It seems a lifetime since signings like Michael Owen and Mark Viduka wore the black and white. Declining, injury prone and nearly always overpriced; these marquee players from the Shepherd era were one of the main reasons we were relegated at the beginning of Ashley’s reign.
On massive wages and having already achieved something notable in their careers, they didn’t seem like they were hungry enough to care about the current club’s situation enough to save us from the drop. Going down to the championship a few years ago turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the club in years as we found out who was there for the team and who was just there for the money and prestige.
The new policy of signing hungry players with lower reputations and wage demands started with the signings of players such as Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, who were the first of many similar players to come through the door with similar ambitions and experience. These were followed in subsequent seasons by the likes of Cheick Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, plus the five recent additions to the squad last month, making this transfer policy clearly the most important reason for our fledgling success in the last three / four seasons.
This policy is different to almost any club in our league, with the exception of Everton, Swansea and maybe Wigan. Top teams with bigger bank balances and reputations go after the players with the massive profiles (and massive price tags) or they poach young English plays from smaller clubs. This is all well and good but it leaves these clubs hugely in debt thanks to ridiculous transfers fees and wage bills, this may have worked in the past but with the new European and Premier League financial fair play rules coming soon, this method will become unstable. The young players they poach end up sitting on the bench to satisfy the home grown players rule and this effects their development, which in turn effects the national side with many current England internationals not getting regular first team football.
The clubs in our league with lower reputations and finances turn to cheap, declining players who have plied their trade in the Premiership for many seasons, sometimes having very successful and lucrative careers with bigger clubs, now stepping down to retain first team places. This is sensible if you are just looking to consolidate and survive in the division, bringing in experienced players who know how to succeed in the Premier League; but if you are looking for a mid table finish or higher these types of players just aren’t going to help you; some recent examples of this are the cases of Sunderland and Q.P.R.
For a decent sized club, Sunderland sure do have a pretty underdeveloped scouting system. They seem to just buy who they can get instead of who will improve their squad, recruiting almost exclusively from larger Premiership teams; and the less said about buying an eighteen year old striker from the Championship for ten million pounds the better. And then you get curious case of Queens Park Rangers, who, in a year and a half, seemed to have dismantled their Championship winning squad and playing style, hired and fired the frankly awful Mark Hughes and built/stolen a team of mercenaries under wheeler dealer Harry ‘The Peoples Choice’ Redknapp. They seem to have taken our title of ‘Laughing Stock of the League’.
Another example of this strategy would be Liverpool with the return of Kenny Dalglish, who seemed to agree with the Merseyside club’s new owners to just buy anyone who looked a bit decent at the time, no matter what the price, and try to make them a team. So they ended up with the likes of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and our own Jose Enrique and Andy Carroll; the latter funding most of our purchases since. And all that spending got the club absolutely nowhere, and probably set Liverpool back a few years, leaving successor Brendan ‘Big Club’ Rogers to clear up the mess.
For me, the cornerstones of our new transfer philosophy are:
1. Low Reputation
Singing players from lesser known leagues (e.g. Ligue 1) or lower domestic leagues, players who haven’t attracted much attention from other clubs but possess the potential to become great.
Signing players who haven’t achieved any bigger than we can currently offer them, this way they will want to win something with us and try hard for the club.
3. Age Is No Barrier
Despite reports suggesting we never go for anyone over the age of 25, if the player fits the first two rules then it doesn’t matter how old they are.
4. Become a Selling Club
In order to become a major force in the league and Europe we need to develop these players and up their reputations; if a club offer silly money for them we should take them up on at least a couple. The profit we make on these sales should then be reinvested into buying many more cheap players, allowing us to climb the table and be sustainable with the new fair play regulations coming in soon. I’m not saying sell everyone, but a few here or there would be beneficial in the long run i.e. Carroll, Ba.
5. Squad Evolution
No team can stand still, if we have a group of players who did well (last season) we must build on this base and replace players who have been sold on (rule 4) in the same fashion; especially if we have more games to play. This is something that the club seemed to forget in the summer and we paid for it in the first half of the season. We stood still, teams around us got better, they knew our style of play and most crucially our weaknesses; and with injuries and Europe this was compounded.
The club seem to be realising this now, with MD Derek Llambias now admitting:
“When you look back, and we always do, Mike and I always look at where we are as a business – but did we make a mistake in the summer?
“I think we did.”
If the Newcastle stick to these policies, which we are now doing, their should be no problems on the transfer front in the future and things will only improve. If we sort out our youth system and start bringing in players that way, this could become one of the best advantages to have over most clubs in the league. We are ahead of the game at the moment, but can we stay there?