If there is one constant in the maddening Mike Ashley era, it is that close seasons tend to be fractious, drawn-out and tense affairs.
This is the seventh summer since Ashley launched his baffling takeover and, unlike the January equivalent – which has yielded some noteworthy transfer successes – the close season rarely brings much succour to Newcastle supporters.
You could, perhaps, argue that despite the relegation that followed in 2008, United added diligently in the shape of Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini – both players who have gone on to prove their worth to the black- and-white cause.
In 2011, when United had the benefit of the Andy Carroll windfall, they recruited well as they reshaped the team to turn into a more fluid and fluent force that finished fifth in the Premier League.
Even then they were ultimately foiled in their efforts to bring in a number nine which led to justifiable accusations of broken promises about signing a striker.
The frustration that simmered back then is at boiling point now, but it is worth pointing out that we have been here before.
There is something about summer that doesn’t sit well with Ashley. January’s harum-scarum window plays into the hands of a club that has tended to profit from the mid-season desperation of agents and clubs to wield a bumper pay-day, while the close season, with its long months of political manoeuvring and smokescreens, takes the power away from United.
Faced with these circumstances, Ashley usually instructs his lieutenants not to play the game. Increasingly, that has been the case, and last summer’s roll call of signings was typical of his approach: only Vurnon Anita arrived to affect the first team. Staving off interest in their “crown jewels” was presented as an accomplishment.
This summer is following the same pattern, only with Joe Kinnear thrown into the mix to add a dash of anarchy. Thus far, the ham-fisted Kinnear has been unable to reverse United’s usual summer frustration and faced with so many hurdles, his answer was to approach an old friend for help.
Alas, Mick Harford preferred to keep his knees muddied on the training field – insisting to this newspaper that the role offered was always administrative is interesting given the accusations that Kinnear is employing a quasi- management team – and so Kinnear has been sent back to the drawing board. This is a big week for Kinnear, whose role is looking less and less credible by the day.
He has told Newcastle employees that he “only answers to Mike” in his first weeks in the job, but if his authority within the club is absolute, he cannot ignore the battle for credibility that he is losing by the day.
If recruitment is his job, he needs to get on with it. Selling himself as a man of great football knowledge and a hot- line to the game’s great and good was one thing, but the hard and fast evidence is yet to back up his claims.
He is meant to be a facilitator of deals, but thus far progress has been non-existent on any of the targets presented to him by Graham Carr and Alan Pardew in separate meetings.
His self-imposed deadline of the first week of July passed without activity. Pardew, cleverly, continues to shift the responsibility on to Kinnear for new signings – hinting at the increasing urgency of recruiting a striker over the weekend by admitting the club is a “little light for a Premier League club” in that department.
Just a year ago, everyone was trying to do it like Newcastle. A combination of contacts and a voracious work ethic had made Carr the Premier League’s best-known and most admired chief scout, and United’s sole frustration was that when rival clubs got wind of their interest, it made the target a marked man.
This summer, United’s targets are much less left-field. Bafetimbi Gomis has long been admired by Newcastle – ditto Marseilles forward Andre-Pierre Gignac. Darren Bent is hardly the product of months of diligent scouting work in stadiums across European lowlands.
It certainly doesn’t feel like a Carr short-list, but rather a mesh of Pardew’s wishes and players that are available.
That structure and finesse that used to typify Newcastle’s approach has gone and you have to wonder whether this is a result of Kinnear’s appointment, which has added so much uncertainty to United’s recruitment efforts.
It is not just Kinnear who needs to pull a rabbit out of a hat. For the new- look team of John Irving and Lee Charnley, there is a vested interest in brokering a deal too.
Derek Llambias could be abrasive and hard work for certain agents, and one theory is that the new faces in charge of getting deals “over the line” may be able to work more constructively with some of those who have had their fingers burned.
Given that Willie McKay is working on behalf of Gignac (not to mention Steven Taylor), that might not be a bad thing. While the Scot is not a popular figure on Tyneside, past experience has taught United that they cannot always conduct the “perfect deal”.
United don’t need that right now. The truth is, at the moment any deal would do.