TODAY the 20th football transfer window opens. It usually starts with three-and-a-half weeks of speculation and the odd low-key move, before exploding into a few days of much ado about nothing.
Sky Sports anchorman Jim White will almost self-combust with excitement and Harry Redknapp will somehow do more deals than Gordon Gekko on speed despite seemingly spending the entire time leaning out of his car window telling reporters how “triffic” someone else’s players are.
Neither Newcastle United nor Sunderland can allow 2013 to follow the well-worn script.
Like blokes at Christmas, football managers know all year when the transfer window will open, yet still leave it until the last day or two before running around in a mad panic. The buys they bring back are often the footballing equivalents of garage forecourt flowers.
After 30 days’ procrastination, Martin O’Neill signed Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos on the final day of the 2012 January transfer window. Sunderland were desperate for defensive reinforcements last winter, but still not that desperate.
Newcastle’s Alan Pardew only made one signing but got in early, buying Papiss Cissé from Freiburg on January 18. It tipped the balance of their season, as good January buys can.
Already there are encouraging signs both clubs are trying to follow that lead this year.
The window was not even open before talk of Tim Cahill joining Sunderland on loan, and Mathieu Debuchy finally coming to Newcastle. Both should be good signings, but must be followed by more.
Both squads have been neglected in the last two transfer windows. Failure to act again will make the problem worse, and undo the good work of early 2012.
With a bit of good fortune both squads ought to be good enough to avoid relegation even without reinforcements. But with more money than ever on the line – next year’s TV deal will shower Premier League clubs with more cash than even Redknapp could spend (in one window anyway) – it would be nice not to rely on Lady Luck. Besides, clubs with their support should have far loftier ambitions.
In January 2012 Newcastle were in desperate need of a centre-back, and had a right-back whose long-term future lay elsewhere. They did nothing about it and got lucky.
When they were unable to land their top August targets at the cut-prices they hoped, they tried ignoring it again, and their luck ran out.
Sunderland had no left-back, no specialist cover at right-back and desperately needed a few centre-forwards. All that has changed is they need one less striker thanks to Steven Fletcher’s successful arrival.
Both managers would have told you this time last year they did not have enough players, yet more have gone out than in. Neither Pardew nor O’Neill is as enamoured with their squad as they would have had you believe after the last St Jim White Day, in August. In recent weeks both have talked regularly about the thinness of their squads.
Not for the first time this season, Newcastle had to play a Premier League match with only one specialist centre-back on Saturday. No wonder Arsenal’s Theo Walcott enjoyed himself so much. It would be stretching it to say the 7-3 result was predictable, but nobody can be too surprised that only Aston Villa’s defence has been more porous in this season’s Premier League.
You do not need a Uefa Pro Licence to know you cannot go into season after season of top-flight football with only three specialist centre-backs, especially if one – Steven Taylor – is injured as often as he is fit, if not more so.
To do so with the Europa League on top is astonishing when a little more of Mike Ashley’s loose change would have bought Brazilian-born Dutch international Douglas.
Whether Newcastle go back to Twente remains to be seen but Debuchy’s expected arrival, four months after turning their noses up at Lille’s price, shows they are unafraid to swallow their pride.
If losing out on Douglas was costly, missing Debuchy was far more so.
Quite apart from allowing them to deal with contract rebel Danny Simpson, signing the France right-back would have been a powerful statement of intent. Not doing so was its own statement. Is it any coincidence Debuchy’s close friend Yohan Cabaye has not recaptured the form of 2011-12?
If Newcastle have quantity over quality at centre-back, it is similar at centre-forward. Leon Best and Peter Løvenkrands are still to be replaced. They could soon find themselves without two of their three frontmen. Whether Shola Ameobi is heading to the African Cup of Nations is still unclear, and it is anyone’s guess how much longer Demba Ba will be at Newcastle.
Technically, Newcastle have five senior strikers with Nile Ranger and Xisco but players the manager has no confidence in may as well not be there.
That is Sunderland’s problem. Go off the back of the programme and they have 24 senior players, but the reality is rather different.
O’Neill tells The Journal today he does not know if Wes Brown will play this season. In his words Titus Bramble “hasn’t been fit for some considerable time,” although it has not stopped him being pushed out in emergencies.
Fraizer Campbell only seems to be trusted as a last resort, while faith in Ji Dong-won, James McFadden and now Louis Saha looks shakier still.
Take those six out and you have the bare minimum for a team and a full set of substitutes. Three are goalkeepers.
Newcastle’s subs at Arsenal included Mehdi Abeid, Remi Streete and James Tavernier. Reinforcements are not just needed, they are four months overdue.