Posts Tagged ‘Ben’

August 31st 2011 is promising to be a big date in the calendars of Newcastle United fans as it should finally prove what Mike Ashley really intends to do with the club. The day marks the end of the summer transfer window and Newcastle’s business in the coming months will either confirm the doubts of many of the club’s fans or provide much needed hope and invigoration for the future.

In years gone by, a seemingly non-existent scouting team combined with constant managerial upheaval and a lack of funds meant that incoming transfers were usually concluded towards the end of August or January, on a whim, as panic set in and fans frustration grew. There are too many examples to list but some of the signings that have stereotyped Newcastle as a whimsical procrastinator in the transfer market include the likes of Albert Luque, Xisco, Nacho Gonzalez, Oguchi Onyewu et al. However, the appointment of Graham Carr as the club’s head scout has undoubtedly improved the way the club does its transfer business.

Under Graham Carr, expensive, whimsical flops like Albert Luque should be a thing of the past

Last summer the club, on a shoestring budget, carefully identified their targets and acquired them. The shrewd business conducted by Carr, Llambias and Lee Charnley saw Newcastle bring in the French whizzkid Hatem Ben Arfa and the unknown midfield anchorman, Cheik Tiote. Whilst Ben Arfa showed glimpses of his potential before being sidelined by Nigel De Jong at Eastlands, Tiote was undoubtedly the success story of the season. A bargain £3.5m was paid to Dutch champions FC Twente and but for his disciplinary problems, the defensive midfielder would most likely have been the clear frontrunner for the club’s Player of the Season award. The astonishing amounts of money that have been changing hands in England’s top flight since the turn of the year underline just how good a price the Magpies paid for the Ivorian. Newcastle’s number 7, Joey Barton, stated as much via his twitter account recently:

“English players are really expensive at the moment…. Mr T (Tiote) looks even more of a bargain now”    Joey Barton on Twitter

However, whilst the additions of Ben Arfa and Tiote last summer look to have been shrewd business, the amount of funds given to Chris Hughton were limited. The reasons for this became apparent in December when the Cockney-Irishman was relieved of his duties, making way for Alan Pardew who was given the length of contract and job security that Hughton could only dream of under Ashley. It soon became clear that Ashley did not trust Hughton to spend his money in the transfer market, no matter how little. The poor signings of James Perch from Nottingham Forest and the unattached Sol Campbell were apparently one of the final nails in Hughton’s managerial coffin.

Mike Ashley didn't trust Chris Hughton to spend his money

Whilst Pardew arrived with enough time to plan for the January transfer window and subsequently promised at least one arrival, it seemed that although several irons may have been in the metaphorical transfer market fire, the club refused to be held to ransom by the greedy agents of the average players that NUFC targeted. Among those players were rumoured to be the likes of Robbie Keane, David Bentley and Sebastian Larsson. Keane and Bentley both moved to clubs willing to cover their exuberant wages, whilst Larsson sat tight, arguably holding out for the lucrative payday that is now so commonly associated with players moving via the Bosman ruling. Newcastle’s lack of investment in January had much to do with the reluctance of its owner, Mike Ashley, to gamble on overpriced players in panic buys or loans when the club was still far from guaranteeing survival and another season in the top flight. Ironically, by not gambling on bringing in any players in January, Ashley in turn gambled the club’s safety on the abilities of Alan Pardew and the existing squad, minus the departing Wayne Routledge and Andy Carroll.

As many footballing experts will testify, the January transfer window is a seller’s market and so it proved to be for Newcastle. Many fans might argue that a replacement should have at least been found before Newcastle agreed to part with Carroll in return for £35m on the final day of the window. However, it’s easier said than done and if, as believed, the Liverpool interest came out of the blue, then finding a decent striker on the final day without being held to ransom by clubs and agents fully aware of the windfall the Mags had just received would be nigh on impossible. Any such replacement would likely have been overpriced and overpaid (see Luque, Xisco et al). Newcastle knew that come the summer, Carroll’s value would plummet. The reason Liverpool made the pony-tailed Geordie the 8th most expensive player in history was a direct knock-on effect of the ludicrous amount of cash they received from Chelsea for Torres. Had Newcastle spurned Liverpool’s advances, they would have taken their cash elsewhere. Like it or loathe it, the Carroll deal was good business from Newcastle’s financial point of view.

Agree with it or not - the Carroll sale was good business by the club.

