Another transfer window promises the same old storylines for the North East’s Premier League football clubs.
It is a sign that while the Magpies largely got things right in the summer transfer window, the Black Cats got it spectacularly wrong.
One thing has changed, though. Joe Kinnear was under intense pressure in the last window, but this month the spotlight will shine brightest on his opposite number, Stadium of Light director of football Roberto De Fanti.
Kinnear was castigated for his lack of window work in the summer, while De Fanti was praised for the volume and speed of his recruitment. The mid-season Premier League table has cast those assessments in a different light.
The English fascination with directors of football centres around control. That De Fanti’s first signing of 2014, left-back Marcos Alonso, came straight from Gustavo Poyet’s old Brighton and Hove Albion shopping list suggests the coach is in charge of business. The arrival of Liam Bridcutt and/or Will Buckley from Falmer would only strengthen that view. After the mess De Fanti made last summer, signing 14 players most of whom successive coaches Paolo Di Canio, Kevin Ball and Poyet did not appear to rate, reducing the former agent’s power would be a wise move. Either way, he cannot afford another bad window.
Kinnear is hardly on solid ground either, but he will not be seriously tested until the summer when the time comes to permanently sign Loic Remy or his replacement. For now, another month of inactivity would not be the worst thing in the world, so long as it applies to major outgoings as well as incomings.
As has often been the case at St James’ Park in recent windows, keeping star players like Yohan Cabaye and Tim Krul is as important as adding to them.
A stronger supporting cast would do no harm, however. Alan Pardew can say what he likes in public, but what Newcastle’s manager thinks of his squad was writ large on his Christmas team-sheets. After Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, Pardew complained about “heavy legs”, adding “with this programme we’re on you’re always struggling”.
Three games in a week is a big ask, but six of the top eight clubs have started 17 different players to cope with it, whereas Newcastle and Liverpool relied on just 13. It tells you what Pardew thinks of his fringe men. More depth is needed to sustain a European push.
Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux’s Tyneside careers seem to be nearing an end, so another winger would provide much-needed options.
Pardew must decide if he can revive Papiss Cisse’s goalscoring instinct, or if the Senegal striker is heading for the same fate. If so, it is better that Newcastle cut their losses and put a bit of money into the transfer pot. Likewise, is there any need to keep Gutierrez, Obertan, Marveaux, Gael Bigirimana and Dan Gosling – who could make his loan at Blackpool permanent – if the manager is reluctant to use them? A loan has been mentioned for Steven Taylor, but with Fabricio Coloccini picking up another injury, it would be risky to let him leave, even temporarily, without getting anyone else in.
With Cisse a shadow of himself, Newcastle already look a striker light, and the lingering fear is that Remy will go looking for greener grass at the end of an impressive season-long loan. West Brom’s Shane Long has been mooted as a possibility but there will be no shortage of suitors. The same can be said of Bafetembi Gomis, whose demands stopped him arriving in the summer. Remy Cabella is another Newcastle have looked at, and while the 23-year-old can play wide, Montpellier have almost exclusively used him centrally, in a Cabaye-style role.
As for Sunderland – what do they not need?
There are too many faults to address mid-season, so Poyet needs to make the “three or four” signings he talks about count. As in the summer, De Fanti has at least been quick off the mark, with Alonso teed up before the window even opened.
Sunderland also need wide players, with neither Adam Johnson nor Emanuele Giaccherini stamping their authority on the season; goalscorers, with Steven Fletcher, Jozy Altidore and Ji Dong-won looking anything but; and another central midfielder more capable of playing the passing football Poyet insists on, and which Sebastian Larsson, Lee Cattermole and Craig Gardner look ill-suited to. Even back-up goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is expected to be out for a couple of months with a shoulder operation.
That Connor Wickham’s loan at Sheffield Wednesday has been extended until late January suggests that for all his recent Championship goals, Poyet does not see the England Under-21 international as the answer to Sunderland’s problems up front.
The trouble is getting them. The Black Cats will hopefully learn the lessons of the summer and avoid players who need time to bed into Premier League football.
No matter how good an attacking player Ignacio Scocco is, Poyet will know from experience how difficult it is for a South American to adjust to English football.
On the other hand, anyone bought in England comes at a high premium. Targets like wingers Shaun Wright-Phillips and Charles N’Zogbia will command hefty wages and relegation rivals Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and perhaps Fulham are likely to throw more money at the problem.
There is bound to be hesitancy on both sides. Good players will be reluctant to join a club staring into the Football League abyss, and owner Ellis Short must be wary of over-spending in case that is where the team ends up. Pardew must just be relieved that for once the transfer window is someone else’s problem.