Posts Tagged ‘Cheik’

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.

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The NUFC A-Team

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We’ve all known for quite a while now that Cheik Tiote is actually The A-Team’s Mr T in disguise but now new information has been leaked that Tiote is not the only NUFC-related member of the A-Team as this image shows:

Nolan, Barton, Tiote and Pardew in their previous jobs as members of the A-Team

Saturday saw Newcastle repeat their performance of 6 days previous, against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. In the Tyne-Wear derby, having led 1-0 through an early second-half goal and despite dominating proceedings, Sunderland somehow equalised in added time to snatch 2 points from the Magpies. On Saturday, at home to a (supposedly) title-challenging Spurs side, Newcastle again led through a goal in the third quarter of the game, only to be denied taking all three points by another injury-time leveller. The main difference between the two games was that unlike Asamoah Gyan’s lucky looping effort that took him by surprise the week before, Tottenham’s sickening equaliser was most definitely avoidable.

A combination of injuries, suspensions had left the squad looking incredibly bare, with even the lesser-spotted Xisco making it on to the bench for the Spurs game. The absence of key players Cheik Tiote and Andy Carroll in particular had dampened expectations ahead of the two games, combined with the recent and utterly humiliating FA Cup defeat to League 2 minnows Stevenage. Whilst most level-headed Toon fans would agree that they would have taken draws against two sides pushing for Europe prior to the matches, to lose 4 points in injury time over the two games makes them feel more like defeats and leaves the Toon Army with the feeling of “what if?” Nevertheless, it’s two points gained, but four points lost.

The Premier League table makes for good reading for Toon fans, but it could have been even better.

As far as achieving our original aim at the outset of the campaign of finishing 17th, we are well on course. In fact, we are on course to finish in the top-10; something even the more ambitious Toon fans would probably admit they didn’t expect back in August. Compared with the infamous relegation campaign of 2008/09, we are 7 points better-off than at the same point (23 games in) 2 years ago. Despite only taking 2 points from the last two fixtures when we should really have taken all six, the signs are good for the Mags. Unbeaten in the league in 2011, Newcastle have collected 8 points from a possible 12, pushing thoughts of relegation onto the back-burner once again. Yet it is the performances in the last four (league) games that have quelled relegation talk as much as the points haul that they have brought. The team has impressed, despite notable absentees, in all four games.

Beating the beatable

Firstly, Newcastle won for the first time ever in the DW/JJB stadium. The 1-0 scoreline at the DW belies the ease with which Newcastle dominated their blue and white opponents. As far as Newcastle away performances go, they don’t come much easier than this. Newcastle dominated a poor Wigan side from start to finish and should really have added to their goal difference with Shola Ameobi and Leon Best both squandering great chances they would usually bury. Secondly, only a matter of days after registering 3 points at the home of Mike Ashley’s sports-retail nemesis, the team maintained its winning ways by thoroughly thrashing a woeful West Ham by five goals to nil at St James’ Park. The game saw Leon Best mark his full Newcastle United and Premier League debut with a left-footed hattrick, moving him above Wayne Rooney in this season’s Premier League goalscoring charts in the process.

Leon Best silenced some of his doubters with a well-taken hattrick on his full debut against West Ham

It was also the third time this season that United have registered 5 or more goals in a single game (following Villa and Sunderland); something Toon fans could only dream of 2 years ago. These are the games that Newcastle notoriously struggle to win. Over the last decade, impressive performances against the so called bigger-teams have often been followed up by humbling defeats to the likes of Wigan and West Ham. It is these games that must be won if United are to survive and in winning these, Newcastle went a long way towards securing their place amongst England’s elite come the end of May.

