NEWCASTLE: While some Newcastle United supporters have taken to social media to express their tongue in cheek disappointment at a lack of transfer activity on Tyneside so far this January, work behind the scenes at the club they love goes on at a considerable pace.
This feels like more than a window for Newcastle United — the club’s medium-term future is at stake.
As fireworks illuminated the winter gloom and 2021 became but a memory, much more than the dawning of a new year was being celebrated in the northeast of England.
Saturday, Jan. 1 was not only a time for “new year, new me”, for resolutions and reflection, it is also one of the most eagerly anticipated moments in the black and white calendar for a generation.
Not since the days of Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers, or the swaggering Champions League record-makers of Sir Bobby Robson has Newcastle looked forward to a period so intensely.
This weekend, for the first time in 15 years, marked the opening of a transfer window without Mike Ashley in charge of NUFC. A date worth celebrating for that fact alone. However, it also comes with the added bonus that United are now owned by shareholders with access to more riches than any other football club on the planet.
But what does the next month hold for the Magpies under the guidance of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, flanked by RB Sports & Media and PCP Capital Partners?
Here we look at the likely transfers at St James’ Park, in and out, as well as the potential easy wins and possible pitfalls that the window, which closes in England at 11 p.m. (GMT) on Jan. 31, could bring.
Transfer window dos and don’ts
This window feels like the first true test of the new ownership’s expertise, ambitions and intent.
Get recruitment right in January and the club has every chance of staying up, unlocking the door to future top-flight success. Get it wrong and things look less certain for key figures in the consortium.
The Magpies have won just one game since the club was taken over in early October, and if United are to remain in the Premier League beyond the end of this season, they need to make sure that changes. Signing new players is key to that — the feeling that every ounce has been squeezed out of the current squad is further underlined in each game they play.
While victories have been hard to come by, the goodwill shown toward the new ownership has not wavered. In fact, it has probably grown.
Fans are willing to give time and space to the ownership to reshape the club in their image, sweeping out the tired, broken model of Ashley. However, January needs to bring not only on the pitch success, but also some transfer wins.
No game until Jan. 15 is a welcome break for the club’s COVID- hit squad, but it is also an ample opportunity for United’s transfer team to deliver new recruits.
Arab News has been told by well-placed Magpies sources that the club is working hard to ensure transfer progress arrives in the opening stanza of the window. Hopes are high that at least two or three new faces will be available by the time fellow strugglers Watford head to St James’ Park in less than two weeks.
Kieran Trippier is the most likely deal to be signed off by then, with moves for the likes of Sven Botman, of Lille and the Netherlands, also at an advanced stage.
Getting deals done, and getting them done fast, would be easy wins for the management and would prevent any doubt creeping into Geordie thinking.
One thing is certain: United have a strong hand when it comes to the resources available to them. While budgets have been mentioned, there seems to be a resolve that whatever it takes, and whatever the cost, the club will deliver what is needed to ensure the Magpies stay up. Failure, it seems, is not an option.
One big lesson to be learned from other clubs is that United must not be profligate with their budget. Paying over the odds for players, handing out inflated wages and contracts and being taken in by agents with their exorbitant fixer fees can not only damage immediate ambitions but also limit future spending potential.
While it is accepted United will pay a premium for players in terms of fee and wages, it would be unwise to allow the bar to be set too high. Paying mega money for mediocre, short-term fix signings raises the question: What happens when United look to sign more high-profile players? The numbers can soon run away with a club — see Robinho and Manchester City for the perfect example from across the Gulf.
Players likely to be shown the door
Newcastle United have a host of players whose futures remain uncertain — and which players arrive is going to affect who gets nudged out of the club’s 25-man Premier League squad.
With central defenders high on head coach Eddie Howe’s 2022 shopping list, doubts over the future of Federico Fernandez and Ciaran Clark have been raised. Fabian Schar’s contract situation — his deal ends in the summer — further complicates that.
Emil Krafth and injured Paul Dummett, as well as Matt Ritchie and Javier Manquillo, all full-backs, could also find themselves edged out if moves for Trippier and Everton’s Lucas Digne go through.
Further forward, Sean Longstaff continues to interest Everton but has broken into the side recently.
Brother Matty Longstaff could well be sent back out on loan after a failed spell up in the Scottish Premiership with Aberdeen.
Republic of Ireland international Jeff Hendrick, liked by Sheffield United, has been a peripheral figure this campaign and is definitely at risk, while Dwight Gayle will depart, probably on loan with his wages subsidised by United.
And finally, at least one goalkeeper will leave the club this month — United took the unprecedented step of naming four in their ranks in the summer, due to both injury and Ashley’s penny-pinching.
Players on the Magpies’ shopping list
Now, this is where things get particularly interesting.
Howe is keen to add at least four new players to the Magpies’ ranks during this window. As a bare minimum United want a full-back, central defender, central midfielder and forward. That number could easily rise to six or seven with a further full-back and centre half on the radar, if possible.
As mentioned, Trippier and Digne are targets in the wider areas while Chelsea’s Ross Barkley is a name that seems to carry some favour as a centre of midfield improvement. Moussa Dembele, of Lyon, and Luka Jovic, of Real Madrid, are potential frontline recruits who could be captured on loan and Botman, with Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly, are central defenders of note.
Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara is being looked at, but with his deal being up in the summer could easily hold out for a more success-ready offer. The midfielder also rejected a move to United in 2020.
Former United and Liverpool man Gini Wijnaldum is one to watch this month as he looks for a PSG escape route.
Other links, with some degree of legitimacy, include Sander Berge, Sardar Azmoun, Niklas Sule, Joe Rodon, Arthur Cabral, Ousmane Dembele, Jesse Lingard, James Tarkowski, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Idrissa Gueye and Aaron Ramsey.
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