Posts Tagged ‘Tiote’

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.

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

After yesterday’s release of the new Newcastle United home kit for the season 2011/2012, featuring waistcoat and tie as seen below, the club today released images of the new change/away kit for the new season.

New NUFC Home kit – 2011/12

The new NUFC 2011/12 home kit sports a fashionable waistcoat and tie effect

New NUFC Away / Change kit – 2011/12

The new NUFC away kit is similar to the home shirt but includes bow-tie instead

The new away shirt looks remarkably similar to that which will be used when Newcastle are playing at home, except for one major change. Gone is the black tie and in its place is a blue bow-tie, a colour often used in Newcastle’s change strips in recent years as the third colour of United’s adopted bird, the Magpie.

Toon boss Alan Pardew apparently didn’t say “The new change kit is very stylish and will not only make our players look smarter on the pitch, but will give the fans a multi-purpose shirt to wear for all occasions off it.” “I believe that is the angle Mike is pushing with the new price-tag of £60. He feels that it is an excellent deal as you are effectively getting two outfits in one.”

The new dual-outfit design is thought to have been inspired by the strict rules that disallow club owner Mike Ashley from entering the director’s box at away stadia with his replica shirt on. However, the new, smarter design should enable him to wear his change shirt to away matches hassle free.

Mike Ashley is also believed to have cut costs on the players suits, used for official travel to away matches. One St James’ Park  insider said “The players will now both travel and play in their new multi-purpose change kits and they’re not happy about it.”

Alan Partridge commentates on some of Newcastle’s recent goals:

A few months ago I found myself sitting, staring at my computer screen in a state of utter disbelief. The reason for my jaw almost hitting the floor was one that has had many a Newcastle fan doing exactly the same over the years. It centred around Tyneside’s favourite Nigerian with a Geordie accent, the Fenham Eusebio, our very own Foluwashola Ameobi. Few football players divide opinion from their own fans like wor Shola – surely the definition, if ever there was one, of a love/hate relationship in a sporting sense. Yet whilst many a Geordie’s jaw has dropped over the years, inspired by the gangly-forward’s ability to both delight and frustrate in equal measure, the reason for my state of shock revolved around something written about Ameobi, rather than his consistently inconsistent on-field antics as is usually the case.

Ameobi - head in hands after missing a chance - A common sight for Toon fans

The article in question started like your average North-East football opinion-piece with the premise of the piece being to discuss the role of playmakers in the modern game, applied to the regions 3 (debatable) major teams. The argument put forward was that playmakers in the modern game are seen as a rarely afforded luxury, often overlooked in favour of players with pace, work rate and tactical rigidity. The article highlighted Andy Reid at 5under1and, and former Valencia and Barça player Gaizka Mendieta at Boro as those, slightly unorthodox midfielders that had been cast aside by Steve Bruce and Gareth Southgate respectively because of their non-conforming playing styles – and in Reid’s case his “physical limitations”.

Fair enough, I hear you say. Sounds like a decent argument. Give those playmakers more game-time, more freedom. To complete the article in non-discriminatory fashion however, an example was needed of such a player to satisfy the readers of a Black & White persuasion. Who would be a good example of an unorthodox playmaker – undoubtedly skillful yet discarded for not being “identikit” as the article’s author put it. I started to rack my brain for United’s playmakers in recent years… Beardsley? Nah, more of a forward and he was hardly cast aside. Dyer? Hmm, sold for fitness reasons rather than tactical non-conformity. I then realised that actually, in the last 15 years we’ve hardly been blessed with what I would call a true “playmaker” – a central attacking midfielder with composure on the ball and an eye for a killer pass – the Xavi’s, Modric’s and Sneijder’s of this world.

Emre is the closest Newcastle have come to having a true 'playmaker' in recent years

The best I could come up with was Emre – incredibly talented yet unfortunately injury-prone. His injuries were probably the main reason behind his departure but he was also criticised at times for his lack of defensive work – the true habit (perceived or real) of a playmaker in the English game. So Emre it was. Not a great shout but surely the journalist would refresh my memory and pick a corker. So I scroll down just as you are about to and then my jaw drops…

“SHOLA AMEOBI could sympathise. An unpredictable amalgam of fine touch, exquisite skill, clever turns, inspired passes and accomplished finishing, the Newcastle striker’s unorthodox talent does not always sit comfortably with today’s tick-box culture”

Wow, wasn’t expecting that. I check my watch for the date on one hand whilst frantically scrolling back up to the top of the page with the other. Nope, not April Fools Day. Yep, written by a certain Louise Taylor, a mackem sympathist with a penchant for less than favourable NUFC-related coverage. Things were starting to make sense. The article wasn’t anti-NUFC in any way, but my God was it inaccurate. I know it’s an opinion piece but there is a difference between opinion and downright fiction.