Failing to hold on

After the debacle at Stevenage in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, attention turned to the Stadium of Light where local bragging rights were again at stake, although it would take some performance from Sunderland to match or eclipse the events of Halloween when they were well and truly embarrassed by a rampant United side. In the end, an under-strength Newcastle team performed admirably and dominated the home side in a tense affair. The lack of cutting edge that would have allowed Newcastle to score a deserved second goal to kill off the game however, was obvious. Squandered chances and a defensive approach in the final minutes allowed Sunderland to score their undeserved and fortuitous last-gasp equaliser that robbed the Mags of all three points. The failure to convert a second goal and claim all three points on Wearside clearly had a profound effect on the Newcastle team that faced Tottenham on home soil less than a week later. Heading into the last 15 minutes in the same situation as they found themselves against their local rivals, Newcastle led 1-0 through a fantastic Fabricio Coloccini strike at the Gallowgate end. However, whilst Spurs dominated possession, they looked unlikely to score as Newcastle defended magnificently, led into battle by their Argentine Colossus who snuffed out attacks and blocked shots at will.

The difference in approach from Newcastle was obvious against Spurs. Wounded by the mackems’ late leveller the week before, the team broke forward on the counter-attack against Spurs at every available opportunity, often finding themselves with men to spare as Tottenham pushed for an equaliser. Again, numerous chances were squandered by the home side; Lovenkrands hitting straight at Cudicini when clean through on goal and Nile Ranger sidefooting just wide when a simple pass to the unmarked James Perch would have sufficed. Then, as the game entered injury time, United broke forward with 3-on-2. The corner flag beckoned and had the game taken place some 10 years ago, we surely would have seen the iconic image of the club’s greatest ever goalscorer facing the flag, ball at his feet, fending off 2 or 3 opposition players at a time, all in the aid of 3 precious points.

However, it was not to be. The usually impeccable Joey Barton had given his all in the previous 89 minutes as he broke forward with the ball at his feet, Peter Lovenkrands to his right and Nile Ranger to his left. Barton was visibly shattered as he overhit his pass, intended for Ranger into the box and the waiting hands of Carlo Cudicini. The former Chelsea keeper threw it to Michael Dawson, who in turn launched a long ball onto the head of Peter Crouch, some 50 yards up the pitch. Crouch duly won the header, with the ball ending up at Aaron Lennon’s feet, via Jermain Defoe. By this time, the miniature England winger had switched flanks after it took him nearly an hour to find his way out of Jose Enrique’s pocket on the opposite wing. For the last half hour of the game, Lennon ran his marker – Danny Simpson – ragged. As Lennon approached the Newcastle box, Simpson continued to back off at an alarming distance, as has become his trademark. By showing Lennon too much room, he invited the former Leeds trainee to cut inside and onto his favoured right foot. The wideman duly obliged, before placing his shot low into the bottom left corner of the Leazes’ end net. Had Barton not misplaced his pass or had Simpson shown Lennon onto his weaker, left foot, we would surely be talking about a fantastic victory and 3 points. Instead, we are left to rue our misfortune/mistakes for the second time in a week, leaving Alan Pardew with the task of finding a more balanced approach to seeing out games in the future.

Safety virtually assured

Whilst the late, harsh equalisers in Newcastle’s last two games have soured fantastic team performances, it should be remembered that a current Champions League team and our Europa-League chasing local rivals have both left the field extremely happy to have a solitary point in the bag, having been out-battled and at times outperformed by a newly promoted team. If the current form of the team carries on and coincides with the return to action of Tiote, Carroll and, further afield, Hatem Ben Arfa, then there is no reason why the team can quickly reach the “magical” 40-point safety mark and push on for a top-10 finish.

The return of Mr T-iote will help the club push towards guaranteed survival

If Alan Pardew can add to the current squad with some real quality in the coming week then this will help to improve the squad depth and go some way to re-establishling Newcastle as a Premier League side. With the recent departure of Wayne Routledge, the addition of a right sided midfielder is a necessity before the window closes. At the moment though, on the basis of the league performances since the turn of the year, only minor tweaks are needed to see us through to the summer when more radical changes can take place and Pardew can start to put his own stamp on what is in reality, still Chris Hughton’s squad.

