Jack Colback signing is a welcome one, but a game changer is still needed

Three years on from Yohan Cabaye signing, Newcastle United still need to discover a game changer - and an identity

Richard Sellers/PA Wire Jack Colback
Jack Colback

On Monday, Olaf Bonales used one of football’s latest buzzwords to explain how Newcastle had persuaded Ayoze Perez to turn down interest from Europe to come to St James’ Park.

“It is a powerful club and they want to put down foundations for a new project,” Bonales – who is Perez’s agent – explained.

Just what that project is remains unclear. Perez’s signing – apparently at the insistence of Alan Pardew, according to Bonales’ quotes – takes Newcastle in a very different direction to the capture of Jack Colback that has so frustrated his former club Sunderland.

Colback is a tidy, efficient whirling dervish of energy in the centre of midfield but when the bile drains from Monday’s signing a question remains: where do Newcastle intend to fit him into their engine room?

At this stage, it’s not entirely clear. Newcastle’s need is for a creative playmaker to fill the gap vacated by Yohan Cabaye and Colback, for all that he rarely concedes possession, has shown absolutely nothing to suggest that he can inject that kind of intent into any kind of Premier League midfield.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle United
Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle United

United were a tactical mess after Cabaye left but the most recognisable formation deployed was a 4-2-3-1. Colback, presumably, would be one of the bank of three if Newcastle go this way again but does he offer significantly more than a Cheick Tiote, Moussa Sissoko or Vurnon Anita in this role? Has it also blocked the path for Gael Bigirimana, whose case of talent interrupted is one of the great Newcastle failings of recent years, from ever having any hope of making an impact?

If he has come in to replace Dan Gosling, then Newcastle have upgraded a squad option but that looks unlikely: Gosling played only when United were desperate at the end of the season and on the sort of contract he has been awarded he has come to play a front-line role.

The logic of the signing is clear: he is free, he adds Premier League experience and there is a significant sell-on potential in the Killingworth-born midfielder. But compare Newcastle’s recruitment drive so far to what the Magpies did in 2011 and there is not the same line of logic that ran through the club’s thinking back then.

It was three years ago yesterday that Newcastle signed Cabaye. It was a capture that changed everything and it was intended to do that: he was the silky-smooth playmaker who was going to alter the way United played. He ended up so successful that he changing the way they approached everything, from recruitment downwards. ‘The Cabaye deal’ – achieved through sleight of hand and almost entirely under the radar – became a watchword in the boardroom for how to do things perfectly.

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Bafetimbi Gomis of Olympique Lyonnais
Bafetimbi Gomis of Olympique Lyonnais

Bafetimbi Gomis might be the next through the door with United suddenly interested in paying the sort of money that they baulked at last year. Has the sheer scale of the rebuilding job encouraged Newcastle to add bodies? Or is this a long overdue recognition that sometimes, you need to overpay?

Newcastle have shown that the dysfunction that prevented them from doing deals has disappeared. But the temporary spike of bringing in new faces should not obscure the wider need this summer to bring in players for a purpose: to turn Newcastle into a progressive footballing team again.

Colback and Perez are a starting point but no more than that. United’s pressing issue remains constructing an identity this summer, and they still have something to prove.


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