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 Newcastle 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 bottom line is each team can only have a maximum of 17 senior players who are not ‘homegrown’, the other eight places reserved for 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 Newcastle 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.