COMMENT : Newcastle United owners attempt something never done before in January
The Newcastle United owners have until 11pm on Monday 31 January to complete their transfer window business.
So five more days, including today (Thursday), to get the new signings in to try and help ensure relegation is avoided.
I hear and read the frustration of so many fans due to having ‘only’ signed two players up to this point and so many other positions still needing to be strengthened.
I understand and share all of these feelings and emotions as well, up to a point.
The thing is, the Newcastle United owners are attempting something never done before in January.
That is why it is so difficult.
If the takeover had happened four or five months earlier, the club wouldn’t be in this current nightmare position.
The Newcastle United owners are trying to do a whole transfer window’s worth of business that should have been done in the summer. Well in actual fact, they are trying to do two transfer windows’ worth of business this month, as across the course of the previous two windows, Newcastle United only signed one player, twice. Joe Willock coming in on loan in January 2021 and then bought in the summer.
In the same time period that Newcastle United signed one new first team player, they got permanently rid of eight players who were, or at least had been previously, in the NUFC first team squad – Rolando Aarons, DeAndre Yedlin, Achraf Lazaar, Christian Atsu, Andy Carroll, Henri Saivet, Florian Lejeune and Yoshinori Muto.
My argument isn’t that all, or even any, of these players should have been kept. Instead, it is simply a fact that this is the kind of transfer business that had to be done in terms of numbers coming in, over the course of those two transfer windows.
The cluelessness, neglect and couldn’t care a less attitude of Mike Ashley, assisted by Steve Bruce, ensured that Newcastle United were in no fit state to take on this 2021/22 Premier League season. A relegation battle was guaranteed.
The thing is as well, this wasn’t something that had happened out of the blue either, at least not for the fans. The vast majority of supporters had seen what lay ahead unless drastic action was taken.
Mike Ashley had relegated Newcastle United for a second time in only eight years and then when so lucky to have Rafa Benitez knock on his door and offer his services after leaving Real Madrid, Ashley made him all kinds of promises in terms of backing, to get the Spaniard to sign a three year contract. Over the course of that three year contract, Mike Ashley starved the manager of realistic funds, with not a penny of net spending allowed over the course of Rafa’s time at St James Park. This ensured no foundations could be put in place, no long-term planning. Rafa Benitez had needed to rebuild a pretty much entirely new team to get out of the Championship and then after promotion, was forced to rely almost entirely on loans and bargain buys to get Newcastle United to survive. It was fire fighting all the time for Benitez, short-term sticking plasters to do a job to enable NUFC to crawl through and survive another Premier League season, which was basically Ashley’s complete plan whilst owning the club.
When Rafa Benitez was finally allowed a progressive ambitious (by Mike Ashley standards) signing, £20m Miguel Almiron arrived on 31 January 2019 and helped allow the manager to play a better more progressive style of football in most games, providing the pace and the spark for Newcastle United to end the season with the fifth highest amount of points AND fifth highest number of goals, in the final 16 Premier League games of the 2018/19 season.
Despite having had to do everything on such a tight budget, Rafa Benitez now had something coming together that looked like it could see real progress at Newcastle United finally. All he needed was the proper backing from the club’s owner and finally some realistic net spend to add the essential quality players that had been needed for so long. Players who now could help Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United continue this momentum that had been achieved on such a tight budget. The last 28 Premier League matches of that season under Rafa had seen Newcastle have the eighth best form in the league, so this wasn’t a handful of games fans were basing optimism on.
Instead, Mike Ashley forced Benitez out, in order to do things his way. Which meant having him (Ashley) deciding which players were bought and having a low level stooge / patsy of a Head Coach, who was so desperate to get a job he wasn’t good enough for, he would take it with any conditions attached.
Steve Bruce came in and only six days later Mike Ashley paid £40m+ (Ashley says it was £43m) for Joelinton, the answer to Newcastle’s needs up front. Despite the Brazilian having absolutely no proper goalscoring pedigree / CV.
Thirty months and eight nine Premier League appearances later, Joelinton has scored seven PL goals and got five PL assists. In many ways he has been playing a lot better under Eddie Howe in a more withdrawn midfield role but whatever way you look at it, it was a disastrous signing from the point of view of what Newcastle United needed (goals and creativity) and still need, plus with regard to the overall finances and other spending allowed under Mike Ashley.
Indeed, the overall transfer business in the Mike Ashley / Steve Bruce era has been an absolute shambles.
A lot of the Ashley / Bruce signings were not Premier League first team regular level – Krafth, Hendrick, Carroll, Gillespie, Bentaleb, Rose, Lazaro, Fraser, Willems (looked decent going forward but couldn’t defend)
Remember this is after Mike Ashley had not allowed Rafa Benitez any net spend over the course of over three years, so we have these five transfer windows in the Ashley / Bruce era to help correct that crushing lack of investment in Newcastle’s future AND the immediate health of the current squad moving forward.
That leaves us with four signings from the Ashley / Bruce era, who hopefully can have some real positive substantial impact.
Joe Willock arrived from Arsenal having scored one goal in 40 Premier League appearances and then out of the blue, scored eight in 14 PL appearances for Newcastle United on loan. His overall play wasn’t anything special, ok but nothing better, but he scored his eight goals from only 17 shots / chances. Not saying Newcastle definitely shouldn’t have bought him but relying on him as the only signing in the summer and expecting goals based on such a small purple patch, was always a massive risk. Willock has been really poor this season and never looked like scoring. You have to have some hope he can show he is a Premier League player but it is just hope, not expectation.
Then you have Jamal Lewis. Steve Bruce paid £15m for the Norwich defender and then in the final eight months of his time as Head Coach didn’t give Lewis a single PL start. Something the NUFC media absolutely failed to take Bruce to task on. In his four games (injured very early in the Liverpool one) under Eddie Howe we have been given some encouragement that there is a player there, so we have to wait and see. Whether Lewis has any real long-term future at NUFC and / or will become a Premier League regular is though very much in the balance.
Which brings us to the two success stories, relatively anyway.
Allan Saint-Maximin is frustrating at times, a lot of times, but is still by far Newcastle’s best player. Amusingly though, you get a vocal minority of Newcastle fans who think he doesn’t deserve a place in this current NUFC first team because he is supposedly unreliable. Imagine that, leaving ASM out at the present time????
ASM isn’t the finished article and in his first two seasons he managed only three PL goals and four PL assists in each of them, plus had injury issues meaning he started only 42 of the first 76 PL games. However, involved in all 21 PL games (starting 20 of them) this season, the Frenchman has scored five PL goals and got three PL assists. Directly involved in eight of NUFC’s 21 PL goals this season and yet again at Leeds he was Newcastle’s main (only?) threat, denied a clear penalty that could have settled those late nerves.
The final signing is Callum Wilson. A very decent striker, when he is on the pitch. However, Newcastle knew he was injury prone when buying him and currently out injured yet again, he is not expected back until March at the earliest and that means, he will have started 37 of the 63 PL matches up until the end of February 2022. He will have turned 30 by then as well and as a striker who relies largely on pace, he was never a signing for the long-term. A good signing nevertheless BUT once again, a ridiculous over reliance placed on such an injury prone striker, by Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce.
Not forgetting of course that we do have the new and improved Joelinton. However, an improved midfield Joelinton who still can’t score or create goals.
Newcastle United fans could see in these past two seasons just how much amazing luck Steve Bruce carried at key moments and how he absolutely fluked the relatively respectable league positions. He oversaw the team’s ability to defend (seventh lowest number of goals conceded in PL in each of Rafa’s two PL seasons at NUFC) absolutely fall apart and the number of goals conceded getting increasingly horrific (from 47 and 48 conceded under Rafa, to 58 and 62 under Brucey). That run of only two wins in 21 games last season was the writing on the wall for fans, whilst at the same time the Newcastle supporters ridiculed for wanting rid of such a great manager.
If you have any doubts about how poor a manager Steve Bruce is and just how lucky he was at Newcastle United, then just ask why absolutely nobody has even considered him, never mind taking Bruce on.
