The last time I wrote about transfers and Newcastle United I used an elaborate and self-indulgent Merlin sticker album metaphor to make what turned out to be some ludicrously wayward predictions. Half a season on, we are again. The fear for the fan is always losing the ‘key’ player, the icon, the talisman. But breeeeaaaaathe. As with most things, not just in football but in life too, the thought or the fear of something is often disproportionate to the experience or the encounter and the acceptance of the object of fear when it presents itself in reality.
So what is our transfer policy? To answer that one must first define, or tease out a definition for what a policy actually is. Policy implies rules, rules imply strategy, strategy implies predetermination, and predetermination implies principled thought. A transfer policy, in the sense of a system with financial, political and personnel constraints requires maintenance - being that it’s associated variables are not static, but in continual flux as form, value and demand ebb and flow. Players will be bought and sold. This is a reality. The facetious and juvenile criticism as a club as a ‘selling club’ only shows naivety or chosen-ignorance of how the modern game works, and I’m not sure which is worse.
Let’s assume that Newcastle United, by that meaning it’s owner, chairman, scouts, and heads of finance, do indeed have a policy towards player recruitment, retention and release - is it possible to extrapolate, or predict to some extent what we may experience as fans during the emotional wringer of the January transfer window? For the purposes of this piece I am talking about Newcastle United, under Mike Ashley, from when Alan Pardew was taken on. I believe this was a key moment in the Ashley era, when he finally, after accidental, populist, baffling and necessary appointments, got ‘his’ man, and could properly implement ‘his’ policy.
Firstly, why do we sell players? Funnily enough, despite his cerebral posturing that I for one am not buying, I believe Joey Barton came as close to anyone to defining what the current Newcastle United transfer policy is, and ergo why they sell players, when he claimed he was being forced out as the board pursued “younger, cheaper, better” players. I don’t think this based on any serious analysis on his part, much the opposite, it would not surprise me if Joey is repeating something that as been said to him by a member of the NUFC hierarchy verbatim. As a consequence of this spoken/unspoken definition, older, more expensive, and less able players find their position at the club at risk.
To test the theory, one examines if any of the players we have sold since January 2010 contradict this tripartite rule for when to sell a player? The first team players, or those that could be considered for a first team place, that have left (not including loans or trials) since then are Campbell, Kuqi, Nolan, Tozer, Barton, Zamblera, Routledge, Enrique, Lua Lua and Andy Carroll. The diagram below shows just one anomaly, though we will come to him later. All of the other players we have released have satisfied at least one of the three criteria for being considered for transfer, according to what I would put as the club’s perspective, through the conduit of Joey Barton’s uncontrollable mouth.
We now test the reverse, do any of the players brought in during the same time period lie outside the reciprocal diagram? Players signed on permanent deals are Ben Arfa, Marveaux, Abeid, Cabaye, Ba, Obertan, Santon, Elliot and Kuqi. Again, all of these players satisfy at least one attribute, and most satisfying all three. The policy appears to be exactly as Joey said.
Of course it’s more difficult to say exactly whether any of these players definitely are ‘better’ than those they replaced, but based on performances thus far we can have a pretty good attempt. Is Yohan Cabaye better than Kevin Nolan? I would say yes, in every single way, though statistically not in ‘goals scored’ – but then how many goals conceded last season were actually caused by the lack of tracking back from Nolan? In pulling players out of position to cover, spaces open up… Maybe it balances out, maybe it doesn’t, but certainly I think we have seen enough of Cabaye to make a good argument for him being a ‘better’ player than Nolan.
Before I continue, the pony-tailed elephant-in-the-casino has to be discussed – and in light of comments made my Alan Pardew this week regarding future sales of players, the discussion is even more pertinent. I believe the sale of Andy Carroll sale was an exception to a tripartite transfer principle we now have in place. It was a transfer simply so ridiculous it could not be turned down. £35m for a relatively unproven, raw, young, troubled, albeit able player, was impossible to turn down. The spending of ‘The Carroll Money’ is an issue for another day, but in terms of transfer policy, the move was sanctioned despite Carroll seemingly satisfying all three positive criteria because the amount of money offered could theoretically pay for the recruitment of players for many seasons to come. Whether it will, or be ‘pocketed by fat-ash’ will only become apparent over time, one only notes that it could.
