’t leave SJP for the dizzying heights of Real Madrid.

Instead our captain was sold to West Ham for a measly £7,000,000. After leaving Newcastle he continued to play for England and was a key part of the Tottenham side that broke into the established top four..

Finally, the greatest of them all…

  1. Frank Clark

Deemed as ‘past it’ by the powers to be. He may have played 464 games in over 10 years for Newcastle United but he left on a free to Division 2 Nottingham Forest… managed by a certain Brian Clough.

Clark would leave Newcastle and go on to win the Second Division, First Division, two League Cups and a European Cup. During the same period, Newcastle dropped down to the Second Division.

Worthy mentions… Ronnie Simpson, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Giuseppe Rossi, James Perch, Dan Gosling, Florian Thauvin.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles to [email protected])

  • Rich Lawson

    Think Clark left after a disagreement with Keegan ?

    • 1957

      I think the Clark / Keegan dispute revolved around Keegan wanting to move Robert Lee to a central midfield position that Clark was occupying, which along with buying Batty pushed Clark out of the team.

      Dalglish was manager though when he left.

  • MadMag83

    Would have so say selling Bellamy was the worst mistake, tormented defences with his pace and aggression. Him and Shearer up front together were unplayable. His sale is the biggest reason why I hate Souness so much.

    • Mrkgw

      Agree. I was absolutely gutted when Bellamy was sold. Huge mistake and none other than an attempt by Souness to show the squad who was boss. Shambolic and very costly decision.

    • Jezza

      Souness has got a lot to answer for and Bellamy’s departure is top of the list.

      • bobbi fleckman

        Souness was bought in to bring discipline amongst the difficult players, he succeeded in turfing them out. It seemed irrelevant ot him that these were our best players.

        • Jezza

          To be truthful I never bought into the line about Souness being brought in to impose discipline. I thought it was just an excuse Fat Fred came up with to justify appointing Souness after 5 or 6 other managers had turned down the job first. I always thought Bellamy’s departure came about as a result of Souness’s personal ego rather than any disciplinary reasons.

          • bobbi fleckman

            The version I was told was Souness was Shearer’s influence where Robson had considered moving Shearer on. Souness was very Shearer focused which suited Shearer but Souness could not cope with the likes of Bellemy, Robert and Dyer.

  • Damon Horner

    What’s ironic is there could be players on our books currently who could qualify for this list in the future that fans have a very vocally negative opinion of!

    • nevfur

      Paul Dummett for one I would say

      • Damon Horner

        everything about him says CB rather than modern full back admittedly but if we want steady and reliable he does for me. Could see him lining up week in/week out at a lower PL side without complaint.

    • Jonathan Drape-Comyn

      very true – the likes of Dummett and Colback could get a move to an average Premier League team and play there for the next 6 or 7 years.

      similarly, it wouldn’t surprise me if we sold Mbemba, Perez and Mitrovic and they turned turned up on our TV playing Champions League football for someone

      • Damon Horner

        Depending on their mentalities and overall abilities I would consider adding Jamaal Lascelles and Mats Sels to the potential list too.
        Mainly a point from me to realise we might consider appreciating what we have here a bit more, easy to take performances levels for granted if you then find the replacement was worse than what you originally had set as your performance benchmark.

  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    Next up, 20 players who should leave the club, that`ll be dead easy with the amount of dross we have

    • Wor Lass

      Booooo – party pooper!

  • Mrkgw

    Very interesting article and blast from the past. Maybe Robbie Elliot should have been added as one of the local lads, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascogne. Andy Cole’s departure had us well stirred up aswell.

  • 1957

    The stand out one for me always has been Aaron Hughes, we probably missed his best years as a player

  • Vito Genovese

    Waddle, Beardsley, Gascoigne are 3 of the greatest players this country produced and to this day it saddens me bitterly that the board sold them.
    How are they not on this list?

    • Jonathan Drape-Comyn

      sorry if i didn’t make it clear enough… the likes of big name players or players that went to bigger clubs (waddle, beardsley, supermac, alan kennedy, gazza, andy cole, carroll, cabaye) werent included.

      this is because there isn’t really an argument that we could have kept them, so what is the point in saying that we should?

      • Vodkamagpie

        Ginola leaving for 2.5Mil if I remember correctly, criminal. Dalglish was a disaster, ginola, Beardsley, ferdinand etc going out, rush, Barnes, tomasson coming in, come on!!!

      • Vito Genovese

        Waddle and Gascoigne did not go to a bigger club.
        They were all deemed surplus to requirements by the board who foolishly claimed to believe that we had or would sign adequate replacements and could pocket some money at the same time.
        Therefore there is no argument not to include them whereas including routledge, viana, hba, tommasson and mbiwa is hilarious as they simply weren’t good enough or up to it.
        Parker had to leave because he couldn’t handle the pressure (so called inflated expectation level) anymore.
        Some of the others on your list weren’t considered ‘not good enough’ but were sold or weren’t signed on following loan spells Ie
        Milner, Distin, van arnholt and Saha.
        Hamann forced a move two weeks after declaring undying love of the North East.
        Santon and Simpson were pardewed.
        We should never have sold any of the Geordie contingent and that includes Hughes.
        As much as I loved seeing Craig Bellamy play for us he may have caused too many problems over the years. Shame though.
        Can’t comment on Frank Clark.
        Apart from that your article is crystal clear.

