NEWCASTLE United's need for senior reinforcements has intensified after their appeal to Uefa to play their Europa League play-off first leg at St James' Park was thrown out - paving the way for a testing first week of the season.
Despite making a case to Europe’s governing body, United confirmed yesterday that they will face Greek side Atromitos in Athens on Thursday week, a tie that is sandwiched between tricky games against Tottenham this weekend and a lunchtime kick-off against Chelsea seven days later.
It is a situation that will please Atromitos owner Giorgos Spanos, who had objected to the venue switch and has warned Newcastle that his club’s supporters will “respond to the call” of their biggest European tie.
It will also strengthen Alan Pardew’s case that he needs reinforcements on board before the start of the season – a situation that should change in the next 48 hours with Vurnon Anita on Tyneside to start discussions over a £6.2million transfer to St James’ Park.
United agreed a fee with Ajax on Saturday and now hope to agree terms on a five-year contract with the 23-year-old after a medical. The club see Anita mainly as a central midfielder, but he can play left-back, which fits in with the club’s contingency plan of moving Davide Santon to right-back if they need support there over the course of the season.
Anita was given a ringing endorsement by United goalkeeper Tim Krul yesterday, who said that he would fit in perfectly to the Newcastle squad. “I've played with him since the Under-15 (Holland) squads,” he said. “I think he's ready for a move to the Premier League. His skill in the midfield is good enough for England.”
However, while United look set to sign one Dutch international, they have baulked at the wage demands of Ajax’s Gregory van der Wiel after being given permission to speak to the right-back over the weekend.
The 24-year-old Holland defender was understood to be reluctant to move to the North East but did begin discussions with Newcastle over a transfer – only to ask for way over United’s wage ceiling of around £40,000 a week in wages. The van der Wiel development may yet lead Newcastle back to Mathieu Debuchy, who remains keen on a move to Tyneside.
Newcastle refused to meet Lille’s asking fee earlier this month, citing the player’s age as the reason why they would not raise their bid by an extra £1million.
But there may yet be room to manoeuvre in that transfer – especially as United still have a chunk of an estimated £14million that Mike Ashley set aside for transfers at the start of the season. They still retain a serious interest in Andy Carroll, too, but that transfer has been mothballed until the end of the transfer window with neither the player nor Liverpool certain about where his future lies.
Perhaps a more pressing issue is United’s first week of the season, which has been made more testing by Uefa’s decision not to grant Newcastle’s request to switch the away leg of the tie from next week.
Atromitos president Spanos explained that his club would not benefit from any potential switch and is hoping for big crowd at the first leg of the tie.
“We made a lot of efforts so that our stadium will fulfil the demands of Uefa,” he said.
The second leg will be on August 30, with an 8pm kick-off at St James’ Park.