Newcastle were the surprise packages of the Premier League last season, putting the naysayers to shame with their fifth-placed finish, a huge achievement considering the resources available to their rivals. This summer represents a real fork in the road in terms of the club’s future development, but are they dragging their heels too much in the pursuit of a good deal?
The transfer policy at the club is clear for all to see, buy cheaply, or at a reasonable price at least, emerging talents from all across Europe, play them and then sell them on at a much larger price. Manager Alan Pardew has often spoken that if a serious and big bid comes in for one of his star players, the likelihood is that they’ll be allowed to move on – it’s a pragmatic approach, but one that’s paid dividends so far.
Nevertheless, so far this summer, the club have only recruited 22 year-old French midfielder Romain Amalfitano from Ligue 2 club Reims who could be considered a member of their first-team squad next term. The signings of Gael Bigirimana and Curtis Good have been done more with one eye on the future.
The mini-transfer saga on Tyneside this summer has been the will-he, won’t-he deal involving France international and Lille right-back Mathieu Debuchy. From the face of it, it looks as if the player is desperate for the move, which will see him reunite with former team-mate and friend Yohan Cabaye, not to mention a number of other fellow countrymen to continue the French connection at the club.
It appears as if the two clubs are still haggling over a fee, believed to be in the region of £7m, which seems a very fair price to someone of Debuchy’s calibre and pedigree, but the proposed deal has been up in the air since shortly after Euro 2012. Would it not be best for Newcastle just to give Lille what they are demanding for the player so that they can focus their attentions elsewhere?
Many players at the club performed out of their skins last term, as likes of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa all had periods of excellent form. There is the basis of a very fluid, potentially excellent attacking side there, with the rock solid central midfield partnership of Cabaye and Tiote backing them up further back, but the squad still requires strength in depth, particularly with a Europa League campaign this year.
Pardew has spoken of his ambition to utilise the squad’s younger players in Europe this term, as he seeks to become the latest manager to treat the perfectly good competition with a measure of disdain, following hot on the heels of Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp and to an extent Tony Pulis, in a tacit acknowledgement that the club doesn’t have the requisite strength in depth already.
The Europa League is certainly more of an exciting competition that its older sibling, the Champions League, and Newcastle have the potential to go deep into the latter stages if they take it seriously, but they require strengthening, at the back in particular, which is what makes the links to FC Twente centre-back Douglas so understandable.
At the moment, the club is essentially banking on their best players last year repeating their form this coming season, which is a risky approach to take as they seek to prove that last year was more than just a blip. Which is what makes the fact that they simply allowed Luuk De Jong to move to Borussia Monchengladbach this summer for a fee around £12m baffling. He would have supplemented the existing forward line excellently, providing a different alternative to the more powerful stylings of Ba and Cisse.
Vurnon Anita is another player that the club are stalling over, as they’ve failed to meet Ajax’s £7m asking price for the versatile utility man, capable of playing in central midfield and at left-back. It’s players like the Dutchman which help a club in Newcastle’s position kick on and stabilise themselves in the top eight for future Champions League tilts.
There is obviously money available, hence the very public pursuit of former target man Andy Carroll, and they are thought to be readying another option, but to my mind at least, moving for the Liverpool striker would represent a backwards step. They’ve grown as a side since then and their style of play is far easier on the eye without the temptation to lump it up to the big man and I’m not sure he warrants selection ahead of either Ba or Cisse at present, which given the nature of his fee, would dictate regular football and the benching of someone else.
The goalposts have moved and expectation has grown, but they need more quantity and quality within the ranks to truly trouble the league leaders next season. So far, they’ve shown themselves to be tough negotiators, willing to walk away from a deal if it doesn’t suit their financial interests, which is an entirely admirable approach to take in some instances. However, sooner or later they’re going to realise that they’ve narrowed their options to such an extent that they may have to compromise on quality or be forced to pay over the odds in desperation.
I’m not for one second suggesting that they gamble the club’s financial future away by paying hugely over what a player is realistically worth, but they’re in the big leagues again now and selling clubs now know that they have more money to play with in the past. Their transfer policy may have to be tinkered with or they are in danger of getting left behind through sheer stubborness, which would be a great shame at this pivotal juncture. Playing hardball is fine, but not when it threatens to compromise the club taking advantage of a great opportunity, and with room to manoeuvre at the top of the league, they must strike while the iron is hot.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1