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Opinion

Curious case of the £5m Newcastle United full-backs

3 weeks ago
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When it comes to Newcastle United full-backs, we have seen an interesting string of them come through the doors at St James Park these past 13 years.

The Mike Ashley era seeing 20 different full-backs brought into St James Park during his reign.

An astonishing number really, averaging almost two per season.

Also, the list doesn’t include players such as Geremi (free transfer in 2007) who was bought supposedly as a midfielder but played full-back as well.

Working backwards from the January 2020 transfer window, Newcastle United full-backs brought in (summer 2007 – January 2020) under Mike Ashley:

Loan – Danny Rose

£5m – Emil Krafth

Loan – Jetro Willems

Loan – Antonio Barreca

£4.5m – Javier Manquillo

£3m – Achraf Lazaar

£5m – DeAndre Yedlin

Free – Jesus Gamez

£5m – Daryl Janmaat

£1m – Kevin Mbabu

£2m – Massadio Haidara

£5m – Mathieu Debuchy

£5m – Davide Santon

£1m – James Perch

Loan – Patrick van Aanholt

£2m – Danny Simpson

£2m – Ryan Taylor

£2m – Habib Beye

£6m – Jose Enrique

A bit of a theme running all the way through, all of the Newcastle United full-backs that have arrived, costing £5m or less. The exception being ironically the very first one bought during Mike Ashley’s reign, Jose Enrique at £6m, the only transfer success from Sam Allardyce’s first and only transfer window, that saw the likes of ‘free’ transfers Viduka and Geremi arrive on £100,000 a week contracts (plus players such as Joey Barton and Alan Smith given five year £60,000 a week contracts), a disastrous transfer window that very likely was the spark for Mike Ashley going off to the other ridiculous extreme, refusing repeatedly these next 12 years and counting to pay market level wages for numerous transfer targets.

Back in 1995 (over 25 years ago!), Newcastle paid £4m for Warren Barton, at the time a record for a transfer fee paid by an English club for a defender. Not one of the stars of that team but Barton made 31 Premier League appearances in 1995/96 and almost helped NUFC to win the title.

Now 25 years on, we are looking at one or more new Newcastle United full-backs, the latest news seeing NUFC strongly linked with a £4m purchase of Dimitris Giannoulis from PAOK.

Now price isn’t everything but…it is the best guide.

Why have Newcastle ended up bringing in so many full-backs under Mike Ashley? Surely the answer has to be because mainly the ones brought in haven’t proved good enough.

It is especially interesting because whereas in the past full-backs were seen very much as playing a lesser role (back in the old days at school the least able kids were always stuck at full-back!), however, now they are seen as some of the most important players in Premier League teams. Just look at Liverpool, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, just look at the transfer fees paid for them, for example Aaron Wan-Bissaka at an initial £45m plus add-ons when signing for Man Utd last year, pretty much covering all the transfer fees paid by Newcastle for the 20 full-backs brought in under Mike Ashley.

Newcastle United have desperately needed better quality at full-back / wing-back since promotion and yet Mike Ashley has only allowed £5m for Krafth, £4.5m Manquillo and a number of loans. Krafth is really poor and Manquillo a battler but not good enough to be PL first choice, whilst on the other side we are still any number of years later still saying the dependable but limited going forward (and injury prone) Paul Dummett needs competition and / or a better alternative who can do what is expected of full-backs / wing-backs these days, often providing a key attacking threat.

Goalkeeper is really the only other position where Mike Ashley has been so unwilling to spend very much, if anything, at times. Mike Ashley hitting lucky there though as Shay Given, Steve Harper and Tim Krul were already at the club, Rafa bringing in the excellent Martin Dubravka for £4m, whilst Karl Darlow has been decent back–up at £4m (£5m Sels didn’t work out and Rob Elliot was a cheap and cheerful back-up).

We all know that Mike Ashley’s transfer ‘strategy’ has been anything but decent, however, in comparison to Newcastle United full-backs, there has been relatively far more of a willingness to spend money.

Strikers – £40m Joelinton, Mitro £14m, Gayle £10m

Wingers / Attacking midfielders – Almiron £20m, ASM £20m, Townsend £13m, Ritchie £12m

Central midfield – Wijnaldum £14m, Shelvey £13m

Even at centre-back, Coloccini cost £10m twelve years ago, Lejeune £9m.

No doubt others could be listed but you get the picture.

Personally, I think Rafa Benitez would have, if given the backing, budget and freedom, made two quality attacking Newcastle United full-backs / wing/backs an absolute priority in the summer 2019 transfer window. He had put together a very good collection of centre-backs who were suited to the three / five at the back system (seventh best defensive PL record in 2017/18 and 2018/19) and drilled them relentlessly into their roles. What was then need was two quality wing-backs, get Rondon on a permanent deal, buy a quality playmaker, then with two or three other additions (funded in part by a number of departures) Newcastle could have had a very tasty looking first eleven.

I won’t bore you with what has happened instead since then, although you might point out that Ashley’s own inspired signing of Joelinton, would also pretty much cover the 19 Newcastle United full-backs brought in since that £6m for Jose Enrique…

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