The pages of another season have been turned, and that means football fans the world over will be glued to the headlines in the hopes a bright new talent will be putting on a specific new shirt next year.
Arsenal fans are lucky this time around, with Arsene Wenger having clearly learned his lesson with Lukas Podolski already a confirmed signing.
Ambivalent would be a good word to describe Newcastle United fans at the moment.
On the one hand, Mike Ashley's wallet has begun to open in conjunction with chief scout Graham Carr's eye for a bargain. This combination has brought in Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba for bargain prices. Stars like Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa were more expensive but also proved to be careful investments.
But on the other hand, fans will also be aware of the club's history that includes overpaying for Michael Owen and the recent sales of club assets (I sound like a political commentator). Many will also be conscious of other clubs beginning to circle for players like Ben Arfa or Cheick Tiote.
For the club to move forwards, depth has to be added to the roster. The good news there is that qualifying for the Europa League makes this more likely to happen.
Things will prove more difficult next year, with the club embattled on multiple fronts: by the 2013 African Cup of Nations; by Euro 2012, which is likely to cause many prospects to hold out until after the tournament so they can increase their market value; by extra games from the Europa League, including an earlier start to the season; and by rival clubs Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal who are likely to spend more money to strengthen their own top-four bids next year.
This one really is a no-brainer. Steven Taylor will be back and just as injury-prone next season. Club captain Fabricio Coloccini is also unlikely to go anywhere, but missing games last season proved that even Captain Fantastic is mortal. Mike Williamson did well, but he's not of the starting calibre.
To illustrate what I mean: With Taylor in the lineup, United conceded 15 goals in 14 games at a rate of 1.07 goals per game, and that includes losing 3-1 to Manchester City. Remove that game as an outlier, and the average becomes 0.92 goals per game.
Since Taylor's season-ending injury, Newcastle leaked 36 goals in 24 games at a rate of 1.5 goals per game.
Williamson should perform well in the Europa League, and he is also a strong player to have coming off the bench. That leaves one centre-back to be brought in and compete with Taylor for the starting role.
Jan Vertonghen has been linked with the club, but I highly doubt that will happen since both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur want him, and at least one of those clubs will be in the Champions League next year.
Douglas Teixeira is the prospect most strongly linked with a move to the club. His temperament has been called into question, but so has Ben Arfa's, and that only lowered his price.
A Potential Replacement for Danny Simpson
How typical is this? I bought a Danny Simpson shirt this season specifically because I figured we'd hang onto him, and he rejects a contract extension.
That is a certain type of betrayal. It's like having the chance to spend an evening with a boyhood hero only to find he's been drinking heavily beforehand, and the evening is dictated by looking after this person.
Anyway, the club's left-back stocks aren't exactly depleted, particularly with Erik Pieters linked very strongly with a move.
Shane Ferguson is also no slouch in the left-back position and could easily fit into the rotation. There's also Ryan Taylor and, as much as I never thought I'd say this at the start of the season, James Perch.
Davide Santon is a natural right-back and can easily be shifted with up to four left-backs in the squad. This does leave a problem of hoping Santon doesn't get injured. He's also a very attacking-minded player, which may not be ideal for every game.
Despite competition with Manchester United, Mathieu Debuchy is one name circling around Tyneside. I know Manchester United are a team looking to win titles, but Newcastle has two distinct advantages in this race: his personal friendship with Yohan Cabaye and Manchester United's reported interest in Crystal Palace's right-back Nathaniel Clyne.
A Central/Defensive Midfielder
- The African Cup of Nations
- The sheer amount of games to be expected this season (at least 50)
- Suspensions will invariably come into play
Perch and Ryan Taylor will plug any holes if need be, and Romain Amalfitano has supposedly been secured from Reims.
Depth in itself is unlikely to be a serious problem, but the club would do well to sign another player in Guthrie's mould—someone who can offer something going forwards and get back when they need to.
Three Attacking Players
Yep, you read that number correctly.
To close the season out, the club's striker rotation stood at Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Shola Ameobi and Leon Best, roughly in that order and with Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger rounding off the list.
From there, one more striker would have been optimal. Not a 20-goals-per-season player, mind, but a strong depth player who can come on and score a few when needed.
The bad news is that Demba Ba and Leon Best seem likely to leave. Best is almost certain to depart, while Ba seems unhappy with the way he's been played in the last few weeks.
Assuming Senegal qualify for the ACoN, that removes Cisse for about a month assuming 1) Senegal do just as badly next year (touch wood), and 2) He remains uninjured (again...).
That leaves Shola Ameobi, and that assumes that if Nigeria qualify he goes unselected. Cisse's run of form will also be interrupted by the time off.
Lovenkrands is too slow for a club looking to move forwards from a top-five finish, and Ranger's character cloud means he will also likely be sold.
To replace Leon Best, I'd love to see a strong English-style player brought in: someone who has the potential to excel in the Europa League and is strong enough to get some run-ins during the cup competitions. Peter Crouch would obviously be perfect for this, but he'll likely be too expensive for a No. 5 striker.
Ba will be slightly trickier to replace, and I think Newcastle needs two role-players to fill his void:
- A pure striker capable of scoring 10-15 goals per season, and preferably not African since they'll have to replace Cisse for at least a few weeks. Dimitar Berbatov would be a decent choice assuming he isn't too expensive.
- A left-sided attacking player. Jonas Gutierrez is too defensive for this role, and Cisse causes a similar problem to Didier Drogba in that he's such a centrepiece that players are often confined to his shadow. Anyone brought in here would have to be a complementary figure to Cisse, like Adam Johnson (though City will probably hang onto him to fulfill their English quota) or Eljero Elia if Italian football hasn't broken him.