By Joe Donnohue
The January transfer window closed this week with Newcastle United having brought in three new faces, all on loan.
Chelsea winger Kenedy, Algerian forward Islam Slimani and Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dùbravka all joined on deals until the end of the season to bolster Newcastle’s squad in their battle against a return to the second tier.
In terms of outgoings, Newcastle saw £13m man Aleksandar Mitrović leave for Fulham on loan after a protracted return to Anderlecht broke down. Elsewhere Jack Colback ended his exile in the U23’s by securing a deadline day move to Nottingham Forest on loan. Meanwhile Henri Saivet was shipped out to Turkish Süper Lig side Sivasspor on a loan deal as well.
Two of United’s younger players in Rolando Aarons and Freddie Woodman also secured loan moves to help them achieve more action on the pitch at Hellas Verona and Aberdeen respectively.
At face value, it appears to have been an adequate window, but when you consider that it took until the 23rd of January to bring in the first new face – three days after Rafa Benítez had hoped to conclude his January business – it is yet another scathing example of Newcastle’s ineptitude in transfer dealings.
Mitrović’s move to Fulham was completed within four hours, having been informed of his move to Anderlecht breaking down at 7 PM on deadline day. This, along with the sheer volume of business conducted on the final day, highlights the fact that business could have been conducted well before the deadline, but for whatever reason yet again, was not.
Newcastle’s Board were again up to their old tricks in the transfer market for the entire month of January. The club stalled time and time again on Benítez’s top targets which they had known of since the beginning of the month, making low-ball offers for players such as Nicolai Jørgensen, before Feyenoord ruled out the Dane leaving the club after becoming fed up with United’s tiresome negotiating. The Board’s bargaining left them haggling over a difference of opinion worth roughly £3m, and ultimately meant they lost out on the player.
A cynic would say that the club never had any intention of placing an offer that had a chance of being accepted, but rather wanted to look as though they were actively pursuing the manager’s targets.
No doubt Islam Slimani is a quality addition, a player with a stellar goals record when he has started for parent club Leicester City, as well as in Portugal for Sporting Clube de Portugal. He brings something different to Newcastle’s frontline which is in need of a huge boost given the current woes of Joselu, Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Pérez.
The concern is that it is too little too late. Slimani is reportedly nursing a thigh strain and is a doubt for Sunday’s crunch match with Crystal Palace. Following this weekend’s fixture, Newcastle will only have twelve games remaining. Slimani is a player with just 241 Premier League minutes this season, and will take some time to regain fitness and match sharpness. Realistically, that only leaves a handful of matches where the Algerian will be at or near his peak, should he be afforded a run of games that is.
Newcastle still have to play seven of the top eight in the Premier League and having gained two measly points from sides in the top half so far this season, it makes for grim reading.
Coupled with the fact that a recognised striker being brought in earlier in the window could have potentially remedied Newcastle’s poor finishing in front of goal against Swansea and Burnley at home, it leaves one pondering plenty of “what if’s?”
It is of course notoriously difficult to buy players in January without paying exorbitant fees, but United will be paying upwards of £4m in loan fees to take Dùbravka and Slimani on loan for five months each. The fact that Fulham and Nottingham Forest will not likely be covering Mitrović and Colback’s wages in their entirety too, means that this comes to quite an outlay. With £8.5m spent on incoming players after wages this January and £3.5m saved in outgoing wages, the total outlay for January is understood to be just £5m.
Ashley’s excuse that all of his money is tied up in stock ‘like wallpaper’ will not wash, especially when it has been well-publicised that his gamble on Debenhams stock failed spectacularly in a ‘paper loss’ of around £13m at the start of the year. Elsewhere, he is more than capable of upping his investment in Goals Soccer Centres, now holding the largest share in the company after purchasing one million new shares.
While Stoke were purchasing Badou Ndiaye for £14.4m, Brighton signed Jürgen Locadia for £15.3m and Swansea were resigned Andre Ayew for £18m. Newcastle meanwhile were still scrapping around in the bargain bin at the eleventh hour before the transfer window shut.
It is a damning indictment on the transfer policy at the club and therefore will be nothing short of a miracle should Benítez manage to maintain Newcastle’s Premier League status past this summer, having been afforded £70m in transfer funds less than his predecessor Steve McClaren.