I absolutely hate the January window. I’d rather it didn’t exist; pick your squad for the season, and live with it for the 38 games you play, if you get caught short then tough, you should have planned better. I dislike the way it allows a club, realising they are in a poor position, to simply ‘buy’ their way out of trouble. I expect QPR to be this season’s manifestation of this, it normally goes hand in hand with a managerial change. Further to this is the absolutely moronic Football Manager style speculation and innuendo about who clubs are, aren’t, or might be signing.
That said, this window in particular is of huge interest to me because I think a few points of our apparent policy, which I’ve wrote a lot about, may be tested. The main ‘tests’ I explore below.
1) Younger, Better, Cheaper.
Probably the most important, and overarching, facet of our policy. As in the post below, all our signings during under Pardew (and many before) have fit the mould of being younger, [potentially] better, and cheaper than what we have at that moment. This will be easily tested, and players that we have actually made offers for, (Tomkins, Corgnet), certainly fit that bill. (*and also Ravel Morrison since originally posted.)
2) Older, Worse, More Expensive.
The flipside of the previous point, again discussed below. We have not signed any players permanently of the above description. Not doing so in this window would further reinforce the commitment to the strategy. The rumoured deal for Alex of Chelsea is a prime example of an ignorance of what appears to be a very rigid element of the policy.
3) Expensive. Old. Out.
One of the most unexpected and pleasing transfer news of 2011 for me was actually the retention of Jonas. In the wake of Joey leaving, many fans resigned themselves to losing all our ‘better’ and ‘older’ players by default – Jonas’ contract deal ended that talk. Will this window will be see another more senior player, on good money, sign a new contract a la Spiderman, or will we have another Barton/Nolan/Enrique situation? It remains to be seen, but if all we do in this window is sign Coloccini on an extended contract, with him ‘buying in’ to the current NUFC project when he will have ample suitors at home and abroad, I’ll be a happy boy.
4) What is a “Silly Price” (Pardew in December)
Cheick Tiote remains a constant source of anxiety for Newcastle fans, the will/he won’t move on will continue all through the window. In Andy Carroll, there is a clear precedent for a ‘younger, cheaper, better’ player being sold if a ridiculous bid came in. What is the comparative amount for Tiote? What has he ‘cost’ us so far? To date, assuming no sign-on fee..
£3,500,000 = Signed for.
£208,000 = 6 months (26 weeks) at £8,000/week.
£2,080,000 = 1 year (52 weeks) at £40,000/week
TOTAL = £5,868,000
The graph above illustrates how that figure compares with Tiote’s remaining contract value (estimated £40k/week for 5.5 years), and then various successive profit increases. Lets not forget, by trade Ashley is a retail man and has made many billions in that sector with a sell cheap/buy cheaper strategy.
Many of the numbers thrown around in the media to acquire Tiote put the figure between £15-20m – an astonishing profit of 200-350%. Considering a ‘typical’ retail mark-up is anything between 20-50%, is over ten times that “silly” enough that only a fool could turn it down? We’ll have to wait and see..
5) Project Player
As well as Tiote, there a few names being linked away from NUFC that I would call ‘project players’. That is, players brought on board by Ashley (for the most part), under his rules and structure. This is the most interesting aspect of the window for me. Yohan Cabaye, Tim Krul, Cheick Tiote, Demba Ba have all been ‘linked’ with moves away, (whatever that means, I’ll cover it some other time), and all are part of our current project. But what even ‘is’ that project?
i) The Just-For-Profit Project?
The worst-case scenario. With little regard for progression as a football club, though naturally that has to happen for this to work, NUFC are simply a feeder club; identifying players, buying cheaply, developing them, and then selling on for profit. Don’t get attached to players, don’t expect big stars, even known names. No ambition, cash is king.
ii) The Slow-Toon Project?
The best case scenario. It’s not about money, it’s about a fresh perspective. FIFA fair play rules will alter the monetary landscape of football significantly. Are we ahead of the game? Our fiscal policy is similar to progressive German clubs, and historically successful French ones. Young, hungry players are not necessarily a commodity to be traded, though inevitably this will happen, but are a means to a greater end. The ‘end’ is the same as project i), profit, but recognises that the higher you achieve the higher your income.
iii) The Prove Your Worth and You Will Be Rewarded Project?
This combines the above two, and has just become even more interesting on reading a tweet that has just popped up in the corner of my screen.
