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Opinion

Missed deal sums up why Newcastle United can’t do better than average free transfers with Mike Ashley

4 weeks ago
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Mike Ashley has increasingly looked to free transfers and loans as an even more budget way to run Newcastle United.

Why pay transfer fees, or alternatively, why give out long contracts, when you can do it on the cheap?

Long before the 2019/20 season ended, Steve Bruce started talking about the club concentrating on the ‘Bosman’ market this summer.

Indeed, since Bruce arrived 13 months ago, six of the nine senior players signed have been free transfers or loans, this will increase to seven of ten when / if they manage to get freebie Jeff Hendrick over the line.

An exclusive from The Mail last week revealed that they had spoken to a number of agents who had been dealing with Newcastle United for this transfer window, the feedback from agents being that Mike Ashley was looking for free transfers and loan deals which would see Newcastle paying only part of the wages!

Players end up being free transfers normally for one of these three reasons: they are hopeless, knackered, or of dubious character – having cynically ran down their contracts in order to get far bigger wages at their next club (due to no transfer fee to be paid).

You get the very occasional one where circumstances have conspired and / or a club rewards a great servant by letting them move on with no transfer fee to pay, enabling them to maximise their personal terms elsewhere.

Leaving aside the reasons why they become free transfers, one thing certainly rings true when it comes to getting the better quality players on a free, you have to be willing to pay the going rate on wages.

There are new reports that Newcastle United have no chance of signing Ryan Fraser, who they have been linked with for a long time, because they won’t even match the wages that both Crystal Palace and West Ham are prepared to pay.

Ryan Fraser didn’t have a great last season at Bournemouth as they were relegated and running down the final year of his contract clearly affected him, plus in the end Eddie Howe refused to play him, one goal and four assists as he made 21 PL starts. However, the previous season is a better indicator of what the tricky, pacey winger can do, 35 PL starts in 2018/19 producing seven goals and fourteen assists, brilliant stats.

I never ever thought Fraser would sign for Newcastle if Mike Ashley was still here because he won’t compete on wages, simple as that.

When Steve Bruce goes on about competing for free transfers, it isn’t for players who can create and score goals.

We can sign free transfers such as new third choice keeper Mark Gillespie, The same with Jeff Hendrick (although the length of time even a free transfer takes for Ashley’s set-up sums the club up), an average midfielder who runs around a lot and in four years has scored only nine PL goals and got five assists, not a difficult deal and very little competition for his signature, despite the ludicrous media claims of interest from Roma and AC Milan.

Going back over the past decade, these are the free transfers that Newcastle United have brought in under Mike Ashley (2010-2020):

Dan Gosling, Sol Campbell, Shefki Kuqi, Sylvain Marveaux, Demba Ba, Mehdi Abeid, Jack Colback, Jesus Gamez, Ki Sung-yeung, Andy Carroll, Mark Gillespie.

It makes a depressing read with not many success stories.

The only stand out success was Demba Ba, 29 goals in 51 Premier League starts. However, after arriving on a free due to a contract clause when West Ham were relegated, as he quickly started knocking in the goals and kept asking  for a pay rise after having proved himself, Mike Ashley kept saying no. Only 18 months later, he left to sit on Chelsea’s bench, the West London club willing to pay him market rate wages and Demba Ba triggering a release clause for a £7.5m transfer.

Other than Ba, it is a sorry tale. Last summer Newcastle signed Andy Carroll with no other clubs interested, in recent days he has admitted that throughout the whole of last season he was never fully fit. Some fans will say he was a success because of contributing a few assists but Newcastle need better than a striker who can’t get / stay fit and hasn’t scored a PL goal for 28 months.

Though it sums it up when looking at the list of free transfers above, Carroll probably isn’t too far off the runners-up spot!

If there was a very good goalscorer or creative player out there, who happened to be a free transfer, NUFC are never going to sign them this summer. Refusing to compete on wages means you aren’t even in the running.

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