A summer of discontent at St James' Park

Newcastle United's transfer business has been chaotic and ultimately ended in failure. Mark Douglas assesses a summer of discontent at St James' Park

Joe Kinnear
Joe Kinnear

It was apparent long before yesterday’s deathly quiet deadline day that Joe Kinnear was adding nothing to Newcastle United.

At 11pm last night we got the final, grim confirmation: Kinnear had failed in the task that was given to him in a London pub back on a sunny afternoon in June.

All of the bluff and bluster about his extensive contacts and exhaustive knowledge amounted the square root of nothing when applied to the complex game of cat and mouse that is the transfer market in 2013.

United added a single (loan) signing and failed to bring in the left midfielder that Alan Pardew had petitioned for. Talk of injecting Premier League experience – voiced by Pardew – amounted to nothing.

It ranks as a personal failure and one for the club as a whole, with Mike Ashley’s judgement in bringing back his close friend exposed as seriously flawed. He has taken counsel from those close to him about Kinnear’s work during the summer – now he must decide whether to act on it.

It is safe to say that Kinnear has found the world of Premier League football has moved on a fair bit since his last experience of it. Appointed in a blaze of self-publicity, he has struggled in a transfer market now dominated by the coterie of agents who attach themselves to overseas players and chief executives who have a background in business rather than the beautiful game.

Kinnear is from a time when managers spoke to managers and he attempted that with Paul Lambert over the Darren Bent deal. Derek Llambias had already been working on the deal at boardroom level, which is how deals are done now.

He didn’t help himself with the inaccuracies and boasts that were not backed up by action. What he did propose behind-closed-doors didn’t come to fruition. There was talk of using contacts to bring in Jermain Defoe but it didn’t materialise. Agents put hundreds of names to him but some – like Braga striker Eder – were injured.

Those in the game have noted a flurry of Newcastle links to players they are not interested in, like strikers Andre Ayew, Jelle Vossen and Brown Ideye. Perhaps some of those agents who had been chased from the door during Llambias’ time had seen the vacuum at Newcastle and decided that there was an opportunity to use the club’s good name again. That is a worry.

On the one deal that should easily have been done, Kinnear stumbled. Ashley was prepared to do a deal for Bent, and Llambias had put in the work to try and broker it. Alan Pardew wanted it too. But when Kinnear entered the negotiations the transfer was thrown into disarray by the director of football’s less-than-impressive work.

The problem is that Kinnear does not fit easily into the scouting world. It is a hard-bitten, contacts-driven environment that is dependent on putting in the long, hard hours up and down French, English or Dutch motorways watching players – and Kinnear has been dropped into it after a long time out of the game.

Newcastle have got Graham Carr to do that anyway, and he’s damned good at it. What they needed was a mover: someone who could out-Llambias Llambias, and negotiate like Daniel Levy at Tottenham.

Kinnear needed to work in the corporate world that Llambias inhabited but from his first moments in the job, he put the club on the back foot with two jaw-dropping interviews.

Llambias was brusque and could be difficult, but Kinnear came at it from a completely different, wholly unrecognisable place. He was difficult to control and unreconstructed, which made life difficult. The interviews he has given have not been authorised by the club, and sometimes have created problems.

It was interesting that there was a brisk “no comment” from Pardew when Kinnear’s assertion that the manager was in agreement that the squad is strong enough was put to him.

To his credit, he’s stayed away from the training ground and hasn’t meddled in first-team affairs at all. But it all rather begs the question of what he has been doing in the three months since he got the job.

Someone who paid witness to his work – a person with decades of experience in football who still has a hand in it – summed it up succinctly: “The guy just hasn’t got it.”

So where now for Newcastle?

They end the summer stronger in the striking department thanks to the acquisition of Loic Remy on a season-long loan. In every other department they have protected their starting XI, which is no great disaster, but it leaves them vulnerable if there are injuries or a player suffers a loss of form.

The club said they were learning from the mistakes but 12 months on it feels all too familiar. There has been no new player uplift and some of the existing players are bound to question the club’s ambition.

Yohan Cabaye should not have made the decision to make himself unavailable for Newcastle, but his desire to depart might be linked to the club’s apparent unwillingness to move up a level. It says it all that other members of the dressing room sympathise with his stance.

Pardew, too, has questions to answer. A summer of speaking about bringing in offensive reinforcements has come to nothing. Does he feel let down?

The real question surrounds the direction of Newcastle under Ashley – if, indeed, there is any now. Sports Direct’s (free) perimeter advertising is a reminder of the owner’s priorities but at least there felt like a plan a year ago. Now? Like Kinnear’s appointment, it is deeply confusing. The suspicion is he is fed up and locked in a loveless marriage with a Newcastle support who have made little attempt to hide their contempt.

Still, the books should look good this year.

The club’s summer spend was £2million, while recouping £700,000 for the unnecessary sale of James Perch. This in the close season when a TV deal worth almost £40million kicked into gear. It just doesn’t add up.

Neither do the enforced cuts the club made in the summer.

One club employee – photographer Ian Horrocks, with 19 years of experience at Newcastle – was made redundant as Ashley shaved the margins again.

It was a sad end to a career underscored by loyalty to his club – just another example of the reality that is Ashley’s Newcastle.

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