There is a theory that Newcastle United will have missed a golden opportunity if Joe Kinnear fails to reinforce the squad during January’s transfer window. It is incorrect.
Surveying that unfamiliar and congested Premier League table, it feels like a big chance to progress has already passed Newcastle by. Jose Mourinho may have called the 2014 version of the top flight a “different animal” this week, but it does not look like one that the Magpies will be taming this year.
The changing of guard is apparent not so much in the names of the teams battling for the title as it is in those chasing fourth place. Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool all made signings this summer – Newcastle did not.
Is it any coincidence that United have failed to cling on to their coat-tails? This year there are 15 points separating first from eighth – six points less than last year and three fewer than the year before. What’s more, a distinct top seven that will battle for European qualification, seems to have emerged over recent weeks. Newcastle aren’t in that group at the moment.
Yet still Kinnear – through his programme notes – force feeds us the idea that recruitment should be limited to “one or two” new faces a year. “Now we have strength and depth in most areas, as well as players within our ideal age range in most positions, our intention for the first team going forward is to sign one or two players per year to improve the squad,” he wrote.
As if he’d know. Aside from the fact that this newly stated policy is the fourth or fifth ‘blueprint’ in as many years (remember the one about the investment in the Academy or the five-year plan to be challenging for every piece of silverware?), it is also indicative of United’s happiness to accept the orthodox.
The other worry is that it is neglecting one of the big successes of the Ashley regime: scouting. United have shown they have the network to spot and entice some of the best players in Southern Europe: why now put a phoney limit on that?
Clubs that don’t invest run the risk of stagnating. A few weeks ago I lauded the idea that by targeting Remy Cabella someone at the club appeared to be intent on evolving a very good group of players. What has happened since? Nothing. Just as in the summer, the worry is that Newcastle’s new director of football lacks the nuance and subtlety to conduct transfer business. If United end January without bringing anyone in, pressing questions about their ability to strike deals will be posed.
Kinnear was said to be in Germany on Thursday, which is a start. Apart from a smattering of games in France and Belgium in the early autumn, his trips have largely been domestic. He has been spotted at Everton, Swansea, the Stadium of Light and St James’ Park – although never at the training ground, which is an interesting development for an executive who was originally told to carry out a comprehensive review of the Academy to ascertain why there was not more of a steady stream of potential first team players coming through (a Mike Ashley bugbear, apparently).
But now is his chance to put the pieces of the Luuk de Jong jigsaw together. The player wants to come, the terms are manageable and there are none of the financial complications that blighted United’s interest in Bafetimbi Gomis: it’s another open goal for Kinnear. It’s time to stroke home that tap-in.