Well here we are again. Another transfer window, another feeling of exhaustion and resignation. What should be a time for excitement and change has taking on a whole new meaning for Newcastle fans. While we cast an envious eye at clubs in and around us making, or at least trying to make ambitious signings, we once again appear set to do the bare minimum. Not improve on what we have, not move forward, but merely plug holes, tick boxes and make up numbers.
The collapse of the takeover by Amanda Staveley’s Saudi funded consortium has, for the second summer running, left us shattered. It’s turned from heartache, to anger, then there was a brief flutter of hope that it could be resurrected, then once more back to apathy. In truth, it was almost nice to feel an extreme emotion again. This summer’s window takes on an even bleaker outlook than last years. After the collapse of the proposed BZG takeover last year, we still went and signed a £40m striker, and a £20m winger. That will not be the case this summer.
Last year, on purely financial terms, we thought we’d be shopping at Harrods, and had to make do with Marks and Spencers. This year’s proposed fun trip out to Harrods has been firmly urinated on from a great height, and instead turned into scouring the discount basket in Farmfoods.
Anyway, we are where we are. The opinions that Mike Ashley isn’t a willing seller are no longer valid, he wants out. Lee Charnley expected to be out of a job, and let’s be honest, so to did Steve Bruce. We find ourselves set to operate with a disinterested owner, a chief executive who does the job of 3-4 people and isn’t good at any of them, and a manager who faces the season of his life, make no mistake about that. It’s time for Steve Bruce to step up and prove the doubters (of which I am one) wrong.
All his bluster about the disrespectful speculation over his job, all his postering that Ashley is supportive to his needs, and the claims that he can move us forward need to be backed up by action. He needs help off the pitch from those high up to make the most desperately needed signing this football club can possibly make this summer, that being a new striker. The importance of this can’t be overstated.
It isn’t just goals Bruce needs to convince Ashley and Charnley to give him, it’s the art of all round centre forward play that the team is chronically lacking, such was Joelinton’s ineffectiveness last term.
We need someone, maybe anyone up front. Wether it be an old school target man, or a modern false number 9, or some one who can play off the shoulder of the last defender.
We need a presence up front who can run channels, hold the ball up, drag defenders out of position, make space for runners, press high up and win free kicks. These are all the vital components, as well as of course goals, that the team has been missing since Rondon left. The baffling thing, is these fundamentals should be understandable to the hierarchy of any club, except they are apparently not to the powers that don’t even want to be anymore at Newcastle United.
In a logical world with logical ownership, the club would spend the majority of the budget on a striker, but that logic is a luxury we don’t have, and we face a nervous wait to the end of the transfer window to see if Ashley finally realises what he didn’t twice before. That a few extra million quid spent in the transfer window, can save him a hundred odd million that relegation through ineptitude and frugality could again cost.
We will start this season with Joelinton, Carroll and Gayle for certain, while it’s rumoured Muto is being touted around to free up a space. This essentially only leaves room for one incoming. striker.
Gayle can score goals if he gets the service, but as I was writing this article, I received a notification saying the injury he sustained in last night’s 3-0 pre-season win over Crewe is probably going to rule him out of the first few games of the season. Carroll also scored a sumptuous goal last night and is talking the talk about his fitness levels, but that’s all been heard before, more than once. He will get injuries this season, as sure as night follows day. As for Joelinton…..who knows.
Is it too much to ask for us to sign a striker who is PL savvy? There have been names linked that would be perfect. Chris Wood from Burnley would be an outstanding signing, not the sexiest name for some fans I know but he’s an excellent Premier League striker. Michy Batshuayi is available for loan from Chelsea, and Tammy Abraham could be too. Both are victims of Timo Werner’s arrival and need games with a summer international tournament ahead. Callum Wilson is looking to leave relegated Bournemouth, although his injury record is a worry and he’d probably be pricey. Josh King is another. There are options out there, and teams we should be at least competing with will probably sign better strikers than us, that’s the most frustrating part.
I don’t want this to come across as a negative, anti-Bruce article, but there are some sad truths and worrying facts that can’t be ignored as we head into next season, so let’s stick to those facts.
In the season Steve Bruce has been in charge of Newcastle United, we won less points, scored less goals, conceded more goals, had less possession, had more injuries, and our goalkeeper made approximately 30% more saves, than the team he inherited had in the season before. We have also only won 4 games of the last 20, two of which were against 10 men. Last season, only 6 of our 38 league goals were scored by strikers, with 12 coming from our defenders. This is not only a freak anomaly, but it’s also completely unsustainable going forward. As is the fact we were regularly outplayed by and lost a lot points to teams in the bottom half, yet had some stirring “backs to the wall” wins against the big guns. Those wins against Chelsea and Man United were amazing moments, but we simply can’t rely on them again next season while teams in the bottom six outplay us and take 3-4 points off us.
Not all of these negative facts I’ve pointed out are all down to Bruce, but a lot of them are.
There are some reasons to be positive of course. We have a very good goalkeeper, an excellent captain, some very good defenders, and of course we have Saint Maximin and Almiron, who coincidentally are two players who would benefit immensely from a new striker.
At the time of writing this we have signed Jeff Hendrick who is a good player, an excellent free transfer (if there is such a thing), and an improvement on the departing, and ultimately pointless Nabil Bentaleb. The other two January loan signings were of course Danny Rose and Valentino Lazaro. While the lack of game time, and subsequent loss of Lazaro is a missed opportunity in my humble opinion, Rose’s departure is offset by the return from injury of the ever dependable Paul Dummett. Also at the time of writing this, we’ve made a £4m bid to sign the highly rated Greek international left back Dimitrios Giannoulis from PAOK. Now my knowledge of Greek football is minimal at best, but this lad currently starts ahead of Liverpool’s new £11m signing Kostas Tsimikas for Greece, so let’s give the lad a chance if that one is completed.
We need a lot of ducks to align in a row for next season to not be potentially disastrous (the takeover has exhausted that expression by the way).
We need Saint Maximin and Almiron to improve on their 4 PL goals apiece from last term. We need Shelvey to replicate his 6 goals at least. We need the centre backs to continue chipping in admirably, and Dubravka to be Dubravka. We also need Gayle and Carroll to contribute when fit, Ritchie to (literally) kick people’s backsides when people lose their man, and Joelinton to resemble a footballer. Sean Longstaff could also replicate the form that made him a £50m target for Man United, and not be the lethargic lost puppy he was last season.
We’re going to also need, and will definitely get, that undoubted team spirit, professionalism and togetherness that this squad has in abundance. We can only hope and pray that Bruce and Ashley match up to them.