Posts Tagged ‘n’zogbia’

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.

At 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, Tyneside was ringing to the tune of ‘Go West’ by the Village People, only the lyrics being sung by the Geordie faithful were slightly different to those made famous by the 70’s disco group. As the home fans filtered out of St James’ Park following an entertaining, if not inspiring 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic, they taunted their 900-strong away counterparts with the chant “Two nil and you f**ked it up! Two nil and you f**ked it up!” This was not the first time such a chant had been heard at Tyneside’s footballing cathedral either. Rewind almost 2 years to the 6th of December 2008. The occasion? A 2-2 draw with Stoke City played out at St James Park. For Charles N’Zogbia, read Abdoulaye Faye, the returning villain on that day. A team, two-nil up half way through the first period, contrives to throw away 2 points by conceding an injury time equaliser by a centre-back.

N'Zogbia is not the first ex-Mag to score at St James' Park in recent history

Yet that is where the similarities end; In 2008, it was the Stoke fans that were airing their own rendition of the Pet Shop Boys cover after they somehow clawed back a 2 goal deficit and the subsequent point, after Michael Owen had given United an early 2 goal lead. That season, Stoke’s battling spirit, despite a lack of quality on the pitch kept them in the Premier League. Every man, woman and child in the country knows what happened to Newcastle. Two temporary managers and 6 months later, the Mags were relegated to the Championship at Villa Park with a performance that makes the X-factor look like decent viewing. Newcastle’s raft of overpaid, under-committed prima-donas sank quicker than the Titanic at Villa Park. They simply didn’t turn up and NUFC became the laughing stock of the entire nation, if they had not already been so during a monumentally woeful season, both on and off the pitch.

Nearly 2 years on from the 2-2 draw with Stoke however, and only 4 of the starting eleven on that day still remain at the club. The club, in turmoil in the summer of 2009, turned to Chris Hughton, first temporarily and then permanently to guide the team back into the Premier League at the first time of asking, and guide them he did. The Irish Londoner gutted the playing squad of its uncommitted members and, along with senior players, instilled a new-found fighting spirit within the club. That spirit was key to the club’s promotion with countless away trips returning 3 point hauls despite the Mags often being outclassed by their opposition on the road. This team-spirit has also been evident since United returned to the big time at Old Trafford on the 16th of August yet perhaps it has not been on public display as clearly as it was towards the end of the 2nd half on Saturday. Newcastle found themselves 2 goals down after only 23 minutes through a combination of poor defending and sulky French brilliance. That Newcastle’s much maligned new right back and Premier League record holder (the only player to be booked in each of his first 5 PL games), James Perch, was tasked with controlling the adrenaline-fuelled Frenchman hardly inspired confidence in either his teammates or the home fans.

James Perch has hardly inspired confidence since his summer arrival

It was however a combination of poor defending from three of United’s back four that somehow contrived to allow N’Zogbia to score his career’s first ever headed goal in the 22nd minute. The usually sturdy Jose Enrique allowed Wigan’s Franco Di Santo too much room down the right flank to whip in a deflected cross that looped toward the back post where N’Zogbia stood, surrounded by two (taller) Newcastle defenders. However, both Perch and the more aerially able Mike Williamson’s feet inexplicably failed to leave the ground, seemingly willing N’Zogbia on to plant his unchallenged header back across goal and past a stranded Tim Krul. A minute later, it was two-nil. Urged on by the unsettled crowd, United committed several players forward and when Barton was caught in posession by James McCarthy, Di Santo reproduced a similar cross to the left side of the box, where N’Zogbia controlled neatly on his chest before lashing a left-foot piledriver high into the roof of the Gallowgate-end net. Perch, like a fish out of water, was nowhere in sight. Wigan deservedly led at half time and but for the wastefulness of N’Zogbia in a two-on-one situation, could have been three up at the interval. Newcastle, one goal line clearance and decent save aside, offered nothing going forward in the opening period, with the Latics sticking effectively to their nullify and counter-attack system. Stern words must have been said in the home dressing room during the break because United emerged with more determination, despite continuing to fail to make many clear chances from their increased possession. Wigan sat back, allowing Newcastle the ball, yet the return of 4-4-2 and two strikers to the Newcastle side failed to produce any dividends with Lovenkrands looking lost as he dropped deeper in search of the ball, unable to utilise his pace behind Wigan’s deep backline. The Magpies usual ploy of attacking down the left flank with the drive of Spanish-speaking duo Enrique and Gutierrez was halted by the tactical deployment of a third Wigan defender on their right side. As a result, neither had much success, constantly running into trouble and surrendering possession of the ball with alarming ease.

The usually reliable Jose Enrique & Jonas Gutierrez were stifled by WIgan's defensive tactics

Things were no better on the other wing either, with the returning Danny Guthrie effectively playing as a third central midfielder, such is his willingness to come inside when deployed in his unfavoured, unnatural position on the right of midfield. That Newcastle’s best (and only) chances were coming from set pieces and corners is credit to both Wigan’s defensive formation and Newcastle’s inability to break it down. Hughton responded on the hour mark by withdrawing the ineffective Lovenkrands for more aerial prowess in the form of Ameobi. The substitution worked as twelve minutes later Gutierrez finally produced his first cross-of-note of the game, steering a majestic left footer onto the head of a diving Ameobi who duly-delivered, nodding the ball into the ground and past Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal, setting up a tense final 20 minutes and finally giving the Toon Army something to shout about. Yet Newcastle, buoyed by the goal and roared on by the resurgent home fans, continued to struggle to carve out any clear-cut chances until the 94th minute, when, with home fans heading for the exits, Gutierrez swung in a corner from the Milburn Stand touchline which Andy Carroll helped on to the back post for stand-in captain Fabricio Coloccini to head home via Al Habsi from 4 yards out to send the fans home delirious. Although celebrating a draw so vociferously against a Wigan side that conceded 10 goals in their first 2 games of the season would have been inconceivable prior to kick-off, the manner of the comeback and celebrations of the players following the equaliser demonstrated that although quality may be lacking from the current United side, team spirit most certainly is not. Come the end of the season, it is that spirit that may well keep Newcastle in the Premier League. Don’t believe me? Just ask some Stoke fans.