Maybe as a Toon fan I’m just biased but I saw no way that the Cheik Tiote challenge against Stevenage on Saturday should have earned a red card. Yes, in real time it looked two-footed and nasty and it is therefore understandable how Andre Mariner and his assistants may have come to the decision to dismiss the Ivorian. However Newcastle chose to appeal the decision and its subsequent 3-match ban. This puts the decision into the hands of the FA as to whether or not to rescind the card, thus allowing Tiote to play in the vital Tyne-Wear derby this coming weekend, as well as the following games against Spurs and Fulham should the decision be reversed. By referring the appeal to the FA’s committee, Newcastle hoped that by benefiting from the various different angles and slow motion replays available to them that they would see sense and rescind the card.

In my opinion, the challenge on first, real-time viewing looks rash but Tiote does clearly win the ball. The main argument by those in favour of the sending-off is that the tackle is two-footed and both feet leave the ground. My argument is that yes, both feet do leave the ground, but don’t most slide tackles involve both feet leaving the ground? Then comes the two-footed argument. Tiote is a few metres away from the ball when he starts his jump (slide). From a physics point-of-view, he needs to leap with both feet in front (like a long-jumper) in order to reach the ball. This is where the “two-footed” point of view comes from. However, as the photo below shows, when in the air, Tiote retracts his left leg and swings it underneath his body, as would be expected in a ‘normal’ slide tackle.

Tiote's left leg is clearly tucked underneath his body, dispelling the "two-footed" myth

The photo also shows Tiote’s right foot to be coming down, studs first onto the ball in a chopping motion. If the Stevenage player were in full control of the ball, this would be an issue. However, in the moments before the tackle, he lost immediate control of the ball, thus allowing Tiote the opportunity to make the tackle. As Tiote takes the ball completely, with the opposition player then falling over the Ivorian’s outstretched body, it is clear to me that the tackle was completely legal and undeserving of even a free-kick. In my opinion, the infamous ‘tackle’ by Nigel De Jong that broke Hatem Ben Arfa’s leg in September was more heavy handed and reckless than Tiote’s was on Saturday. Of course the laws are not set in stone and are open to debate so you may well disagree with me and side with the FA. For me though, the decision to send off Tiote is similar to many we see that involve the use of the elbow as leverage when jumping for the ball. There is and probably never will be a cast-iron definition that distinguishes leverage from violent conduct.

You can see the tackle in the video below, at 2:00 in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9SqAiRsWog

As I said earlier, I can fully understand why the referee, without the benefit of replays and hindsight, sent Tiote off on Saturday. However, I feel that the FA should have been able to see that the challenge was a perfectly good one and whilst appearing to be reckless was certainly not deserving of a red card. The conspiracy theory that the FA is reluctant to go against its referee’s decisions in appeals – regardless of the appeal’s validity – continues to gather creedence.

“What’s the point in having these appeals because there’s no way in the world that was a red card,”

“We’ve got to change the system because that is not right.

“He didn’t touch the player, the lad’s even said he didn’t touch him, and I think everyone who’s looked at it has agreed it’s not a sending-off and it’s not a red card, so how has he still got a three-game ban.

“We’re going to lose arguably one of our best players of the season, if not the best player of our season, because of a mistake by a referee.”

Kevin Nolan, speaking to Skysports

Yet not only is common sense dying a quick death in football’s rule-making and administerial corridors, but also, it seems in Newcastle’s management. The issue of whether Tiote should have been dismissed could and should have never even taken place. Tiote, due to his nature of play and position as a defensive midfielder, has already shown this season that he is not adverse to picking up the odd booking or 8. Therefore, why Alan Pardew chose to introduce him at 2-0 down, with little over half an hour left in the game, was ill-advised. With almost the entirety of the team performing poorly, the introduction of a defensive midfielder was unlikely to inspire the team to a remarkable comeback. Taking the gamble, when you consider our next fixture is against hated-rivals Sunderland, made Pardew’s decision nigh on indescribable. As a result, we will now have to do without Tiote for the return leg of the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday. Based on Alan Smith’s performance at Stevenage, we need to start praying for a miracle.