With Christian Atsu confirmed as Newcastle’s first singing in the close season, expect this summer to be a busy one for United, as a big overhaul of players will be sanctioned. With some departures also likely to be confirmed soon (Gouffran, Anita), one interesting angle seems to be Rafa’s preference to buy British.
Rafa’s signings so far
With Newcastle facing a tough battle for promotion, and so it proved, Rafa sensibly targeted British players with Championship experience. Plans were built around Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie, who both played key roles in our title win.
With a wealth of European contacts, it is interesting Rafa seemingly wants to buy even more British players this summer. It certainly worked last year, as he also placed great faith in Lascelles, Hayden and Shelvey.
Rafa: Learnt from his Liverpool mistakes?
During his successful Liverpool reign Rafa had a hit and miss record in the transfer market. For every Torres, Mascherano or Alonso, there was an Albert Riera, Aquilani or Voronin. Of course, this is the nature of the transfer market, as Newcastle fans well know. Remember Luque and Boumsong?
However, Rafa mainly looked abroad for his dealings. He often cited better value and a better tactical awareness on the continent. Towards the end of his stint on Merseyside he pushed hard, unsuccessfully, for Gareth Barry and also signed Robbie Keane. This was an early indication that his policy had shifted; he needed players ‘who got it’ and could carry the pressure of playing for Liverpool and stand up to the pace of the Premier League.
Although not pushing for the top 4 clearly, a similar type of player is needed at Newcastle. Many years ago Jermaine Jenas famously called SJP a ‘Gold fish bowl’ and we have often seen highly rated players from abroad flop. Rafa has clearly learnt from past mistakes and wants a British core to ensure we are well clear of a relegation scrap next season.
The French experiment
This represents a massive shift from previous policies in the Mike Ashley era. Upon leaving the club, Joey Barton said Newcastle were looking to sign foreign, cheaper and younger versions of him and other squad members. I was there when we had our ‘French day’ at SJP under Pardew against Southampton, but the reality is that this policy has contributed to two relegation in the last seven years.
This notion works has some merit, as shown with the high profits made on Sissoko and Cabaye. But for every success there is a Cabella or Thauvin waiting round the corner. It is also quite disheartening openly buying players who you want to make money on and not especially build an affinity with the club or the fans.
Has a British core worked in the past?
Conversely, some of our most successful teams have been built around a British core. The entertainers of 96 and Sir Bobby Robson’s Champions League sides all used predominantly home based players. Of course, those are both different eras and more and more foreign players are in the Premier League these days.
We also have had foreign players we adopted as our own, like Nobby Solano for example, but these players tend to be rare. Tottenham are a good example of a young, British side thriving in the top flight. Kane, Alli, Rose, Dier and Walker have all evolved into excellent players. Even squad players like Davies and Trippier are British.
We should strive for something similar longer term and as Rafa has committed to, we want players who don’t see us as stepping stone. We don’t want to see player interviews of our players saying ‘they dream of Arsenal’. This policy is yet another reason of why Rafa is loved on Tyneside and an exciting summer awaits.
Is there any value in the British market anymore?
Naturally, the draw back of signing British players is inflated prices. With Brexit and EU guidelines potentially limiting player imports and homegrown player rules already in force, British players are in demand. Fulham quoting £20m for Cairney who has 1 Scotland cap and no Premier League experience is a prime example, or John Stones going for nearly £50m last summer.
Newcastle will be looking at British players that have potential to improve but will also know they have to pay a premium. A way round this is to target British players with 12 months left on their contracts, like we are doing with Andre Gray and Ryan Shawcross.
With their differences resolved in just one meeting, you would hope Rafa has had the assurances he needs to sign the players he wants.
So who could sign for Newcastle this summer?
As Olly alluded to in a previous article, silly season has arrived, but he did suggest Cairney, Gray and Maguire as very possible arrivals (hopefully!).
Other British players we could be in for is the likes of Delph, Townsend, Strurridge or Robertson. All would be great additions and coupled with the British core we already have (Gayle, Clark, Shelvey, Ritichie) would mean a strong squad but with the right attitude. They would also be accustomed to the style of play in the top flight.
It could be expensive, but signings like this would continue to build on the improved connection between the players and the fans. 100% commitment, players who love playing for Newcastle and some good football – that’s all Newcastle fans want and it’s what Rafa intends to deliver in the transfer market.