        • Jonathan Drape-Comyn

          Tottenham in the eighties were a far bigger club than Newcastle, apologies but it is true. It is simply incorrect to say that they were ‘deemed surplus to requirements’.

          Also, the article makes reference to those on loan – suggesting that I proposed otherwise is nonsense. (Milner was brought back to SJP after his first loan spell at Villa btw, so not a case of the loan being an option).

          Opinions on all others are obviously personal.

          • Vito Genovese

            Spurs never a bigger club and that’s how the board viewed them, replaced with inadequacy.
            The article suggests that they were deemed ‘ not good enough ‘ where the loans were not followed up for different reasons. Keegan not happy about Milner live on telly by recollection after a game against Coventry.
            Yes you are correct opinions are personal but 10/10 for the debate!

          • bobbi fleckman

            Spurs were a bigger club than us at the time, they were also the moneybags club at a time when few clubs had any money. Gazza certainly said that McFaul and the club tried to keep him but Spurs bout his mam & dad a house!!

            Beardsley claimed the club didn’t try to keep him but I suspect he looked about to see him playing off George Riley and perhaps rightly thinking his career may be more productive at Liverpool.

            Interesting calls in the article, I too thought Vianna would be a star but the speed of the English game did for him. I still recall a great touch from him when Gary Speed died.

            Simpson used to be the boo-boy for many yet people didn’t take into consideration he played behind HBA.

            Milner was desperate to leave Newcastle, whether KK thought he could make him feel at home is another argument but he did not want to stay.

          • Jezza

            You’re partly right about Spurs. At the time they were part of the so called “Big Five” along with Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester but they had just finished five places below us in 13th when Gazza went there.

  • SH.ER

    Bet if Mitrovic left us he’ll score goals for fun at any other Champions League team
    and WIN things too …

  • Cuh736

    I think Perch was poor because he may have been overutilized as a utility player. Some days he played cm, some dm, some rb. But I always felt the team would lose when he lined up anyway.

    Danny Simpson and Gosling shouldn’t have been discarded. They were not the best, but were definitely good enough. They’re proving that currently at Leicester and Bournemouth. Another one who should have stayed was Guthrie.

    A player like Ben Arfa comes around once every 20 years, and recognizing and utilizing such players is what the best coaches do. Unfortunately Pardew was manager at the time. Benny could have done better than Mahrez

    • steve

      There isn’t a manager on the planet who could get the best out of Ben Arfa for more than 6 months, he probably played the best football of his career under Pardew.

      • Cuh736

        Well his best would be with nice last season, in that case

  • Leazesl Ender

    Hughie Gallagher

    • Jonathan Drape-Comyn

      Thought of Hughie and looked up his story as to why he left Newcastle… turns out that 2003 wasnt the first time that Chelsea came into a lot of money. Chelsea was a club that came into big money in the 1930’s too and they offered big money for Gallagher for which Newcastle, nor the player could turn down.

  • Jezza

    Interesting discussion. The ones that got away. Here’s a few I was disappointed to see leave:

    Albert Craig
    Joe Allon
    Darren Jackson
    Mick Harford
    Michael O’Neill
    Anth Lormor
    Ian Baird (don’t know if he counts as we only had him on loan)

    I thought all of these were capable of doing a job for us at the time.

  • Jezza

    Another one I’ve often thought about is John Robertson. I know he was utterly useless during his three months at Newcastle but there was always the chance he might have come good. After all he had come to us with a phenomenal goal scoring record North of the border and it didn’t take him long to recover his goal scoring touch when he went back to Hearts.

    • Geordiegiants

      Frank Pingel could of been prolific up there.

      • bobbi fleckman

        Interesting call on John Robertson, really looked like a great buy but he looked scared stiff playing for us.

        Frank Pingel was astonishing / looked astonished.

  • Cuh736

    Luuk De jong?

  • Wor Lass

    Thauvin – he`ll go on to be a big player on the European stage, I reckon.

  • Sing in the Leazes

    Great article!
    Got me thinking though…
    As a fan, your natural instinct with any ‘one that got away’ or ‘should never have been let go’ is to shake your head at the folly of it and get all wistful about what might have been.
    We all do it. Everyone on here is doing it.
    But what if that’s not always the truth? What if they weren’t sold as a result of footballing idiocy, but instead as the by-product of dodgy dealings?
    We keep hearing it used to be rife (and still is) but you know how it is… you never connect it to any specific deal.
    Some of the list above must have been like that. Where there was more to it.
    And if not bungs, what about scandals? Sold cos he shagged the manager’s wife? We’ve all heard that one at some time I’m sure.
    Reading that list made me wonder.