New York, same old problems for Newcastle United’s fringe men.
The emergency loan deadline came and went yesterday without the denouement that Alan Pardew had hoped for. Haris Vuckic and James Tavernier were the two men to depart, both heading for Rotherham United, a team chasing the play-offs in League One.
Steve Evans’ team are a decent bet for the top six of the third tier but make no bones about it, Pardew had wanted higher for Vuckic. He had also wanted to see Gael Bigirimana and Adam Campbell find clubs of the sort of stature that would advance their development. For Bigirimana – once the toast of St James’ Park – a few more months kicking his heels in the under-21 team look likely.
At any Premier League club, what happens in the blood and thunder of top-flight battle will always be the priority and on that front, United are posting healthy returns. Three wins in three – aided and abetted by a Gallic contingent who have scored 17 of their last 18 goals – have nudged the team back into contention for European qualification.
But away from the first team there continue to be concerns about a fringe group that seems to be hitting a collective glass ceiling. Tavernier, Vuckic, Campbell and Bigirimana have all had chances – Pardew formulated a plan for Europe around them last season – but none have made the transition into first-team regular.
Paul Dummett, of course, is the exception. His loan move to St Mirren was a fantastic success and a summer of progress was consolidated by a series of fine performances in the Premier League.
But others who have moved away have found it harder. Shane Ferguson has been in and out of the Birmingham side of late while Mehdi Abeid, currently at Panathinaikos, was on the bench for their last game. There comes a time when Newcastle will have to call time on their careers.
It is worrying that Newcastle were unable to find a club for Bigirimana, a player that they have made a substantial investment in. Just as concerning is the fact that striker Campbell, backed for big things at the back end of last season, has stayed at St James’ Park.
He was offered around – even to League Two clubs in the last month – but the vibes about his short spell at Carlisle were not positive. Again, he will be restricted to under-21 football for the next few months.
Two years ago, Mike Ashley had talked of making the Academy a priority but a plan to invest in the best up-and-coming talent from around Europe has lost momentum. Similarly, we await an official announcement from the club about the Academy gaining Category One status, in spite of assurances from the club that Wonga’s investment will give them the gold standard already awarded to Middlesbrough and Sunderland.
To be fair to Pardew, he tried to clear a pathway to the first team last season and the performances of some fell short of what was expected. Some were allowed to leave, others stayed in anticipation of first team gains. So far, their impact has been minimal.
United should be producing better and the fact that the likes of Bigirimana are stagnating is a worry. That no Championship club came calling for such a player is of equal concern.
Pardew acknowledges the need of his fringe men to be playing. “People say ‘The Premier League must be great when you are winning’. Actually it is exactly the same because it brings about a new set of problems,” he said. “I’ve got players who are not playing now so if we get to the window and we are playing well still with a settled team, they want to play. It is just different problems. I would rather have these problems though and hopefully we continue to have those by getting strong results.
“We are coming into a very important game on Saturday. Norwich was important and this one is the same level.”
Pardew is shying away from questions about where Newcastle can hope to finish this season, but has started to entertain talk of a high finish again. Although he asserted that a top-five finish would be “over-achieving”, he does feel United – on current form – are capable of breaking into the upper echelons of the top flight.
“I would suggest we are one of the few clubs who could break into the top group,” he said. “When I look at Southampton now, and the money they have spent and the form that they are in, they have obviously got a chance. West Brom have got a chance and so have we.
“You would put Everton just above those teams I have mentioned. We are in that kind of group and hopefully we stay in that group.”