Norwich, Watford (twice), Tottenham, Man Utd, Everton and Aston Villa have all sacked their managers / head coaches this season and I have never seen or heard of a single fan or pundit who has seriously said Steve Bruce should even be on their list of possible replacements, never mind actually get the job. Bear in mind as well, he was a playing legend at two of these clubs, whilst another had already had the pleasure of seeing him in action at close quarters as a manager previously.
Which brings us, at last, back to now.
The new Newcastle United owners having to try and sign players who need to be good enough and ready to go straight into a Premier League first team.
Only this morning I have seen messages such as this one on social media…’The absolute minimum that we need before this January transfer window ends, are at least four more top quality players coming in – a centre forward, centre-back (preferably two), an attacking midfielder and a defensive one, absolute minimum.’
I think it has been excellent business so far and to get England right-back Kieran Trippier and a striker who has scored double figures in each of the last four PL seasons, has been outstanding. This is on the basis that you HAVE to accept that we are where we are.
If these current / new Newcastle United owners had been here for the summer 2021 transfer window, it would be totally different. Three months to make the signings, clubs more prepared to sell because they can then sign replacements, selling Newcastle United to prospective signings on the basis that this is a mid-table club which is ready to now take-off with a number of exciting signings and top six and Europe a realistic possibility if you and others come and join us. Plus, this is our three / five year plan of where we aim / expect to be with your help.
Instead, the Newcastle United owners are trying to persuade some very very good players to join a club that is in the relegation zone with less than half the season remaining. Many players who are used to playing in European competition(s) every season, asking them to join a relegation fight and every chance of no European football for some years, if at all.
I see people saying why don’t these Newcastle United owners just pay whatever it takes to sign whoever.
You can’t run a business / football club on that basis, it is just madness.
Most of the players who would be ideal signings, simply won’t come to Newcastle United in our current position, no matter what money is offered to them or their clubs.
It is reported that Man Utd want a £12m bonus if Lingard comes to Newcastle and relegation is avoided. I have seen journalists and fans saying surely it is a no-brainer to take this alleged deal because staying up is worth more than £12m. However, what if say Newcastle sign another three or four players this month as well as Lingard, whether buys or loans, with those other clubs also saying, well we want another £12m in the summer if our player keeps you up.
It is the same when the media keep saying such and such a club will sell whoever, all Newcastle have to do is pay an extra £10m. Fact is, this month and in Newcastle’s position, there is already an acceptance that NUFC will be paying more for a player than would have been the case say last summer. Yet some supporters say a no-brainer to pay yet another £10m on top of an already top dollar valuation.
A lot of fans would happily see the Newcastle United owners spend £200m in this January window.
Fact is, football is a funny old game and once you step on the pitch anything can happen. Yes, if the owners had been around last summer and spent £200m then, I would agree pretty much zero chance of relegation and an expectation of top eight or better. However, when you are battered and bruised and having won only two of 23 games all season, with only 17 PL matches left, there are no guarantees of anything, no matter how much you spend.
If spending £200m this month, the best case scenario is that relegation is avoided, BUT you pretty much would not be able to spend anything, or very little, in the summer.
Worst case, you have spent £200m this month and have still been relegated. Now with a vey expensive squad on very high wages in the Championship and a massive mess to sort out, even if just from a financial fair play angle.
Yes, I still hope these Newcastle United owners will make one or two progressive buys in these remaining days of January, but it isn’t going to be easy and you have to bring in players who will buy into being at Newcastle United beyond this season, no matter what happens. As Kieran Trippier has done.
I think at least one or two loan deals will happen as well, regardless of any further buys. I also think Newcastle United are capable of surviving with or without any more signings. Though of course every extra credible signing improves those odds.
Anyway, this is not the time for panic. At worst, Newcastle United are at least on a par with Burnley, Watford and Norwich, we only need to finish above three teams and absolutely no reason we can’t finish above these three, even with the current group of players.
Whatever the make up of the Newcastle United Premier League squad is on 1 February 2022, just a case of both players and fans to get their heads right and focus on that end goal of survival this season and then we can all dream of moving on to better times ahead.
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