Can NUFC solve a season’s ills in the January transfer window?

JUST call it the £5.5billion transfer window. That is the eye-watering amount that Premier League clubs will bank from next year when the next tranche of domestic and international TV deals kick in.

JUST call it the £5.5billion transfer window. That is the eye-watering amount that Premier League clubs will bank from next year when the next tranche of domestic and international TV deals kick in.

And it is a slice of that staggering windfall that any relegated team is putting in jeopardy if they fail to pull their bootstraps up in the New Year.

Don’t think that hasn’t come into the reckoning in the St James’ Park boardroom as owner Mike Ashley prepares to loosen the purse strings to bring in a few stars capable of shaking up this flatlining season.

The Newcastle owner may have sanctioned spending in the January transfer window, but nothing at United happens without some sort of financial logic behind it. And this time, it is the game-changing amount that the club might miss out on if they are dragged into a relegation battle that they are ill-equipped for.

To put it in some sort of context – from 2013-14 the Premier League’s bottom club is guaranteed at least £60million. The winners of the league are in line for £100million, sums that dwarf what is on offer to anyone trying to climb out of the Championship.

There are, of course, parachute payments to protect relegated clubs, but they are not unlimited. It is easier to act now and preserve your status in the Premier League than play the second-tier lottery and try to achieve promotion with the clock ticking.

Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that 18 of the Premier League’s 20 managers have expressed a desire to spend money in January. The other two are Andre Villas-Boas, who was brought in with the express intention of ending the churning of players that Harry Redknapp oversaw at Tottenham and Sir Alex Ferguson, whose Manchester United look very comfortable at the top of the Premier League.

Of the rest, recruitment is firmly on the agenda. The idea seems to be that you can change the course of a season with a good January and the evidence would back up that assertion.

Last year, Newcastle made one addition in the shape of Papiss Cissé and it provided the impetus that propelled them towards the Champions League places. But it was an opportunist swoop by the club, who had heard a whisper that the player was bound for Fulham and already travelling to England for talks.

They spied Freiburg’s predicament and launched a counter offer that landed their man for £4million less than the club had demanded in the summer. His worth immediately eclipsed the £9million they paid – and it went on a sharp upwards curve in the following three months.

As a method of doing business, it was pretty much Newcastle’s dream transfer, and they have been trying to replicate it ever since.

The club are likely to have to change that policy this January. In an illuminating revelation in The Journal’s sister paper the Evening Chronicle yesterday, Alan Pardew admitted to mistakes in the summer. “Myself, Mike and Derek all agree we should have brought one more senior player in. For whatever reason it did not happen,” he said – in reaction to a supporter’s question.

“The owner has great faith in my ability and I have to reward that with what I think when we have made an error and say we have made a mistake. He accepts that and as a team we have to learn from it.

“Myself, (chief scout) Graham (Carr), (managing director) Derek (Llambias) and Mike (Ashley) needed another player in and we did not get him but it is not Graham’s fault, Derek’s fault, Mike’s fault or mine – it is collective thing and we have to take that all on the chin. We got that wrong.”

It is a candid admission, but it does not touch on Newcastle’s biggest problem – their unwillingness to pay a penny over what their estimation of a player’s value is.

This is what prevented them from landing Mathieu Debuchy in the summer, although the club will point to Lille’s unreasonable way of doing business.

It is a problem that they seem to have experienced less in January, when they have traditionally targeted players reaching the end of their contracts.

Indeed, The Journal understands that the club have a detailed database of players’ contract details, compiled through a network of contacts who often reveal clauses that aren’t widely known about.

The big question is whether it will be enough. History suggests it will, but Newcastle’s modus operandi is usually to strengthen in a position of strength. They signed players in the Championship promotion season and last year, when they were performing well. With the rest of the team in good form the new additions slotted in seamlessly, perhaps benefiting from the confidence of their team-mates and also a lack of urgency that they needed to hit form immediately.

This time around, they will be coming into a team low in mood and with the expectation that they will hit the ground running. It is not always that easy – for every Papiss Cissé there is a Davide Santon or Vurnon Anita, who might take time to settle in.

When United were struggling in 2008-09 they signed Ryan Taylor, Peter Løvenkrands and Kevin Nolan. All three went on to have good Newcastle careers but could do nothing to alter the course of that campaign.

The difference this time around is that Ashley has made serious investments in the scouting department, which is headed by the wily Carr.

He has an idea of the rhythms of a football club and will know whether players are capable of making that immediate impact – those who might require time, like Romain Amalfitano, and will be quietly filed into the “players to monitor” pile.

Those that remain will be expected to hit the ground running. Ashley, the arch pragmatist, knows there is a lot riding on it.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer