If Alan Pardew’s worst fears are confirmed in the next couple of days, Newcastle United will at least be bequeathed a golden legacy from the sale of Yohan Cabaye.
The pressing question that follows is this: will United under the direction of Joe Kinnear squander it? A £25million windfall presents a huge opportunity for Newcastle, but doubts remain.
First things first, a resolution is desperately required. The Cabaye conundrum has hung over Newcastle United for too long. His determination to play in the Champions League again is understandable, but it is now clear that Newcastle’s entire January strategy has hinged on Cabaye’s future.
There is an opportunity here. The club believe Clement Grenier, of Lyon, can add a dash of creativity in Cabaye’s wake but there is also a chance to reimagine Newcastle in the wake of Cabaye’s departure. Can they turn Moussa Sissoko into a more central figure? Can the brilliant but neglected Hatem Ben Arfa now be integrated? And what will this mean for Vurnon Anita?
Those thoughts are before we consider the way the huge injection of cash might be invested. Whatever else we wonder about Newcastle, they still have the diligence and determination of a scouting team headed up by a man who doesn’t get many wrong. Newcastle’s scouting team have a list of exciting targets by formation and system but will they go from planning to execution?
It’s a worry. Newcastle moved nimbly and expertly with the Andy Carroll £35million, taking the club in a new direction by empowering Graham Carr and allowing Pardew access to a crop of gifted and brilliant overseas talents. Derek Llambias proved that he could cut deals.
They had to box clever to do it, though. United were not alone in their admiration of Cabaye in 2011 but they were the only team who knew about his contract clause and their delicate, diplomatic approach reaped superb rewards. This window has also crystallised the genuine concerns about the club’s director of football, who has become an increasingly enigmatic figure.
Whatever problems he was installed to correct, United’s January transfer window dealings were not among them. The club has moved with impressive stealth and conviction over the past two New Year transfer windows, recruiting Papiss Cisse in 2012 before last season’s cross-Channel trolley dash that injected class into an ailing squad.
This window they have been paralysed by cross purposes. The targets have been sourced but it is not clear whether there is the wherewithal to actually do something about it. If Paris Saint-Germain hadn’t forced the issue with Cabaye, Newcastle may well have ended the window without any new arrivals.
The biggest concern is that this is a fundamental flaw in the team that Kinnear now heads up: and that he is completely incapable of brokering the kind of transfer that Newcastle used to pull off as routine.
It is backed up by dispatches from the frontline. There is a whiff of confusion even in the corridors of power about what the club are doing. Simple deals, like the one that was supposed to have been concluded to bring Luuk de Jong to the club, have not yet been signed off. Quite what Kinnear – who was not in Germany, despite reports to the contrary a fortnight ago – has been doing is entirely unclear.
In the midst of all of this, there are just five days until a Tyne-Wear derby that is now one of the few fixtures left in Newcastle’s season that really jumps out at you.
It is also a game that Pardew, whose derby record has become one of the biggest millstones around his neck recently, simply must not lose.
With the transfer window closing only 17 hours before the deadline he will be spared the long, meandering build-up that characterised the Stadium of Light clash, but the rapid turnaround will not make Saturday’s game any less important or intense when kick-off arrives. It is an inexorable fact that Pardew needs a win. His team match or better Sunderland’s in most departments but there is uncertainty, anxiety and an element of anguish about Newcastle’s support that will be transferred onto him if the Magpies don’t get a win.
Norwich are the opponents tonight but Sunderland are on his mind. He said: “The biggest concern for me is losing the player first, and the second biggest concern is that I have the derby on Saturday.
“The timing of that is significantly bad if he was to leave. If he was to stay, it could be great timing. Everything will be clearer on Sunday.” United returned from Abu Dhabi at the end of last week “refreshed” and re-focused, according to Pardew. “I have to say that the mood on the training ground has been really positive,” he said.
“We haven’t got into any of the furore about this (Cabaye) situation because I don’t think you can at this football club.”
As an interesting footnote to Cabaye’s future, there will be an interesting name among the squad that will travel to East Anglia. Adam Armstrong, the England under-19 striker who scored in the Tyne-Wear FA Youth Cup derby, will travel with the Magpies to Carrow Road and Pardew envisages him playing a part before the end of the campaign.
The Newcastle boss said: “He’s a local boy and I’ve taken him away from England to take him to Norwich. There are a couple of little knocks but he definitely deserves to be in the squad anyway. That backs up our policy of trying to get kids from the area into our team and I hope it gives everyone at the Academy a boost.
“I think he’ll get a game before the end of the season.”