Newcastle are almost certainly in the market for a new centre half this summer. Many have been linked, including the likes of Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross and Ruben Semedo, before he opted for Villarreal. However, if press reports are to be believed, NUFC are closing in on signing Eibar’s Florian Lejeune after we activated his £8.7m release clause.
Due to Rafa insisting on strong squad depth for a gruelling season in the Championship last year, we already have four centre halves. Just who will be our first choice pairing by the time we host Spurs in August?
The 26 year old Frenchman may not be a household name, but he has steadily rebuilt his career following being let go by Manchester City without making an appearance. La Liga observers will tell you he shone in a well organised Eibar side last year, making more clearances than anyone in the division. Rafa remains well connected in Spain so will know all about him and after being linked with Spurs and Arsenal this summer, he does appear good value at just under £9m in today’s market. Providing he signs, as this is Newcastle after all, you would assume he is not being brought in to play on the bench.
Contender for player of the season last year. Clark completed an outstanding campaign to make the centre half position his own. He offers a nice balance being left footed, is surprisingly confident on the ball and is a threat in the opposition penalty box too. He also comes with a wealth of Premier League experience and after gaining Rafa’s trust, I fully expect him to be in our starting eleven next season.
This remains a contentious one. The captaincy certainly complicates things. If he wasn’t captain, he would be a promising centre half, who despite clear gaps in his game, would be an asset in the squad. With Clark playing so well, the best thing for his development may be to install someone like Matt Ritchie as captain and allow Lascelles to continue his development and to show again the promise he delivered during our last 10 games of the 15/16 season. Rafa will already be thinking of how to pragmatically manage the captain situation while strengthening our defence, no doubt.
Mbemba remains a fan favourite after showing promise in the Premiership, despite our relegation. Athletic and still young, he does have a lot to offer. However, reading between the lines, I am not sure Rafa has him in his long term plans. A costly error in a home defeat to Wolves led to him being removed as first choice for most of last campaign. With a new centre half arriving, the form of Clark and Lascelles still being captain, I think Mbemba may be frozen out. He also remains one of the few players we could get good money for. One to watch closely this summer.
By all accounts, Hanley looks surplus to requirements at Newcastle. He provided valuable competition last year and seems to have a good attitude. He will want regular football though and it will also be a way of Rafa generating income. Expect a move to a Championship side over the coming weeks.
This would leave Clark to partner our new centre half at the heart of our defence, with Lascelles providing stern competition. Of course, Newcastle getting Lejeune over the infamous ‘line’ and how Rafa decides to handle the captaincy remain key factors in all this. Either way, it’s an area we need to deliver in next year, if we are to survive.