Tiote is a precedent here, and Jonas to an extent, but the Ba development above is very interesting. If our strategy is buying players cheaply (ie. low risk), we can take the best from both options above. If they’re a success, then we either develop them for our own gain, or to sell on. If the player bombs, we’ve not lost much money, they can be moved on, and we try again. If the player is successful early in the season their contract can be renegotiated, increasing their value, self-worth, and drive both prior to and subsequent to the improved terms.
What happens next with the Ba situation will be fascinating. So far it’s history repeating itself. It’s exactly what happened with Tiote when he showed he was a truly quality player. If he does only improve his terms, and stays at NUFC for the rest of the season, we should be very, very encouraged.
What happens with Tiote next is different, and currently without precedent. No ‘project player’ has left yet, we are in unchartered waters. Whatever does occur though may well indicate what might happen with Ba in the summer, next January, or next summer.
If Tiote is retained, bids rejected by the club, and the player is not unsettled by a ‘bigger’ club or bigger carrot, we have a really strong and encouraging signal that Mike Ashley may not quite be the fat money-stashing/stealing fool that we always feared, but may actually be building something really decent. What a signal it would be to the fans, the players, the potential players, the rival clubs and the game if this were to happen. I must add the caveat, as always, that there have been some catastrophic PR decisions by the man, and I really hope he takes some publicity advice from his new shirt sponsor.
That said, if Tiote is moved on for not what you would call an ‘Andy Carroll’ amount that you simply can’t refuse, and is merely shifted for maybe 50 or 100% profit, we should be a little disheartened, though not devastated. The fact that we should always have young, able reinforcements, is intrinsic to both paths. If Tiote, Krul and Ba do go, Abeid, Vuckic, Ben Arfa, and Elliot plug the gap left. If this policy works again, those players really crack on in the second half of the season, young replacements are sourced and acquired in summer, and the above are moved on shortly afterwards. The cycle repeats itself. Selling more than one player is very high risk in my opinion, high enough for me to lean towards thinking even than one is very unlikely.
What our actual strategy is isn’t clear yet, but window by window, actual move by actual move, it is slowly revealing itself to us. I absolutely hate January, but just I can’t get enough of it this year.
The graph below illustrates the ages of players Newcastle United have signed from Ronny Jonsen in 2004 to Rob Elliot in 2011 in chronological order. Age is plotted on the Y-axis and sequentially each player along the X-axis. For the purposes of examining buying trends, I have included all permanent transfers and omitted any trial, loan and released players.
We can see that moving from Souness to Pardew, via Roeder, Allardyce, Keegan, Kinnear and Shearer, the line of regression plotting the average age a player has been signed has fallen from 26 to 22. What is also clear is the ‘under-26’ policy which appears after the Pancrate/Lovenkrands deals when 29 years old, (about 2/3 along the x-axis). Beyond those signings all players fall below the 26 year cut off. That the average age of these players signed is just 23 is pertinent too - contrast this with Allardyce-tenure signings which have an average age of over 26.
Again, one cannot just view the numbers in isolation, the context of these signings must also be examined, and what happened to them. All played their part in NUFC history, but in recent years we have seen the departure of older, big name players, signed on big money long-term contracts (as explored below), as part of the ‘buying young and better’ model Ashley has adopted.
Buying young, and buying better… now where have we seen that before….?
The similar graph above plots permanent playing incomings all the way back to Sir Bobby Robson’s first acquisition, Kevin Gallagher. During his time as manager, which takes us from 0 to about 1/4 along the X-axis, (to the 27 year old Stephen Carr), the average age of a player signed is just under 23.
After this time, up until the spate of signings including Zamblera, Vučkić, Ranger, Soderberg etc. by Kinnear and Keegan, the majority of players signed are above 25. It is well documented that the degree of influence in transfer policy those managers was not huge. The ‘policy’ was that of Mike Ashley, and an early indicator that amongst the managerial and contractual circus that was playing out in the public eye, player recruitment remained restricted by a systematic adoption of younger, cheaper, and potentially better, players.
Look at how the line of regression changes from Sir Bobby in October 1999 to Alan Pardew in 2012: it doesn’t. The current and historic policies balance each other out, so that when taking into account the more senior signings of Souness, Roeder and Allardye, the ‘typical’ age of a player signed over this time appears constant.
We have effectively reverted to a recruitment style that brought us fast, hungry, young players like Bellamy, N’Zogbia, Woodgate, Milner - and the pacy football that was a direct result of this persuasion.
All of those players were eventually sold-on, but not before we got out ‘moneys worth’ out of them in a playing sense. If we are also incorporating this element of that transfer strategy into our current policy that I discussed below, (#YoungerCheaperBetter), I would conclude that our financial prudence in the transfer market gives us great justification in maintaining optimism for the future comings and goings at St James’ Park.