What appears to be the imminent capture of Alexander Mitrovic from Anderlecht together with the reported links with Chancel Mbemba a week following confirmation of the arrival of Georginio Wijnaldum from PSV last week has definitely raised the mood on Tyneside. We should praise United for pulling these signings over that line we heard so much about for so long under the previous manager. Presuming both Mitrovic and Mbemba are both signed then we can conclude United has made significant progress in what it needed to achieve this window but there is still a lot to do.
I don’t think I’m being greedy or unrealistic (the money is there at SJP) but other signings will need to be made too. It seems the received wisdom that we need to sign another striker, another central defender and a creative midfielder! We continue to be linked with Charlie Austin and last week I had a good nod from a decent source that this was nailed on. As betting was suspended on that transfer not long after I was tipped the wink, it looked like the gen I’d been given was on the money. It might have been. It was given honestly and it’s not my trade to be paid to be right about these things but I do know the shifting sands of transfer negotiations can often overturn what was incontrovertible fact one day into only a possible the next. Nevertheless I’d love to see Austin at United – but the club has to be convinced about his fitness because the last time we spent a lot of money on a striker with a dubious fitness record it cost us a lot of heartache (Michael Owen).
I do think however that were Austin signed it would give us potentially the best attacking options on paper we’ve had since the days of Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy et al. Mitrovic, Austin, De Jong and Ayoze would be four I’d have confidence in, subject to form and fitness but it would be very encouraging. What that would mean for the likes of Cissse and Riviere would be unclear but I do fancy the former will leave United before the window closes as it is inconceivable Ashley would be happy to have a deprecating asset like Cisse soaking up decent wages and not in the first team picture. To be fair, I’d agree. As for Riviere? God knows.
I’m encouraged at the news United is looking for central defenders because last season our defending was painful to watch and it comes as no surprise to learn that only relegated QPR conceded more goals in the Premier League than us. That really needs to be addressed. It’s interesting to learn that we may be back interested in Douglas, who it was reported was on his way to United two summers ago until the goon Joe Kinnear pulled the deal for reasons only he could possibly explain.
So with three signed (hopefully) and others being actively targeted, this could develop into being the most significant period of investment and rebuilding since Ashley has been at the club. It also comes at a time when most other clubs in the Premier League are similarly strengthening. This is not a time to be getting relegated with the massive cash bonanza kicking in via new TV deals.
So far United has drawn players from the Dutch and Belgian leagues and they do fit the profile we’ve gone for i.e. under 26 and with most of their careers ahead of them. Although I don’t ever think the club should put itself into a strait jacket with any kind of inflexible strategy, I do think there is merit in this as I never want to see a time at the club again when Allardyce wandered around the Premier League handing out final pay deal bonanzas to the likes of Geremi, Smith, Viduka and the club losing fortunes and getting little back in return.
Similarly, I’m not too keen on United providing a home for the rejects and cast-offs of players deemed surplus to requirements at the so-called “top clubs”. You really would have to wonder at the motivation of players leaving those clubs and I think we’ve been burnt too many times in the past with players of the ilk of Babayaro, Duff, Smith, Owen who have come here from supposedly more gilded surroundings and barely made an impact.
Whether the purchase of these players from Belgium and Holland means the club is still selling itself as a stepping stone for young players, I don’t know. Like you reading this I’m desperate for United to become the best football club it can ever be by becoming a place that good players don’t want to leave and good players want to join but I’m not blind to the realities of football in 2015. There was a period a couple of decades ago when United looked like it might be edging ahead of the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool and when Chelsea and Man City were twinkles in an oligarch’s and Sheik’s eye but that has changed and the continuing errors and greed of Hall and Shepherd post flotation changed the landscape completely. We squandered that advantage though I don’t think Sir John Hall and Freddie Shepherd will share a supporters’ regret when they examine their bloated bank balances.
Other clubs at that level have got it spot on with their appointments of managers and investment in all kinds of players, academies and infrastructure but at Newcastle United there’s no way we can say the same. That is a failing shared by Hall / Shepherd and Ashley.
It will be inevitable that good players will be pulled from United by those who can offer Champions League football. Any serious professional athlete in any sport will want to achieve the most they can from their careers in terms of achievement and remuneration so when Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye want to leave to join Chelsea and PSG respectively, I can’t really get upset about it. It’s depressing but it’s the real world and as one who watched Waddle, Gascoigne and Beardsley leave their native Tyneside in the 1980s for similar reasons to Cabaye and Ba it is one I suspect we will have to live with. The secret I suppose is to reinvest the money prudently and with no little skill so that we become stronger. That’s easier said than done of course as Spurs (Gareth Bale) and Liverpool (Louis Suarez) have demonstrated.
On the subject of Cabaye, I can’t say I’m heartbroken he hasn’t come back to Tyneside. Not because I don’t think he can’t do a decent job in the PL or that I hold any residual bitterness that he left United for a better offer (Beardsley did the same and I spent his second period at United salivating over his skills rather than sourly upcasting his applause to The Kop) or that I ever swallowed the strike nonsense which was more about Kinnear than many realise. When it was first hinted Cabaye would be leaving PSG last January he was supposedly attracting the attention of Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool. Those clubs have gone nowhere near him and now he finds himself at a club in London (a big plus for him) and working for a manager he knows will love him. Great, I can see the advantages in that for him but where is the professional pride? Where is his ambition? What is his stock now in the game? I believe the accounts linking Pardew to Cisse and Colo but bringing those players in for fees and big wages is classic Allardyce style management. If Pardew wanted to pay £12m for Cisse and Colo (players who aren’t going to get any better and with suspect fitness levels) I’d say take it and reinvest in players with their best years ahead of them. Pardew will ruin Palace and squander their money if he is allowed to manage that way. This is the bloke who wanted Darren Bent eighteen months ago.
News from the US is that we won our second pre-season friendly. It’s no big deal really so
if McClaren is getting to know his players better and they him and his staff then so much the better. If the tour is helping to promote United to a growing football audience over there, then great as well for reasons of business and potential commercial opportunities we will need to develop in order to compete. This is a business reality and to increase the club’s profile and marketability it needs to be done if Newcastle United is to grow and keep up with those around it.
More importantly if the coaching team and players are learning to play the fast passing and attacking game that is being outlined then that sounds very much like the Newcastle United I want to watch. Of course, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating but so far, McClaren is getting the messaging right at least.
Last week marked the first anniversary of the tragic deaths of two of our fellow supporters, John Alder and Liam Sweeney. We’ll long wonder at why those two ordinary Geordie lads doing nothing more innocent than following their football team had to die along with many others aboard MH17. I think their deaths were marked with dignity and I believe the club and we as supporters have done the right thing throughout this last year in commemoration of their deaths at every first team game we played. I think when noting how their deaths have been respected by others we don’t lose sight of the fact that it was Sunderland more than any other club and fans who paid the biggest respect of all. I won’t ever forget that. Similarly, at the Gateshead friendly this pre-season, to a man, woman and child the Gateshead fans were on their feet on the 17th minute. I don’t doubt had United been playing any other club from the NE we’d have had exactly the same response. I would like to think we would have paid the same respects had the roles been reversed.
But now it’s time to move on. I realise this is dangerous territory to pass comment upon and I speak for no-one other than myself but if this 17th minute recognition continues into the new season I suspect it will become mawkish and its observation will become diluted. That should not be allowed to happen. We should draw a line under it.
That’s not to suggest the two lads should be forgotten. I don’t think even an arch-critic of Ashley’s United could find the justification to pull apart the club for its response to this tragedy and it has behaved immaculately throughout.
My suggestion is that on the last home game of every calendar year United marks a minute’s respect for all former players, staff, fans and whoever else who have been connected with the club throughout its history and who are no longer with us. I know for example many of you reading this were brought to St James’ Park for the first times by parents, grandparents who have passed away. I certainly was. Each one of us has our own thoughts and I think that could be captured in a collective mark of respect at a time of the year when families, friends and others are in our thoughts perhaps more than usual. I don’t know but perhaps a lone piper in the centre circle just before KO might capture some solemnity and allow us annually to respect of all of those no longer with us and to do that together in the Newcastle United family. That would obviously include John and Liam.
Back to transfers and all the rest of it. So far we haven’t seen any major departures from the club though there have been stories of Cisse, Tiote, Sissoko, Colo and Krul even leaving. I can see the logic in allowing Cisse and Tiote both moving on because I don’t hear anything about them being offered new deals.
Sissoko is a strange one in the light of new players arriving at the club and what we hear of McClaren’s intended playing style. There were times last season when I’d have happily have driven Sissoko to the airport myself because he went missing in far too many games but well, now with what McClaren seems to have in mind for a fast attacking game, I’m not so sure of the urgency in moving him out of the club. He may thrive with a new philosophy and new team-mates.
I’d also keep Colo. There’s no doubt our Capitano has looked jaded this past season but I guess playing alongside a player as limited as Williamson is going to drag you down after a while. Colo has a year left on his contract and I think there’s a role for him as a senior player in what will be a period of transition with so many new players coming into the first team. I believe it would be wrong to even think about moving Tim Krul out of the club. He was far from at his best last season but injuries and the lamentable form of those in front of him should perhaps excuse him of a bit of a blip. Krul looked like he was developing into a fine ‘keeper a couple of years ago and hopefully he can get back to his upward progress. He may need a new coach to do that.
Have a great week.