The appointment of Steve Nickson as head of recruitment at Newcastle United seems a strange one.
Having been promoted from his role as a youth scout at the club, Nickson is said by the club to be spending the rest of the summer working alongside Lee Charnley and Rafa Benitez to help bring potential signings to the club.
Like Charnley, having been promoted from within, I can’t imagine that Nickson’s job title fully correlates with what his actual role within the transfer processes will be. At the moment I would still fully expect Rafa Benitez to be identifying the players and Lee Charnley being the man charged with persuading them to sign for Newcastle.
However, if it is true that Nickson is actually ‘the head of recruitment’, then given his lack of experience, minimal reputation and no exceptional signings to show for his track record so far, then that would worry me a little regarding the rest of the summer.
With Graham Carr leaving the club, it was originally thought that this was a key sign that full of control over transfers would be handed to Benitez. While Nickson obviously won’t have anywhere near the same amount of input as Carr, the role would not have been given to him just for the sake of it (I hope).
Having just returned from the Under 21s European Championships in Poland, it will be interesting to see what he found and if Newcastle can bring a few youngsters in who can actually add something to the first team immediately. Previous signings in that age group have included Toney, Ben el-Mhanni, Bigirimana, Findlay, Kemen, Abeid, Vuckic, Satka and Tozer. All players who have not ,or are yet to have, any positive impact on the first team squad. If Nickson is the one who has been responsible for bringing in some of these players, then he deserves some criticism. In my opinion, any young players of 19-21 that are signed from outside of the region that are not going straight into the first team squad are a complete waste of time, as they are simply blocking space for local players in the youth sides.
The Chronicle reported last night that Nickson had been responsible for the likes of Perez (despite recently reporting that Perez was a ‘HIT’ Graham Carr signing), Rolando Aarons and Kevin Mbabu. These three were described by the Chronicle after Kevin Mbabu’s debut against Chelsea in 2015….Lee Ryder wrote the trio should be regarded as ‘a fine hat-trick of sorts from Nickson by Newcastle fans’.
If this is the standard of scouting that is so highy praised, then there would be something wrong… turns out there was something wrong as Newcastle would go on to be relegated that season so not the best hat-trick!
I expect that Rafa would have had a plan A, B, C and D in every position at the end of the season, so if Newcastle are currently ‘looking’ or ‘scouting’ players now then I would find that worrying too. Let’s hope that Nickson’s first job this summer is to help Rafa bring in the players that HE wants, rather than identifying potential signings now.
We did get a few quotes from Rafa via the club website included in the announcement: “I’d like to congratulate Steve and welcome him to his new role with the club. Steve has done an excellent job in the scouting department at Under-21s level and I am very confident that he will bring his many strengths to this new role, improving and building on our First Team recruitment strategy, as well as that at all levels throughout the club.”
These quotes are often just a formality put out by the club that have to be said alongside announcements like this, so I don’t think we can read too much into any quotes given.
There has also been a lot of talk this summer about Newcastle not being able to compete transfer wise with the likes of Bournemouth, Watford, or Everton. The position of head of recruitment has taken on greater significance in the 21st century, so we can compare who is in the same position at other clubs.
The big clubs obviously have big names; Steve Rowley (Arsenal), Michael Emenalo (Chelsea), Jim Lawlor (Manchester United) and Txiki Begiristain (Manchester City), that goes without saying.
However, it’s the comparisons with teams that Newcastle United should be surrounding themselves with, that again worries me.
Tony Henry at West Ham has a proven record at the club and was previously with Everton. Nicky Hammond at West Brom (previously Reading) has a wealth of experience. Kevin Cruickshank at Stoke has a growing reputation in the Premier League.
Ross Wilson at Southampton has proven time and time again over the past few years that he knows what he is doing, previously on a learning curve at Falkirk, Watford and Huddersfield. Steve Walsh at Everton has been credited with being a big part of Leicester’s impossible title win. Even his replacement at Leicester, Eduardo Macia, comes via Valencia, Liverpool and Fiorentina.
Just like West Ham, Leicester, Southampton, Stoke and West Brom, I would be expecting Newcastle to be appointing someone with a proven track record. This is why the appointment seems strange, and well, underwhelming. I’m not convinced.
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