Not signing a replacement may not have made footballing sense, as subsequent  injuries to Shola Ameobi and Leon Best showed, but the gamble paid off as Newcastle’s battling team spirit led them to a 12th place finish and another seaso in the Premier League. Mike Ashley’s doubters, of which there are many, now fully expect him to pocket the majority of the Carroll money, whilst again providing limited funds to his ‘yes man’, Alan Pardew for squad investment. There are those, however, who see this summer as Ashley’s last chance saloon. Armed with £35m and possibly more from other sales, Ashley can finally show his true intentions to the Toon Army, with a competent scouting network in place and a manager whom he trusts to spend his money (So far Allardyce, Keegan, Kinnear & Hughton haven’t).

For the first time in a long time, Newcastle finally look to have grabbed a transfer window by its throat, with Mike Ashley’s men actively scouring Europe for reinforcements to be paid for by the £35m bagged by Andy Carroll’s acrimonious sale to Liverpool on January 31st. Granted, Newcastle have money to spend and everyone knows as much but unlike many of the Toon’s top flight rivals, Newcastle are avoiding the inflated British market and instead choosing to concentrate their efforts on continental Europe where they feel Tiote-esque bargains are ready to be had. Graham Carr’s scouting network has had the best part of 5 months to compile their list of recommendations for Alan Pardew, in the knowledge that there is plenty of money to spend.

One player has already agreed to join the club. Lille’s French international midfielder Yohann Cabaye was in Newcastle today to put the finishing touches to his £4.3m move to St James’ Park. Valued in the region of £7-8m, Newcastle have pulled off something of a coup in triggering a little-known release clause that allows him to move for nearly half his supposed value.

Pardew has targeted pace and creativity as the main areas he wants to strengthen in his team, as well as adding at least one top striker capable of reaching double-figures in the league goals chart. Names linked include Kevin Gameiro of Lorient, Cheik Tiote’s silky compatriot Gervinho and former Toon star Charles N’Zogbia. Gameiro has consistently expressed his desire to play anywhere but England however, whilst Gervinho is courting interest from clubs with more to offer than Newcastle. N’Zogbia appears to be keen on returning to Tyneside but Wigan are reluctant to sell him to a club they see as relegation rivals for next season.

One advantage that Newcastle has over its rivals is Mike Ashley’s reluctance to pay for players in installments, as is the norm in footballing transactions. Already the club has stolen a march over others competing for the same players by offering cash up front – the fact that 85% of the Carroll money was received up front should help Newcastle to make significant progress in their endeavours this summer.

So whilst Newcastle struggle to attract their top targets to join them for now, the signs are there that the club is attempting to bring in players of a good pedigree and perhaps most significantly, that they are trying to do their business early in the summer, aware of the seller’s market that exists in late August. It remains to be seen just how successful Newcastle’s transfer dealings will be but the early signs are at least encouraging if nothing else, with one international player already through the door and several more likely to follow. One thing is for sure though – the days of Newcastle signing the likes of Albert Luque and Xisco appear to be very much in the past.

So with the usually unkind hectic festive-season, (becoming usual) FA Cup humiliation and Tyne/Wear derby away leg out of the way with decent league position (and local bragging rights) in tact, attention turns to latter half of the January transfer window, in which the majority of mid-season deals are completed. Before the window opened nearly three weeks ago, new Magpies boss Alan Pardew confirmed that he was looking to strengthen the squad with one or two additions, primarily of the offensive variety (That’s offensive in a tactical sense, not like El-Hadji Diouf):

We are looking at the market and hopefully can bring something in. You want a bit of quality, pace and directness and that is something we would like to add at some stage.

Alan Pardew speaking to Skysports

Striking reinforcements

At the start of the window it looked as though he may be interested in Spurs forgotten man Robbie Keane but a combination of the Irishman’s age, pricetag and excessive wage demands put an end to any interest. Last week saw newly-capped England and Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd linked on the cheap, with the journeyman’s contract set to expire in six months time. However, both the player and then his club came out to state that he would be staying in Wales, at least until the end of his contract. Pardew’s original desire to add to the squad’s strikers seems to have waned though with the recent improved form of Leon Best and Shola Ameobi.

The Departed

Whilst also reiterating his desire to keep the majority of his squad, the former West Ham and Charlton manager has let it be known that he would be willing to allow some of the squad’s fringe players to leave. Such players rumoured to be in the ‘fringe’ category include the likes of Best, Perch, Campbell and Routledge. However, at the time of writing, only Routledge appears to be headed for the exits, with a loan deal lined up for him to return to the club he left a year ago, Queens Park Rangers. Whilst Routledge is undoubtedly a top-Championship player, he has failed to reproduce his excellent form from last season in the Premier League, adding more doubters and failed top-flight stints to an already lengthy list. A return to QPR would suit both player and club and with Routledge on board, it is very likely that we will see the R’s return to the Premier League in August following a 15-year absence, given their healthy position in the Championship table at present.

