If Yohan Cabaye was destined to break hearts on Tyneside this January, the least his sale might have done was break the bank.
Consider the following as we sketch the background to Monday night’s £20million agreement between Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle United for the transfer of the Magpies’ classiest midfield operator since Rob Lee: PSG are cash rich and desperate, Newcastle were under no pressing need to sell. Cabaye, for all his intransigence back in the summer, had little option but to submit to Newcastle’s decision with the World Cup looming large on the horizon.
Yet Newcastle sold within a few hours of a PSG delegation arriving in the North East for a fee that was some £5million below the sort of price that might have reasonably been expected. Where was the famous January premium that clubs are supposed to attach to transfers negotiated in this most treacherous of months?
Think, for example, of the price that Newcastle were asking when Arsenal came knocking. Mike Ashley famously quipped that £10million wouldn’t buy Cabaye’s right knee back in August, yet they have raked in only £3million more than the £17million they were telling suitors they wanted back then.
Derek Llambias’ departure in the close season changed Newcastle United as a football club. It would be re-writing history to paint the club’s former managing director as some sort of saint who prompted universal admiration among ardent black and whites – after all, he was the man who brought Wonga to the club, oversaw a name change and banned two newspapers from the Press box.
But for all the contention, he couldn’t half strike a deal. Faced with Liverpool’s last-day bid for Andy Carroll in January 2011, Llambias slammed the phone down on the Reds when they tabled a £30million offer. He could sense the desperation and sure enough, they returned with £5million more.
Even then, Anfield’s negotiators were told that there was no deal unless they paid the full amount up front. “It is about control. We had the control. We knew the Torres deal was there,” he said during an unguarded moment.
Did Newcastle not have the control here too? Paris Saint-Germain were clearly serious enough about the deal to send negotiators over the Channel and they have the sort of riches that Liverpool had at the time.
Yet Newcastle, in their haste to avoid the sort of last day machinations which caused uproar when Carroll left, struck a deal that didn’t seem to have a January premium attached.
Joe Kinnear is the director of football at Newcastle but it is likely he had little to do with this deal. Secretary Lee Charnley will have done most of the negotiations and it is now down to the pair of them to try and-secure a deal for a replacement with the £20million legacy that has been bequeathed to them by the sale of Cabaye.
The bad news for supporters is United might not get one. Newcastle’s transfer policy remains to only add players who will bring value, and they have ended their interest in some targets that didn’t pass mustard after extensive scouting. Wilfried Bony, who wound up at Swansea, springs to mind.
Remy Cabella and Clement Grenier are two names near the top of United’s list, with Newcastle’s main January target now the Lyon man. Land him and United blunt some of the most pressing questions about Cabaye’s departure.
It will not be easy. Ligue 1 clubs know more about Newcastle’s modus operandi now, and they are also aware that United have money in their pockets after Cabaye’s sale.
It is a huge test for a club that hasn’t made a permanent signing since Llambias left.
Cabaye leaves a big hole but Newcastle proved last night there can be life after his departure.
Others, like Hatem Ben Arfa, will get an overdue chance to shoulder the creative burden. First the club’s power brokers must prove themselves.