After spending half a day frantically switching between Newsnow, Sky Sports and other transfer related media sources in some desperate attempt to find something, anything, Toon related to get excited about on deadline day – I soon realised that I needed to take a step back, chill out and focus my energy on something constructive. ‘What will be, will be’ I told myself.
By 23:00, I was neither satisfied, nor upset. The nerves had calmed and the period of reflection on our summer dealings (or lack of them) set in – followed by an analysis of our squad depth. Much has been discussed about our failure to bring in a recognised quality striker to compete with Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, likewise the lack of action when it came to a central defender or a full-back.
I got talking to a friend, who echoed words allegedly spoken by Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson. It went something like this: “I won’t be doing any business on deadline day. I’ve got a small, tight squad that I can take anywhere in the country and I know they’ll always get on. They are all mates and are there for each other. It does not matter if I don’t always have enough players to fill every space on the bench – my players know that they will all be getting plenty of football, so don’t mind waiting for their chance.”
Yeovil are currently joint top of League 1, despite spending almost nothing. The key to their success? A small tight squad with a few players that can do more than a decent job in a variety of positions. They don’t have massive financial problems because they live within their means – factor in a good manager with a squad who care about each other – and you have the tools you need to succeed. Well well, it seems Newcastle are not alone!
On one hand we can accuse the Toon heirachy of penny pinching, pocketing the profit and gambling with our future. That was my immediate reaction. Having had time to put the emotions back in the locker and take a somewhat neutral point of view my stance has softened. Now don’t go putting me on a fluffy cloud with the dreamers or eternal optimists here. I don’t buy into that blind faith, but it’s fair to point out that the Reality Train was equally as tedious at one point too.
As fans, the main summer priorities were fairly unanimous:
Priority 1: Retain the services of our key players.
Priority 2: Replace Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best with a proven striker capable of standing in for the two Demba’s.
Priority 3: Get some proven competition/cover in for Captain Colo and Steven Taylor.
Priority 4: Sign a quality full back.
Now then, the underlining success story of the past three seasons for us has been without a doubt our squad unity. Relegation meant an end to mercenaries and washed up big names on big money. That approach may have sold an extra shirt or two – but it ultimately drove our club into the red and saw us become a Premier League laughing stock – until we were no longer a Premier League team.
What we have now is a group of players that work for the shirt, their manager, their fans and each other. Ryan Taylor is a classic example. He never knows what position he will be in next, whether that be in the starting line-up or on the bench – but he never moans and he always put in a good shift.
What our top brass and management appear to have learnt is that signing a player is not as simple as watching Youtube for two minutes and handing over £50k a week (take note Mr Wise). For anywhere near that sort of obscene money, you need real quality. You need discipline, a professional attitude, value for money, consistency, team ethic and the right personality. Scouting is not as simple as turning up and watching a game or two. Not if you want a player to fit in with the group and make a difference over a prolonged period of time anyway…
That level of scouting means shortlists are going to be exclusive. Not only do you need all of the above – you need the player to be available at a price that is not going to drive your club into administration five years down the line. Cisse is a terrific example of this. Us fans were left frustrated by the lack of action following the Carroll departure, but look what happened. The resources we had kept us ticking over until the right man became available. We had the money on standby and bang, out of nowhere we had our man. My oh my, how he has settled in.
Yes it’s frustrating that we have not had the incomings that we had hoped for, but I have no doubt that when the right man becomes available at the right price – our club will not hesitate to act. It’s all about the bigger picture. In the meantime lets revisit our summer priorities.
#1 – All of our key players remain in Black & White. Job done.
#2 – If the two Demba’s end up at the ACON, then we have the January window to get somebody in. In the meantime, young Campbell is getting valuable experience as part of our squad. In my opinion Haris Vuckic is a future star, this season he can step up and get himself noticed. He would slot in perfectly for the many occasions when we play 4-2-3-1, just behind the striker. He has a natural instinct when it comes to getting into the right position at the right time and he knows how to hit a ball from distance. He was a bit rusty in midweek against the Greeks, but impressed all the same. The more game time he gets, the sharper he will be. Personally I think we needed a striker this summer more than anything as the Demba’s almost cancel each other out, however we can get by without – for now.
#3 – Mike Williamson will always have his critics, however he played his part in our 5th place finish last term for the majority of our season and is an able back up player. James Perch is better every game he plays and can stand in when required. This is still an area we need to improve, but we have the depth to pull us through on a temporary basis when the inevitable bans and injuries take hold.
#4 – Ah yes, the full-back. How much do we really need one? Ryan Taylor’s injury is a blow for sure, but we have a choice between Vurnon Anita, Davide Santon and James Tavernier to cover Simpson at right back – whilst Shane Ferguson, Anita again and Jonas Gutierrez can all cover left back should Davide Santon get injured. Not to mention Ryan Taylor once he recovers.
Midfield and the wings are absolutely flush with players that can fill in all over the place and we can switch from a 4-4-2 to any variety of 4-5-1 that you choose. Personally, I see no problem with 4-4-2 – IF you have traditional wingers that can cross consistently well coupled with a front pair that work for each other. The Villa game demonstrated that we have neither of these things.
Our wingers like to dribble and like to cut inside. They do it well, but that suits a 4-2-3-1 more than anything. Jonas is not a winger, defensive midfielder or full back yes but conventional winger no. Gabriel Obertan has been trying to cross recently and I think Sylvain Marveaux will given time, so maybe it’s possible – but if it is ever going to work then we need to consider demoting Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse to the bench. Shola Ameobi can play in this role as the foil one of the Demba’s, or Vuckic in the slightly withdrawn role. Was letting Leon Best go such a wise decision? In my opinion, we should drop 4-4-2, concentrate on variations of 4-5-1 and watch our flair players take off.
We all talk about our lack of progress on the youth front, but if we keep signing established players in their positions then how are they supposed to get a look in and develop? They need the game time and this season is their time to step up. If they don’t, then we need to seriously invest next summer.
Perhaps our urgency for cover is not so pressing after all. What do you think?