Having preserved their Premier League status for at least another 12 months with five matches of the top flight season still left to play last month, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez would have turned his attentions to who he wanted to bring to St James’ Park to strengthen his squad this summer.
While the Magpies boss may still not know what his transfer budget is going to be with owner Mike Ashley’s future – and even his own – potentially up in the air, it shouldn’t have stopped him identifying targets from the soon-to-be free agents list in the Premier League, and there are plenty of names available on there that can strengthen the Tyneside outfit.
The fact that they have lost four successive matches since they surpassed the magic 40-point mark shows that they need to add more experience and quality to the squad, and they can do that without spending any money in terms of transfer fees.
One of the positive things about signing a player for nothing is that you have more room for manoeuvre with wages, and that may well be the case should they go after a move for Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure.
It was announced last month that the 34-year-old is leaving the champions when his contract expires at the end of the season, and there is no doubt that he would add some quality and experience in the middle of the park for the Magpies.
While his wages could be an issue – he will likely have to take a cut on his current £220,000-a-week deal if he is to join a club like Newcastle – the fact that his agent says he is willing to pay back half of his wages if he doesn’t perform up to standard is also a good sign.
It means that the Ivorian will be motivated and determined to impress, while his agent also added that he is keen to prove that he is still one of the best in his position in the Premier League.
Elsewhere, if Benitez wants to take a look at players from the clubs that have been relegated from the top flight this season, the likes of Glen Johnson from Stoke City, Gareth Barry from West Bromwich Albion, and Oli McBurnie and Ki Sung-Yueng from Swansea City would all be viable options.
The former two would bring the experience that the manager has often called for, while McBurnie is only 21 years of age and has made a big impression while on loan at Barnsley during the current campaign – he netted nine goals in 17 appearances for the Championship strugglers.
Meanwhile, Ki can be very good on his day, but he perhaps hasn’t had that day enough when he has featured for Swansea over the course of this season especially, and he would need to make a big improvement if he was to be in contention to start for Newcastle in the middle of the park next term.
Out-of-contract Southampton right-back Jeremy Pied would provide some strong competition for DeAndre Yedlin where perhaps Javier Manquillo hasn’t, and the same could be said of Crystal Palace’s Martin Kelly.
He isn’t the only Eagles player that could do a job for the Tyneside outfit in the 2018/19 campaign, with Bakary Sako, the versatile Joel Ward and a familiar and potentially controversial name in Yohan Cabaye all available for free.
If Benitez is looking for a more experienced partner for captain Jamaal Lascelles – Toon fans have reacted on Twitter to rumours of a £25m summer exit for the 24-year-old – in matches where the Toon will come up against more of a physical threat, then Leicester City’s Robert Huth would be another strong character to add to his backline.
Signing free agents may not always be the right answer, but if Benitez doesn’t have as much money to spend as he would have liked this summer but still chooses to stay put, he knows there are plenty of free options close to home that can strengthen this Magpies squad.