Transfer bargains great for NUFC, but team spirit is at risk

JOEY Barton’s one-man welcoming committee was as uncompromising as any of his on-field exploits this season.

Yohan Cabaye of France
Yohan Cabaye of France
Yohan Cabaye

JOEY Barton’s one-man welcoming committee was as uncompromising as any of his on-field exploits this season.

Writing on his new favourite social networking site, Twitter convert Barton saluted the imminent arrival of Lille’s excellent midfield playmaker Yohan Cabaye with the internet equivalent of a two-footed challenge.

In a midnight post on Sunday he told his 55,000 followers: “Cabaye = happy days...... keep spending. Teams win trophies not individuals Tweeps.”

The thinly-veiled message from Newcastle’s seething number seven didn’t take much deciphering. Bring in all the stars you want, he’s essentially saying, but the success of the class of 2011 has been built on something that money can’t buy – team spirit.

That priceless commodity was behind the barnstorming comeback against Arsenal, the terrific Tyne-Wear derby rout and it underscored all of their efforts to bounce back from the sale of Andy Carroll in those first months of 2011.

So it makes sense that preserving it should be the priority when pitching for new players this summer.

The problem is that while United are prepared to dump one of the men responsible for forging that morale, it creates a potential problem for Alan Pardew.

He has been quick to acknowledge the importance of Newcastle’s dressing room unity this term, but the changes being planned this summer will bring a different vibe to a club sailing on the crest of a wave since the regrouping that followed relegation.

United need players of Cabaye’s ilk to progress next season, but they need to maintain morale just as much. And that is why Pardew will have to tread carefully when he reconvenes his remodelled squad in some six weeks’ time.

Given the speed with which United are moving, new faces with impressive international pedigrees seem certain to be among the group that reports to the club’s Benton training ground on July 4.

Cabaye is the first, but one of two highly-rated Ligue 1 strikers in Kevin Gameiro or Gervinho is likely to have joined the club by the time they return for pre-season.

And with former problem child Charles N’Zogbia also high on Newcastle’s shopping list, there is a very real risk of creating an entirely new dressing-room dynamic when the new season starts.

Clearly, the priority is to bring in good players, and on that front the board have succeeded by snapping up Cabaye in a serious coup. Never mind the fact that he is a box-to-box playmaker of the highest order, the fee of £4.5m represents brilliant business.

United have signed a player being tracked by Arsenal for just £1.5m more than Leicester paid for Sunderland’s reserve-team striker Martyn Waghorn.

That is astonishingly good business, and the fact Newcastle were virtually alone in their knowledge of the release clause in his contract speaks volumes for the networking of United’s top brass – who have firmly planted roots in France over the last couple of years.

But United’s determination to reshape their squad with players imported from Ligue 1 and beyond cannot be the catalyst for team spirit to evaporate next term.

On that front, the Barton contract wrangle is a concern. There were attempts to paint the midfielder as a disruptive influence last week and, while he is undoubtedly a loose cannon, Barton (pictured right with Kevin Nolan) remains popular and valued by team-mates and staff at the club’s Benton training base.

Replacing him with a highly-promising player from overseas may not weaken United on paper, but as a unit it could diminish them to be without a player who has Premier League street smarts and – along with close friend Kevin Nolan – has the happy knack of knowing how to win top-flight games.

One of Pardew’s strengths is his man-management. Most former players speak highly of a man who distances himself from the disciplinarian route, but he will need to keep a beady eye on his group to make sure that cliques aren’t allowed to return to the dressing room.

It is only natural that players form friendships based on nationality, but across the river at the Stadium of Light they will testify to the corrosive influence of the Gallic group of Djbril Cissé, El-Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda on Roy Keane’s Sunderland back in 2008. Ricky Sbragia’s bold decision to sell two of them in the January saved the Black Cats from relegation that season.

Those were poisonous personalities, though, and that is where Pardew will hope his Newcastle squad will differ.

For United’s diligent scouting team have done their homework on the likes of Cabaye, just as they had when they swooped for Cheick Tioté.

The Ivory Coast midfielder has not just turned out to be a good player, he’s been a gem off the field as well. Shy and a little bit retiring at first, he has blossomed into one of the key figures in the dressing room as he gets to grips with the English language.

The same can be said for each of the Three Amigos – United’s Latin trio of Jonás Gutiérrez, José Enríque and Fabricio Coloccini. All have worked hard to integrate and the club has reaped the rewards.

So as United start to spend big on the next phase of Mike Ashley’s St James’ Park project, the club must be wary of team spirit ending up as collateral damage.

While £35m can buy you a lot, the team spirit that has carried Newcastle to this point is priceless.


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