In typical Newcastle United fashion, villainous owner Mike Ashley finally loosens the purse strings and spends around £50m in the summer, only to see the plans largely fall flat on their face.
Judging this new project less than six months in is perhaps unfair, due to the nature of the Toon’s position at the end of last season. Having only retained Premier League survival on the final afternoon, it may have been too big an ask to launch an attack on the top eight after just one summer.
There have been some bright spots; the wins over Norwich, Liverpool and Spurs, the draw with Chelsea and the first half against Manchester City. However, as always with the Magpies, there have also been some pretty dire straits this term.
The second-half capitulation at the Etihad, the annihilations against Leicester and Crystal Palace as well as yet another derby day defeat instantly spring to mind. Murmurs of training ground bust-ups and unhappy players are thrown in for good measure too.
Still, Steve McClaren’s side are not dead and buried yet. He has a core group of young players who have struggled to adapt, but should not be written off. The need to ‘buy British’ has been the subject of discussion recently, to install a stronger backbone to the team who often crumble in the face of adversity.
There are six months to save Newcastle United. Should they buck their ideas up and retain their status in the Premier League, this project can find its feet and grow. However, should they succumb to a second relegation during the Mike Ashely era, the North East giants run the risk of freefalling through the Football League.
No pressure then.
With that in mind, here are three ins and three outs for Newcastle United this January…
Without Jack Colback, the Toon Army lack a ball playing midfielder to help dictate the game. While Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey is barely the coolest of heads, he does offer a wide range of passing and physical presence in the engine room.
The former Liverpool man has been linked with a move to St. James’ Park recently, amid his own struggles in Wales. Newcastle are crying out for class, but more importantly someone the fans can turn to. A player who wears his heart on his sleeve and will do his best when the going gets tough.
Shelvey provides that in abundance.
Chancel Mbemba has the raw tools to be a top defender one day, though the 21-year-old is still prone to a rash decision. Fabricio Coloccini has been a good servant on Tyneside, though has recently become more hassle than he is worth and should be sold at the end of the season.
So, McClaren needs a new centre-back. Cameroon star Joel Matip was linked with a move in the summer, and reports suggest he could be interested in making a switch next month. The 24-year-old fits the criteria those behind the scenes in the North East look for when buying a player: young, talented and a huge resale value.
Matip is a solid defender in a respected league, with a decent amount of experience in both international competition and the Champions League. He can organise a defence and lead from the back.
Newcastle should make a move. Though it may be a tad too logical for the club…
Saido Berahino is a target, though it’s hard to see that deal coming off in January amid interest from the likes of Chelsea and Spurs. However, a move for another English talent could be more feasible for Newcastle next month.
Andros Townsend looks set to leave White Hart Lane after being frozen out of the picture, with the Magpies thought to be hot on his heels. The arrival of the 24-year old would help balance out McClaren’s squad going into the business end of the season.
While Moussa Sissoko and Florian Thauvin tend to be the go-wingers, the French duo blow hot and cold.
Should Townsend arrive, he affords the team the talents of a natural wide option, as well as the ability to cut inside and act as a supporting forward.
Star turn Giorginio Wijnaldum could then be placed more centrally, or even further back and become a box-to-box midfielder rather than a makeshift left midfielder.
Despite his mini renaissance as a holding midfielder, French winger Yoann Gouffran looks likely to return to France this winter. The 29-year-old has lost his place in attacking positions amid the summer arrivals and is reportedly a target of Lille’s.
Entering the final 18 months of his deal at St. James’, the former Bordeaux man should be shipped on as soon as a suitor has been found. He’s been a decent signing, arriving for around £2m and scoring some important goals, but not in the club’s plans going forward.
Should Jonjo Shelvey arrive, Ivory Coast bruiser Cheick Tiote will be even further down the pecking order. Vurnon Anita is already preferred to him in the anchor man role, and the England star’s arrival would only alienate him from first-team proceedings at a greater level.
MLS side New England Revolution are said to be lining up a January bid for the 29-year-old. The Ivorian seemed to be a gem when picked up in 2010 for a small sum, but has tailed off since that promising start.
Where he once was an imposing defensive midfielder to snuff out attacks before their inception, his challenges now have turned to more petulant efforts resulting in needless yellow cards.
With 18 months left on his deal, the former FC Twente man should be sold if reinforcements are found.
Not a nice thought for Toon fans, but the departure of young Spanish wizard Ayoze Perez is a realistic possibility next month. Both Spurs and Manchester United are understood to be casting their eyes over his situation in the North East, with a £15m bid next month prepped.
For a player they plucked from obscurity for around £1m, a fee in the bracket of £15m could prove too tempting. Though this is a project, the club must be realistic and accept top outfits will swoop for their players at some point. Getting a relatively big fee in the winter could help fund replacements to round out the squad heading into the closing stages of the season.
It would not, of course, be a nice situation to be in, but as the bigger teams circle, the Toon should be bracing themselves for a big money bid.