Wayne Routledge has failed to reproduce his Championship form in the Premier League

The delay in either club announcing Routledge’s impending transfer has sparked rumours that Newcastle are trying to negotiate a deal that will see former Spurs whizzkid Adel Taarabt coming in the opposite direction. It is, however, highly unlikely that QPR will let their top-scorer and star man leave with promotion within touching distance. The more likely scenario is that Newcastle are simply waiting to find a replacement for the little winger before rubber-stamping his departure.

Routledge Replacements

Confirmation has been forthcoming from a number of sources of our interest in a succession of right-sided wide-players. Firstly David Bentley, whose situation Pardew discussed with Redknapp following the Mags defeat at White Hart Lane in December, yet the former Arsenal trainee opted to move to Birmingham who supposedly agreed to his demand for guaranteed first-team football. Secondly, Seb Larsson, the right-sided midfielder whose contract expires in the summer and whose position is under threat from the aforementioned Bentley. However, Newcastle could not agree personal terms with the Swedish midfielder and have moved on to other targets. This week Shaun Wright-Phillips’ agent confirmed that Newcastle had enquired about the pacy Man City winger, although his wage demands may prove a stumbling block and Fulham appear to be in pole position to land the former Chelsea man. Leeds’ young Ivorian wideman Max Gradel has also been linked with a move to the Mags, but no confirmation has been forthcoming from any party about the reported interest.

The gossip columns have suggested that Pardew may infact opt to purchase a creative central midfielder, allowing Joey Barton to move permanently to the right flank on which he has operated so well this season. Names bandied about include Niko Kranjcar, Jamie O’Hara and Villa’s Stephen Ireland; all of which seem attainable at least.

The forgotten men

Amid all the speculation it is easy to forget that Newcastle have already made one permanent transfer in the current transfer window. The second week of January saw loanee Hatem Ben Arfa complete his permanent transfer to the Mags from Marseille, for a fee reported to be in the region of £6 million. The deal was renegotiated following the player’s leg break in September which meant he would be unable to fulfill the 25-appearance clause that would turn turn the season-long loan deal into a permanent transfer. The talented French whizzkid is on course to return to first team action in February to help Newcastle cement their place in the Premier League. Aside from Ben Arfa, the Mags also have another new player in the squad, despite the fact he signed for the club over 6 months ago.

Hatem Ben Arfa is Newcastle's sole permanent transfer in the transfer window so far.

Dan Gosling signed on a free transfer from Everton last summer following a contract-wrangle with his then-club Everton. However, he has been nursing a cruciate ligament injury since joining the club in July and only recently returned to full training. The box-to-box midfielder made his debut in the closing stages of last week’s Tyne/Wear derby and his return could not have been better timed with the absence of Cheik Tiote through suspension and the loss of Alan Smith for what could be the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.

Summary

It seems that Alan Pardew has rethought his original plan to bolster the striking ranks at the club and has instead focused on midfield and the right-wing in particular. The impending departure of Wayne Routledge will leave us incredibly short of cover for the not-natural right midfielder Joey Barton on the right flank. That is, of course, unless you value either Ryan Taylor or Danny Guthrie as suitable replacements. I don’t. The delay in announcing the Routledge deal hopefully signals that Newcastle have a superior replacement lined up for the right side of midfield, allowing Barton to occupy a more central role from which himself and Ivorian battler Tiote can dictate games. I would like to see us bring in a pacy winger that can take on opposing defenders, beat their man AND put in a decent cross on a consistent basis. These are all attributes that Routledge possesses, yet he cannot seem to implement them either together or consistently.

We have the basis of a good team yet our squad remains poor, as evidenced by our humiliating giant-killing at the hands of League 2 ‘minnows’ Stevenage. In the short term, a good right winger is a must and should be enough to see us through to the end of the season with Premier League status secured. In the longer term, it is imperative that both Joey Barton and Jose Enrique are tied down to the same sort of long-term contracts that have recently been given to the likes of Carroll, Steven Taylor, Williamson and Ranger.