Now let me get this out there – I like Shola as much as the next guy. Obviously I’ve doubted and criticised the big man before, as all Toon fans have (be honest) but at the moment on the 10-year ride that has been the Sholacoaster, I have to admit he is in my good books. Despite his inconsistency and ability to infuriate, his commitment to the cause cannot be faulted with Shola having played through countless injuries in his decade serving the Mags. At present, he is the Man in the Plastic Mask, returning early from a fractured cheekbone sustained at Craven Cottage in February to more than play his part in securing the club’s Premier League status for another year. In particular though, it is his performances against the arch-rivals from down the road that have given him cult hero status, with a song to boot:

I’m a fan of Shola and I’ll admit to ‘doing the Ameobi’ on several occasions but; ‘An unpredictable amalgam of fine touch’ – Rarely. ‘Exquisite skill’ – Sometimes. ‘Clever turns’ – On a good day. ‘Inspired passes and accomplished finishing‘ – Meh, his finishing’s alright but inspired passing?! Anyone reading this without seeing Shola’s name attached could be forgiven for thinking it were an article on Zinedine Zidane, not a man affectionately known as ‘Strolla’ or ‘Bambeobi’. The article continues:

“Ameobi splits managerial opinion as he divides defences but Newcastle almost always excite when spearheaded by their Nigerian Geordie.

The first part is fairly accurate and funnily enough, the same could easily be said of Louise Taylor’s musings in the Guardian with regard to splitting opinion. Newcastle always exciting when wor Shola takes to the pitch however? I’m sure you’ll find a fan or 50,000 that aren’t excited when he produces moments like this all too often:

After the initial shock of seeing Ameobi compared to skillful midfield playmakers and described as having ‘inspired passing’, my mind cleared enough to think ‘I’ve heard this before’. A quick google search reassured me that I was not going insane. Sure enough, an article by Louise Taylor in The Guardian just over a month prior to the playmaker article described Ameobi as:

“A deep thinker and a voracious reader, Ameobi… might have followed his father into academia had an unorthodox amalgam of exquisite skill, clever turns, inspired passes and, of course, goals not led him down an alternative path.”

Interesting – the same description – almost word-for-word. Intrigued by my discovery of Louise Taylor’s admiration for anybody associated with Newcastle, let alone the much-mocked Ameobi, I hunted for more. A quick google search turned into a lengthy one, with endless articles of Ameobi admiration having been churned out by Taylor over the years:

October 2003: “Ameobi is no brat but he can, à la Chris Waddle, at times appear deceptively laconic, almost interested.”

August 2006: “Much more of this and Newcastle’s ‘Shearer’s Bar’ will soon be renamed ‘Shola’s’.”

August 2009: “With the transfer window’s closure looming, time is running out to recruit replacements. After Ameobi’s exploits, Ashley might believe none is necessary.”

August 2009: “..leaving the Geordie-Nigerian striker to chest the ball down and, in one impressively seamless movement guide it expertly just inside a post.”

March 2010: “Switching feet, the Geordie-Nigerian, spun sublimely, stealing half a yard on his markers. Having refined his shooting angle, Ameobi beat Camp with a stunning low shot which flew in off a post. His brilliant backheel then created the second..”

August 2010: “Shola Ameobi is better than many people think.”

October 2010: “..it was an assumption-challenging kind of afternoon. The same went for those who said 4-4-2 was “yesterday’s formation” or believed that Ameobi was washed-up.”

January 2011: “Coloccini as commanding in Pardew’s defence as Ameobi was imperious up front..”

March 2011: “If Arteta’s extreme skill and Ameobi’s sheer guts proved the afternoon’s overriding themes..”

April 2011: “The impressive Ameobi, all fast feet and aerial dominance…”

April 2011: “Received wisdom has Shola Ameobi down as a frustrating, inconsistent, injury‑prone bit-part player lacking Premier League quality. This reputation is inaccurate, unfair, and, above all, out-dated… the Wolves centre-halves terrorised by Ameobi will doubtless be convinced that his skilful turns, clever distribution, fancy footwork and heading ability comprise a formidable armoury... at least they do not have to face the Geordie Tevez every week.

So Louise Taylor is certainly not shy in handing out the praise and superlatives for the ‘Geordie Tevez’. In the words of Alan Oliver, she certainly ‘waxes lyrical’ about Ameobi at every opportunity and it is therefore surely no coincidence that Ameobi is often willing to grant her interviews – quotes from Shola are certainly not in short supply throughout Taylor’s articles. It seems Taylor is besotted with our cult hero and has been since 2002 – the earliest Taylor article on the Nigerian-born mackem assassin that I could find. In it appear direct quotes from the Newcastle boss at the time – the late, great Sir Bobby Robson talking about the young Ameobi:

“Shola’s got some exquisite skill, a clever turn and a great pass”

Sir Bobby Robson – 2002

Sound familiar?

I’ll leave you with some of Shola’s better moments in a Toon shirt – watch out for his unorthodox mixture of exquisite skill, aerial prowess, precision passing and clever turns!!

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.

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.