Make no mistake, there have been reams of complete fiction embroidered around our recent attempts to sign players in an attempt to titillate the excited Newcastle United fan. That empty mantra about Newcastle United not being “held to ransom” over players any longer has been repeated constantly, as if other clubs have been somehow unreasonable for refusing to sell their finest players for sums far below their true worth. The longest and most notable saga in this particular transfer window has been that of Lille right back, Mathieu Debuchy, and this is the case I will concentrate on mostly here, as this piece would be far too long if I looked at all of them in the same detail.
Just to get things straight, Newcastle United’s two bids for Debuchy were equivalent to around £3.9 million and £4.75 million respectively (€5 and 6 million). Hacks such as Lee Ryder from the Evening Chronic were incorrect in quoting them as £5 million and £6 million. As to whether this was deliberate, or just lazy and incompetant “journalism” I cannot say with complete certainty. Neither of these bids had a hope in hell of being accepted by a strong Champions League club for a French international player who has three years left on his current contract, and has been estimated as being worth as much as £10 million in the current market. Lille’s Chairman, Michel Seydoux, made it clear himself that we could have had Debuchy for an very reasonable £6.3 million (“Our price is €8 million, because he is a quality player” said Seydoux). However, that may not have been the point as even after Seydoux’s clarification, Derek Llambias persisted with the same strategy of making another derisory bid which he must have known would not be accepted, perhaps in the possible hope that Debuchy might go even further in his attempts to force the club into letting him go at a much reduced fee. In the event of course, it led to Lille withdrawing the player in complete exasperation with Newcastle.
Of course there have been several other players and clubs who have been subjected to a similar routine by Newcastle, such as Vurnon Anita of Ajax, Luuk de Jong (who was snapped up by Borussia Mönchengladbach for a more realistic sum), Douglas of FC Twente, and somewhat laughably after Derek Llambias’s assertion that he was worth “**** all,” Andy Carroll. Any team who received ridiculous bids such as the ones submitted by United would be right to give them short shrift and just move on. But despite being rebuffed, a concerted effort to unsettle the players (and also their advisors in the hope of commission), hoping that they would wreak so much havoc within their clubs that they will eventually relent and sell under extreme pressure. On Debuchy again, his ex Lille team mate, Cabaye, allowed himself to be drawn into the affair too. Speaking to Tyneside newspaper, the Journal, he revealed:
“I told my friend (Mathieu) Debuchy he should come here. He said he would love to come to England and Newcastle. He would like to come here.”
And in a later interview:
“Mathieu has made a very difficult to decision to leave Lille but he has made the decision. Now I hope Newcastle push for Mathieu and I want them to do the deal, I spoke with him two days ago and he told me he wants to come. I hope Derek [Llambias] and Mike Ashley will do the business now.”
As you can see above, they didn’t “do the business,” making Cabaye look rather naive in his vain hope that the gruesome twosome would actually do the right thing.
It is interesting (well, it is to me anyway) in this context that the sum bid for Debuchy (£4.75 million), is more or less exactly the same as the one paid for Cabaye, with both being around half of the players’ estimated values at the time. This is despite the fact that there is no £5 million release clause in Debuchy’s contract and it still has three years to run. Using good scouting to identify targets who would be good investments who appreciate in value, or even finding a rare player with a previously undiscovered release clause of such low value in relation to the player’s real worth is one thing, but it would be hard to beleive that Ashley and Llambias could build a whole player aquisition strategy around the expectation that Newcastle United could make ALL of their big signings at 50% off. Ashley knows better than anyone that the seemingly endless 50% discounts in his own stores are a complete deception, with the tags even being attached to the clothing in the far eastern sweatshops where they are made in some cases. This is not the grubby “bargain basement” of the rag trade though, and to say it was unrealistic in the long term, especially if the club are aiming for both domestic and European success in the long term would be an understatement. I write this despite Cabaye and the other example, Papiss Cisse (but more on him later).
Meanwhile, it goes without saying that Alan Pardew has also been keeping his mouth busy getting in on the action. In an attempt to unsettle Andy Carroll, he told the big lad that he has no future at Liverpool, and told Liverpool that they must accept a significant loss on him. Most recently, despite being warned off Anita, Douglas and Debuchy by Ajax, Twente and Lille respectively, Pardew has still claimed that he is “getting the right noises” from his targets about a move as if their current clubs are a complete irrelevance to be brushed aside, which is probably a little like Pardew himself (and his predecessors) when it comes to Newcastle United’s transfer negotiations.
But, getting to the message encapsulated in the title of this piece, how would Newcastle United, or we fans for that matter, like it? What would we say if the boot was on the other foot and it was players like Cisse, Ben Arfa or Cabaye were being targeted and unsettled in such an aggressive fashion for a relative pittance? What would we say if Brendan Rogers were to start saying that Demba Ba’s career at Newcastle was finished and that he was “getting the right noises” from him about a move to Anfield? I’m sure that we wouldn’t be very pleased to say the least.
Returning to the mantra of the moment, we are not being “held to ransom” over players, and the only alternative isn’t buying has beens for exhorbitant fees and paying them ridiculous wages. That is a completely false choice, a fallacy which has been cynically designed to deceive the feeble minded with little or no capacity for pure logic and critical thinking. On the contrary, it is far more arguable that it has been Newcastle United who have been attempting to hold other clubs to ransom rather than vice-versa. To borrow a banker’s description Mike Ashley in his methods with Sports Direct, “He likes to park his tanks on people’s lawns” – He is no different when it comes football, but football is a different game.
Besides being somewhat hypocritical, it’s also worth asking if this is the wisest way to behave in the long run? To take one example, the Netherlands in general, and Ajax in particular, have been without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest pools of export talent in the history of football, from the days of Cruyff, Neeskens and Johnny Rep in the early seventies right through to the present day with players such as Robin van Persie. It isn’t only native players either. The likes of Romario and Ronaldo the first were not signed for Barcelona from Brazil, they were signed from Dutch club, PSV Eindhoven. Of course, we ourselves have the Dutch League to thank for having Tim Krul (from Den Haag) and Cheick Tiote (from Twente) in our current squad. Like Lille with Cabaye, and now the Debuchy siege, we showed our gratitude to Twente by trying to unsettle Douglas and de Jong in the hope that they would try to force a move for another ludicrously low fee which was completely out of line with their true values. We alienate clubs such as Ajax, PSV and Twente, not to mention the French Lille out our peril, and it now seems as if our reputation is starting to precede us.
Of course, it did work once though, with the above mentioned Papiss Cisse. The club refused to pay a realistic sum in last Summer and the prospective deal for him broke down. But the club kept it secret and took a risk on no-one else becoming involved, and waited for his previous club, Freiburg, to capitulate in the later January transfer window when the club were facing relegation to the second tier of the German Bundesliga (which didn’t happen after all). From a starting point of around £14 million, we eventually signed him for a mere £7.5 million potentially rising to £9 million. Llambias himself bragged to fans about how they pulled it off saying:
“January came and nobody knew Cisse was happening, which is how we like it – those are our most successful deals, without the interference, in terms of upping the price or someone coming in at the last minute.”
Though he did have an undeniable impact he had when he eventually did arrive on Tyneside, it’s impossible to say how much difference he could have made if he had joined us at the beginning of the season, especially with Chelsea denying Tottenham a fourth place go at the Champions League qualifiers with their win in the final.
But as I’ve written, this cannot be maintained for every signing, at least if the club is aiming to continue it’s current momentum and genuinely compete for other trophies, rather than just become a feeder club for bigger and more ambitious clubs. This is especially so now that the club’s card has been marked and we now have a European campaign to think about.