I remember Freddy Shepherd saying in 1999 that it was “another season wasted” after Newcastle United lost six of their opening seven Premier League games. Ruud Gullit was out, Bobby Robson (not yet Sir) was in and despite the team finishing 11th that term, it turned out to be an exciting season as Robson managed to get the players playing an attacking brand of football that saw such wonderful results as an 8-0 annihilation of Sheffield Wednesday, 6-1 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur, 5-0 hammering of Southampton and a memorable 3-0 triumph over Manchester United. That side would eventually go on to finish fourth, third and fifth between 2002 and 2004.
Sir Bobby and his less successful (and indeed competent) successors seldom broke the bank in the transfer window but there was always money to be spent. Again, I can recall Shepherd saying (and my memory might desert me here, but I think it was when Glenn Roeder was manager) that Magpies managers will always be given money to spend.
You see, in those days the club showed ambition. Granted they did not always get it right. Spending £8 million on Jean-Alain Boumsong is an excellent example, but Patrick Kluivert, Damien Duff, Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins are all examples of how the club was willing to go after a star. Heck, even Sir Bobby paid a then world record for a teenager to bring Hugo Viana to the club. If only he had waited another year and gone for Cristiano Ronaldo instead.
The point is the club was not shy to spend money to bring in what it deemed to be quality players.
Shepherd, and Sir John Hall, are often lambasted for the way they ran the club and of course for selling to Mike Ashley, who is frugal to a fault. Ashley’s Newcastle is a club that aims to finish 17th and anything higher is a bonus. The man himself even admitted as much when he said he cannot and will not compete with the top clubs.
And now here we are yet again on the cusp of another transfer window and we dream of our manager Rafa Benitez, firstly signing a new deal to keep him at the club, and secondly bringing in top quality signings to bolster the ranks so the team can really push on and challenge.
I read an excellent piece on how the home grown player rule could wreak havoc with Rafa’s transfer plans. Without repeating it here, the bottomline is each team needs to have at least eight players who were trained at a club in England for at least three years before their 21st birthday. Consider that Rob Elliot, Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden look likely to be first out the exit door, and the club is already at the threshold of eight, Rafa could have a problem.
Again, say what you like about Shepherd and Hall, I reckon if they were still around, this is what a Toon transfer window might look like.
A quick footnote: My criteria here is that Rafa would want at least two players in each position. I am also assuming he would rather play a 4-2-3-1 formation and with more freedom in the transfer market he could bring players in to do exactly that. Furthermore, he would then want three goalkeepers and three strikers in case of injuries, suspensions etc. Also bear in mind, we don’t suddenly have Paris Saint-Germain money to spend here, but we are going to be ambitious enough to spend in an Everton sort of way.
GOALKEEPER: Martin Dubravka is the outstanding number one choice. If Karl Darlow is willing to hang around and be our second choice, I don’t have a problem with that, and the exciting Freddie Woodman could be promoted to the first team to fight it out with Darlow for that second-choice shirt. Woodman replaces Elliot and so the Home Grown Player (HGP) rule is satisfied. Darlow is also a HGP.
DEFENDERS: I want four centre-backs. In captain Jamaal Lascelles (HGP), Fabian Schär, Florian Lejeune and Federico Fernandez we have four very good and competent players. I know some fans don’t think much of Fernandez but I have no problem with him at all. It also means someone like Ciaran Clark is likely to go.
Javier Manquillo has his limitations, but I don’t mind keeping him as a backup. I think DeAndre Yedlin is a liability and I would look to offload the American, although with his current injury it might be difficult. That said, I’d look to move for Matt Doherty of Wolves.
Paul Dummett (HGP) doubles as a left back and centre back so in the case of Clark leaving, if you have a crisis at the back, Dummett can always help out in the centre. There are some who think he is better in the centre, but I’m not 100% sure. We have been searching for a left back for the longest time. Matt Ritchie is great, but we want a real, natural left back. I would propose an audacious bid for Luke Shaw but he signed a new five year deal with Manchester United about six months ago and has just been named their player of the season so virtually impossible to get him now. Instead I say we bid for Matt Targett from Southampton. An exciting, competent, natural left back and who is good at getting forward and he is a HGP. I’m not even counting Antonio Barreca.
MIDFIELD: I like Shelvey and I’d like to see him stay. I also think Ki Sung-Yueng and Isaac Hayden are solid performers who have added value. Ki will stay and Sean Longstaff (HGP) will be back from injury. Mo Diame is also likely to be out. So, we need two players here. Firstly I think it would be worth keeping Shelvey and I don’t think he wants to leave anyway, plus he is a HGP. I’d go for Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic to complete the quartet. I’m not even including Henri Saivet here.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD: This is where it gets interesting. Currently on the left we have Miguel Almiron and Christian Atsu. On the right we have Ayoze Perez and I’m drafting Matt Ritchie back to this, his natural position. Jacob Murphy appears to not be made for this level of football, but he is not yet a HGP considering his age. Atsu tries his best but he is similarly limited. I would look to move him on and bring in Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser (HGP).
Now hold on to your seat because this is the part where the Magpies smash their transfer record (under my dream scenario). Firstly, we bring Dwight Gayle back from West Brom. Gayle will be a backup player plus he is a HGP, which helps. He can play up front of course, but as many seem to have forgotten he is also comfortable on the right wing, where he played for Palace on occasion so it would be worth considering that option. If he is deployed there, presumably in a time of injury or suspension crisis, Perez can also move to the centre behind Salomon Rondon.
So, who is the additional player we need to make up the attacking sextet?
I propose we make an audacious move for none other than Thomas Müller!
Shepherd and Hall would not have been scared to go for the “Ramdeuter”. Müller is a World Cup winner. He wins the Bundesliga every year, the German Cup almost every year, is 29 years old and has nothing left to prove at Bayern Munich and Joachim Löw has already said he will never play for Germany again. Now is the perfect time for a fresh challenge. Müller will provide incredible creativity for our attacking force. Look at what Almiron has done for Perez. Imagine what Müller could do! The other advantage of Muller is that he can play wide on the right, or in the centre behind the striker or as a forward himself. Furthermore, think what a wonderful tutor Müller could be for Almiron.
STRIKERS: You may have noticed I’ve already pencilled in Rondon for next season. I’ve brought Gayle back as a backup and since the HGP criteria is now satisfied, I am happy to keep Yoshinori Muto for another season, especially considering that Perez and Müller could go up front whenever needed anyway so we have plenty of options. It is also time for Joselu to move on now.
This is a transfer window that in my opinion would represent success and real ambition to push on.
OUT: Elliot, Clark, Yedlin, Barreca, Hayden, Diame, Saivet, Atsu, Joselu
IN: Doherty, Targett, Milivojevic, Fraser, Müller
HGP: Darlow, Woodman, Lascelles, Dummett, Targett, Shelvey, Longstaff, Ritchie, Fraser, Gayle
Time to wake up though. Mike Ashley is probably not going to make the funds available for any of these players, unless they’re available on a free transfer or under £5 million. Rafa is probably leaving too which leave us with the more likely scenario of Tony Pulis coming in as manager and making Tommy Miller from Halifax Town FC his first signing. To paraphrase Shepherd, it’s just another golden opportunity wasted.
All images courtesy of Getty