January’s spending spree in the French market has had an instant impact on Newcastle United. When they were once on the brink of falling into the bottom three, the French influx arrived and six points later, Newcastle are sitting comfortably above the drop zone with eyes on a midtable finish.
Mike Ashley, Derek Llambias and Alan Pardew clearly felt the squad was strong enough to cope with the rigours of both the Premier League and the Europa League when they locked their chequebook away in the summer, but the poor first half of the season soon left them scrambling for the key.
But what if they couldn’t—or even refused—to find the key? What would happen if Newcastle had dropped into the Championship for the second time since the 2008-09?
For sure, the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse would be snapped up by top-flight clubs and help the Magpies cut their wage bill ahead of life in the second tier.
In fact, if you arrived at St James’ Park ahead of Newcastle’s first game of next year’s Championship campaign, the 11 players donning the famous black and white jersey that day would resemble something barely recognisable to the usual faces we see.
When the Magpies slipped into the Championship after the disastrous 08-09 season, some key players stuck by the club and ensured they had the character and talent to make an instant return to the top flight.
Kevin Nolan, Steve Harper and Fabricio Coloccini were all instrumental in making sure the team stayed together—both on and off the pitch—and got on with the job in hand.
With the current foreign contingent on Tyneside these days, it’s hard to see the same type of characters. Steven Taylor is one, while Harper and Shola Ameobi are part of the furniture on Tyneside.
But after getting some of the huge earners off their books, the board could give their manager the funds to bring in the right type of players to make another quick return to the Premier League.
There is one key difference between the side that went down four years ago—financial stability.
Love him or hate him, Mike Ashley has transformed Newcastle United into an attractive business. Gone are the days of throwing £100,000-per-week wages at players in the hope that they would single-handedly deliver success, only to be left out of pocket when they flop or move on for more money.
These days, business is done in a more logical way at St James’ Park. Newcastle’s top earner, Fabricio Coloccini, is on a respectable £60k per week. Compare this to those years when Michael Owen was stealing a living and pocketing over £100k every seven days.
Keeping with the Owen example, the former England striker cost a club record £17 million. Newcastle’s biggest outlay this summer has been new boy Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at a comparatively meagre £6.7 million. The differences are spectacular, with Owen later offloaded to Manchester United on a free transfer, while Yanga-Mbiwa will likely be sold on for a profit in the next five years.
The investment in scouting, rather than the transfer market, and long contracts allowing for maximum value in the case of a player being sold, has been Newcastle’s smartest move.
Graham Carr can roam Europe and cherry pick the best talents, while Alan Pardew concentrates on on-pitch matters.
This takes pressure off the manager to find a top player without paying top dollar and allows Ashley and Llambias to negotiate with clubs and grab a bargain, a la Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Moussa Sissoko.
If the Geordies went down, this approach to business would mean they had every chance of coming back up again. They wouldn’t part with millions in the hope of buying their way back into the top flight, instead keeping their cash and investing it back into the club, in order to fund their long-term future.
Once the much-talked about financial rules come into play, Newcastle will be streets ahead of most other clubs, who continue to wander blindly into the transfer market in the hope that they will bag the next bargain of the century.
Much, if not all, of the credit for this approach to running a club has to go to Ashley. Despite his cheap sports brand allowing rival supporters an easy target to mock, he has been responsible for Newcastle’s shrewd business strategy.
He’s put up with years of hatred and threats in order to play the waiting game, knowing that the Geordie fans would see the fruits of his labour in the long term, rather than the short.
Now, Newcastle fans can look at their side and boast about their cheap, quality signings. “How many other clubs can buy another team’s captain and regular international for under £5 million,” they say when referring to Cabaye.
The list goes on seemingly forever, as Newcastle enjoy success in the transfer market with regularity. The recent outlay on six new signings has almost instantly paid itself back, with the Magpies now sitting clear of the bottom three by a much more comfortable margin than they were a little over a month ago.
There is no doubt in the minds of Newcastle fans (as illustrated by this poll) that their beloved side will be more than fine this season. The French legion—led by the monstrous Moussa Sissoko—has dragged Pardew’s side towards the top half and through the toughest tests remaining in their season.
But it’s nice to know that Newcastle United would be fine if the French hadn’t decided to hop across the channel and bail the Geordies out.