January has rolled round again, which for football fans means only one thing- the transfer window.
It’s well documented that for big clubs, the transfer window is a time in which they can strengthen their teams and attempt to improve before the title race begins in earnest in the second half of the season.
For smaller clubs however – and with Ashley’s chequebook seemingly glued tight I’m classing Newcastle as one – January is nothing but a time of panic. Players who have performed well are attracting the attention of bigger clubs, whilst managers and scouts desperately try to bring in cover should their star men choose to leave for bigger things.
After a strong start to the season, Newcastle have plenty of players in the shop window, and with many of the league’s elite browsing for reinforcements, it would be no surprise if, as with last January, Newcastle ended the month a big player or two lighter. Cheik Tiote, Tim Krul and Fabricio Coloccini are the three names this time round that have been heavily linked with moves away from St James’ and with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United supposedly interested, it would be hard to see Newcastle turning down offers, should they come in.
After a strong start to the season, Newcastle have struggled of late, winning only five points from a possible 24 since the defeat at Manchester City. After showing very impressive early form, the thought of European football next year looked a very realistic possibility, but after this poor run of form, achieving that is looking somewhat more difficult.
The question now is whether Ashley is going to fully back the team, through heavy investment in an attempt to maintain our European ambitions; or whether he is quite happy to have Newcastle sitting in mid-table, floating in mediocrity. Not going to get relegated, but at the same time with no real chance of anything higher than average.
From his point of view, I could see why both views might be attractive. Think about it. If he were to put a substantial amount of money into the club for transfers – say £50m – the result could go either way. Either the team would be strengthened and as a result strengthen out grip on 7th and even pull back ground on the teams above, or the investment could go to waste and Newcastle could continue to lose ground on those around us.
Look at Villa under Martin O’Neill a few years ago. They spent a huge amount of money, buying some of England’s best youngsters in an attempt to break the big four. In his four years there he guided them to three consecutive 6th placed finishes, but couldn’t grab that elusive top four spot. He left under a dark cloud after rows with Randy Lerner, over guess what – lack of transfer funds.
Granted the big four has now become more of a big 6, but the point still stands. To me, at the moment, Ashley sees us as safe – we aren’t going to set the world on fire any time soon, but we also won’t get relegated. He could risk pouring in millions of his own money, but for what? At the moment we sit seventh, and with all of the six teams above us spending considerably every year, it would only be an investment of 100’s of millions, rather than 10’s, that would ever see us break into that top six.
As it is, I think Ashley is more than happy for us to continue as we are- mediocrity. He has an incredible scout in Graham Carr, who has the canny knack of finding players for a few million that later down that line multiply in value. For Ashley, the system works. It Tiote were to be sold this transfer window for example, the replacement – if there was a replacement- would more than likely cost between 3 and 5 million- less than quarter of what Tiote is worth if you believe the papers. It’s a much lower risk scheme than used to be in operation when Shepherd was in charge. If a player that cost a couple of million is a flop, then he can probably be sent back to Europe for a couple of hundred thousand less than what he was bought for, and the club move on to other targets. If united were to pay £10m+ on a player and he flops- it loses the club millions.
Quotes from Pardew and co. are already somewhat starting to mirror the Summer, with Llambias saying on the radio in November that a striker was needed in January. Since then, Steven Taylor’s injury has meant that the priority is now a centre back, but surely if the MD wants a striker then Newcastle get a striker, right? Well according to Pardew, not. The likelihood is then, that we will see one player come in in January, perhaps two should Chelsea or United come knocking for Tiote, but we almost definitely won’t see the likes of Samba of Giroud arriving.
From Ashley’s point of view the gamble probably isn’t worth taking.