MOST football managers, it seems, are like students. It does not matter how much notice you give them, how much time they have to carry out a project, it still always seems to boil down to a last-minute scramble.
To all intents and purposes, the Premier League transfer window opened on May 23, the day after another top-flight season was put to bed. It adds up to 101 shopping days, yet with less than 48 hours left, there is still much to do.
It all makes for another busy Jim White Day, as Sky Sports News will surely soon petition for August 31 to be renamed in honour of the patron saint of over-excitedness. Managers really shouldn’t encourage him.
Sunderland thought they had got everything done nice and early. All nine of their senior signings were made before the start of pre-season.
The door was never closed on new faces – manager Steve Bruce is, after all, one of English football’s shopaholics – but if that was that, then so be it. Then along came a new season to ruin everything. Having been adamant a couple of weeks ago that four strikers were plenty, suddenly Bruce wants six.
Newcastle United have never had such a false sense of security. Even before Joey Barton tweeted his way out of St James’ Park, it was clear there was work to do.
Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux, Mehdi Abeid and Demba Ba arrived in a flurry of early-summer business before the Black Cats ushered anyone through the door.
Then, like a long-distance runner who goes off too quickly after the gun, they ran out of steam. Only Gabriel Obertan has joined since, for the loss of Barton, José Enríque and Fraser Forster (on loan).
Moves for Kevin Gameiro, Mevlüt Erdinç and Neil Taylor were played out in public, making their failure more embarrassing.
The irony is the Magpies have started the season more encouragingly. The pitfalls, however, of reading too much into a couple of weeks’ worth of early-season form are massive, which is why there will not be any Milton Keynes Dons fans mentally sketching out plans for next season’s Championship trips to White Hart Lane and the Emirates.
The opening weeks have hidden the most glaring imbalances in both squads, Ryan Taylor’s set-piece heroics making light of his defensive failings on the left, and the absence of a genuine left-winger at the Stadium of Light paling into insignificance alongside an alarming inability to put the ball into the net.
Part of Pardew and Bruce’s jobs will be persuading those who hold the purse strings to release their grip. The owners are trying to run their clubs sensibly, the managers to squeeze every penny out of them.
It is an indictment of both clubs that the problems they are looking to solve are relatively long-term ones. Bruce knew in December he wanted a left-winger this summer, yet has less players capable of playing there now. He has known he needed a goalscorer since Darren Bent left for Aston Villa in January, a move which provided the funds to sign one.
Bruce has signed two strikers since and re-classified Stéphane Sessègnon as another. Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won are Premier League novices. Bruce knew that when he signed them, just as he knew that in Sessègnon and Asamoah Gyan he had two players capable of breathtaking brilliance and bewildering inconsistency.
Sunderland’s manager said in July he was happiest working with four frontmen. It is a good principle unless two need time to bed in and the other two are Africans in a Cup of Nations season (although only Gyan’s Ghana are likely to qualify).
With time ticking, the Black Cats may be advised to kill two birds with one stone and sign a left-sider capable of playing at centre-forward, as Danny Welbeck did last term.
Craig Bellamy could do the job, but the former Newcastle player’s many suitors are reliant on Manchester City’s generosity to decide his destination, as the wages they have handed the Welshman have put him out of everyone else’s orbit.
In that respect, Sunderland’s poor start to the campaign may help.
Pardew’s problem positions are similarly enduring. It is eight months since Andy Carroll left a gaping hole in Newcastle’s forward line – again with cash to fill it – and you would have to be an eternal optimist to think Enríque would not follow him out at the end of the season.
It is not a lack of planning which has stopped Pardew replacing the pair, more excessive caution on behalf of his paymasters. A man who breezed into St James’ confident of his ability to wrest money out of the tight fists of owners, Pardew seems to be grappling with his frustration as reality dawns. Erik Pieters should have signed by now, but with the deal delayed by constant haggling the noises emanating from Holland yesterday were that PSV Eindhoven have pulled the plug. Hopefully it is yet more posturing.
Newcastle are in danger of taking this “Arsenal of the North” lark a bit too seriously. Owner Mike Ashley has always wanted to see his club modelled on the north London side, but recent events have not been a good advert for that.
Like the Gunners, the Magpies may have to accept they will have to pay a million or two over the odds to land the players they need.
Principles are all well and good, but a left-back and a striker are far more valuable to the Magpies right now.
The first transfer window of 2011 was horrendous for Newcastle and Sunderland, undermining encouraging starts to the campaign. They cannot afford a repeat tomorrow.
How Newcastle United and Sunderland have fared in recent transfer windows.
Major incomings: None
Major outgoings: Andy Carroll (Liverpool, £30m)
Major incomings: Stéphan Sessègnon (Paris St Germain, £6m), Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan, loan)
Major outgoings: Darren Bent (Aston Villa, £18m)
Major incomings: Cheick Tioté (Twente, £3.5m), Hatem Ben Arfa (Marseilles, loan – made permanent in January for £2m), James Perch (Nottingham Forest, free), Dan Gosling (Everton, free), Sol Campbell (Arsenal, free)
Major outgoings: Nicky Butt (released)
Major incomings: Asamoah Gyan (Rennes, £13m), Simon Mignolet (Sint Truiden, £2m), Titus Bramble (Wigan Athletic, £1m),
Major outgoings: Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City, £8m), Lorik Cana (Galatasaray, £5m)
Major incomings: Wayne Routledge (QPR, £2m), Leon Best (Coventry City, £2m), Mike Williamson (Portsmouth, undisclosed), Danny Simpson (Manchester United, loan made permanent £750,000), Fitz Hall (QPR, loan)
Major outgoings: Geremi (Ankaragücü, released)
Major incomings: Matt Kilgallon (Sheffield United, £1m), Alan Hutton (Tottenham Hotspur, loan), Benjani (Manchester City, loan)
Major outgoings: David Healy, Darryl Murphy (Ipswich Town, loan), Nyron Nosworthy (Sheffield United, loan)