Jose Enrique & Joey Barton are irreplaceable on current form

On current form, it would be incredibly hard, if not impossible to replace either the Scouse schemer or the Spanish Bull. Rumours of clubs wanting both players have surfaced and while Barton’s sentiments of wanting to stay at the club for the remainder of his career seem genuine, it’s hard to see Enrique staying should the rumoured interest from Bayern Munich or Manchester United actually turn out to be true. Enrique’s absence was felt at White Hart Lane in December when he missed the game through injury and deputy James Perch was at fault for Spurs opening goal. Cover for left back is therefore also a priority, although Shane Ferguson and Tamas Kadar may have something to say about that.

At the end of the season, should we survive, we can re-evaluate the situation and move forward. Up front, as good as the recent form of Best and Ameobi has been, it seems that for the club to truly progress, a new partner for Carroll will be needed. Whether that partner can be Nile Ranger remains to be seen.

(Not) Given Arfa Chance

Posted: October 8, 2010 in Blogs
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It seems only fair that the first post on this blog should be devoted to Newcastle United’s on-loan French whizzkid Hatem Ben Arfa. Cruelly struck down at Eastlands last week, just 3 minutes into his 3rd start for the Magpies, it seems more than likely that he will be out of action at least until British Summer Time returns in 2011. Newcastle made one of the shock-signings of the summer transfer-window when they finally managed to land Ben Arfa from French giants Marseille on a season-long loan deal, with a view to a reported £5.5 million permanent deal at the end of the season, once Hatem had played 25 games. However, for the player to reach that total and activate the permanent deal clause will now require a minor miracle following the double-fracture to his left leg at (Middle) Eastlands.

 

The on-loan midfield schemer's creativity will be sorely missed

 

Judging by what he had produced in his 3 appearances (& 3 minutes) so far, he will be a big miss. Even with him in the team, we struggled to break down a poor Stoke City side that seemingly wanted to hand the home side all 3 points in the first half of a dour encounter between the two. He was undoubtedly signed to add some much-lacking creativity to the side and provide some competition for the consistently inconsistent widemen, Gutierrez and Routledge. Dropping the former for a few games apparently had a positive effect as when Jonas returned to the starting eleven against Man City, he looked hungry and inspired and his performance was a dramatic improvement on his poor showing in the 2-0 home loss to Blackpool at the start of September. However, with Hughton confirming that he is neither looking to recall Kazenga Lua Lua from his loan spell at Brighton nor add to his squad in the January transfer window, it seems that he will place faith in his existing squad. Whilst a player of Ben Arfa’s technique and ingenuity cannot be replaced, Hughton has several options available to him as back-up to Spiderman and the so far under-par Routledge on the flanks.

Nile Ranger has shown in the Carling Cup games at Accrington and Chelsea that he can play out wide if neccessary, although not his favoured position. The same applies to Danish striker Lovenkrands, whilst we saw glimpses of the Xisco kid deployed as a makeshift left-winger in pre-season. Add to that the option of Ryan Taylor who seems to score or make a goal whenever he’s on the pitch

 

Ranger has been used out-wide in the Carling Cup

 

(without contributing much else for 89 minutes) and you can see why Hughton is reluctant to want reinforcements. Keeping his existing lot happy is proving to be quite a challenge, with murmurs already from the Scouse Taylor about moving on due to a lack of playing time. This is a problem that will only intensify too, with the returns from injury of Steven Taylor, Leon Best and Danny’s Simpson, Guthrie and Gosling over the coming weeks and months.

So with Ben Arfa out for the foreseeable future and creativity lacking in central areas and sporadic out wide, Newcastle enter a crucial period in their battle for survival. A quick glance at the fixture list confirms that if we are to survive, then several points need to be bagged before the typically unkind Festive Season fixtures in December see us at home to Liverpool and Man City whilst facing tough away trips to West Brom, Birmingham and Spurs. Add to that Chelsea’s visit to St James’ at the end of November and the annual (bar last season of course) pointless Boxing/New Years day trawl to Wigan and it is quite conceivable that the metaphorical black and white stockings could be bare come the end of the year.

It is vital, therefore, that we put ourselves in a strong position going into December by taking as many points as possible from the supposedly easier upcoming games with the likes of Wigan, S*nderland, Blackburn and Fulham all visiting St James’ Park in the next 6 weeks. With points a-plenty at stake, not to mention local bragging rights when the mackems come to Toon on Halloween, Newcastle will need to show a vast improvement in their previously fantastic home form. With the loss of Ben Arfa fresh in the memory, the team needs a new creative spark to light the touchpaper and ignite Newcastle’s season. Nolan? Jonas? Barton? Guthrie? Whoever you are,  your team needs you.