It is easy to say one has ‘tested’ a theory when working with only limited source material, and so ‘conclusions’ must inform only cautious predictions. Patterns, principles and laws only begin to emerge as more data is factored into any testing of a theory. There is some odd part of me that is excited to see how the coming month plays out; will we see a further progressive development along a crystallising trajectory, or will it all go to shit again like we have seen it do many times before?
I would offer that it may not be as bad as we think, and again I refer to Joey Barton’s take on things. At the height of the media-circus that precusorsed his move to Queens Park Rangers, Joey made the ominous prediction regarding club departures that it was ‘#jonascoloandjosenext’. On the face of it, it appears possible, all three could be plotted within at least one of the older, more expensive, and less able criteria, with Jonas and Coloccini in two. As we know Jose left, and the signs did not appear good; if the Argentinian duo didn’t go in the summer window, they’d be going in the next. However, out of the blue, and with very little public expectation for it, a new contract was announced for Jonas. A ray of hope.
Up until that point we hadn’t seen any retention of players who were not of the ‘younger, cheaper, better’ definition. As one of our senior players, that could still command a decent transfer fee, it was pleasantly surprising to see that the policy would not be employed without recognising context. The ‘dressing room cabal’ element of the Barton/Nolan transfers, and the subsequent ostracising of Steve Harper, has been covered elsewhere ad nauseaum, but one would note that it is surely no coincidence that not only were the known ‘dissenters’ duly transferred, but that a log running bonus-saga was resolved shortly after their departure. Barton’s situation would be especially similar to that of Jonas; players of advancing age, on good money, still of good ability but by no means irreplaceable. In light of Barton’s move, surely the sale of Jonas was, I would offer, more likely than his retention. To me it is obvious; Barton’s childish and greedy attitude was what ultimately cost his his place at a club that he was very happy at, and would explain his total bitterness to those that called his bluff and moved him on. Jonas was signed up and precedent set; just because you may be older, more expensive or less able, it does not necessarily follow that your days in black and white are numbered – just remain professional, do your job, and you may be retained.
The elaboration above is important, and to me one of the most encouraging occurrences off the field this season. (I will caveat this by saying there has also been a maelstrom of idiocy, I know, but that is not for here). I say this because I believe it is a clear indicator that what I dearly hope doesn’t happen in January, won’t – and that we may be hit blindside by a Jonas-eque contract announcement in the second half of the season when the best central defender I’ve ever seen play for us, agrees to finish his career at St James’ Park. The love of my life for (footballing) life.
However, I’ll give with that hand but take with another. Jonas set one precedent when he signed that deal, but another more immediately relevant one was put in place when Chelsea gave Liverpool £50m for one player.
I’ve been thinking about it all day, contextualising within all discussed above, but I have come to the conclusion that Cheick Tiote will definitely be sold in January. This is nothing to do with the youngerbettercheaper principle, or any ‘cashing in’ but that a few teams are really desperate for a world-class player in the same position and when that happens, the money gets silly. Liverpool didn’t even mind paying £35m for Carroll, all they cared about was getting £15m more for Torres. In January Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham will offer money that could easily be 6 times what was paid for Tiote. Now we talk about ‘selling our best players’ and the ‘lack of ambition’ it shows, but we really have to accept this is part of the game now. And it’s the same thing we did when we took Tiote for a steal, were we a ‘buying club’ then? What we do have in his position, which interestingly we didn’t have when we sold Carroll, is proven, able cover. Best, Shola and Lovenkrands stepped up, but if Cheick does go, we will not be left as wanting.
In summary, we’ve got to be realistic, but the plan seems a good one. I alluded to this when I tried to condense the above 10,000 characters into 140, but to wheel out Keegan’s favourite cliché; I want to be entertained. You get no choice in who you support, but I got a pretty damn good hand with Newcastle United. The current owner/board are not forever, but if for the next two, three, four, five, whatever seasons I have to support a club with a revolving door of some really excellent, hungry, able, exciting, young, ambitious players in Europe as a result of the owner’s transfer policy– even if we end up selling them on for astronomical transfer fees - then I’m happy to do so.
Fatty is even welcome to take some profit if he doesn’t just settle for ‘staying in the premier league’, collecting the TV revenue and showing no ambition. If he has seen an angle for getting a damn good scout, a good manager, and a young team together to play attractive football, full of spirit, that will attract future good managers, and good young players when some move on for lots of money, that we all enjoy watching, then he deserves credit. Just give us back Level 7, you bellend.1 year ago • 0 notes • view comments