Manager Alan Pardew has a busy summer ahead of him.
Newcastle United’s season is far from over. Last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing at Stoke has left Toon fans worrying about a second relegation in three seasons, but they are just as close to a Europa League spot or the drop zone. Just four points separate them from both, and with eight games left there’s still plenty to play for.
With the Premier League tighter than ever it’s almost impossible to predict where Newcastle will end up. Their run-in may be gentle, but who knows what to expect from a team who’ve beaten Arsenal and Liverpool this season but lost to Blackpool and West Brom?
But results and league positions aren’t Newcastle’s only uncertainties. With several players entering their contract’s final year and £35 million burning a hole in Mike Ashley’s pocket, large-scale changes in playing staff are likely this summer. Newcastle’s recent transfer policy has been austere to say the least, but Andy Carroll’s sale may make this Newcastle’s highest-spending transfer window of the Ashley era.
There are holes in the squad and a lack of depth-strength that must be addressed if the club is to progress next season, but the squad is not short of deadwood. Several overpaid players will need to be shed from the Newcastle squad if big changes are afoot. The Toon’s wage bill is still one of the biggest in the league, and manager Alan Pardew must shift some deadwood if he is to make significant additions.
Assuming Newcastle avoids relegation this season, here are 10 transactions to strengthen the Magpies for 2011/12.
Lille’s Ivorian attacker ticks so many of Newcastle’s boxes that bidding for him makes perfect sense. Capable of playing anywhere across the frontline, Gerinvho’s pace and raw athleticism would add some much-needed zest to a pedestrian Toon squad.
Primarily a winger for Lille, Gervinho would provide Newcastle’s right flank with the depth it’s lacked for years. Chief playmaker Joey Barton could move back to his natural central midfield position, while Newcastle would finally be able to penetrate with threatening runs from both wings. Also a capable centre forward with 12 goals to his name this season, Gervinho would also be a great foil for one of the Magpies’ brickhouse strikers.
Alan Pardew has allegedly already made enquiries about Gervinho’s availability, but the 2010 World Cup star will not come cheaply. His form has already alerted the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal, and it’ll take swift negotiations and a big wad of cash for Newcastle to seal the deal (a fee of over £10 million has already been mooted).
Some may see Gervinho as too lofty a target for the St. James’ Park side, but Hatem Ben Arfa’s signing shows that there is still some lustre surrounding Newcastle United. Signing him will be difficult, but Gervinho’s abilities make him a target Newcastle must pursue.
Francisco Jiménez Tejada’s time on Tyneside has been nothing short of farcical. Signed by Dennis Wise for £5.7 million in 2008, Xisco scored on his home debut against Hull City but has managed just eight appearances since.
Currently on-loan at Deportiva la Coruna (his second Spanish loan spell since Newcastle’s relegation), Xisco seems certain to leave St. James’ Park this summer despite Newcastle’s striking shortage. His only appearance this season came from the bench in the 6-0 demolition of Aston Villa. There’s little to suggest he’ll stick around after three years of being kept in the dark by Newcastle managers.
Perhaps Xisco deserves another chance. He’s demonstrated decent technique in his fleeting appearances and an assist to complete Andy Carroll’s hat-trick in the Villa game suggests good link-up ability. The former Spanish U21 international has his talents, but it speaks volumes that no manager since Kevin Keegan has seen enough from Xisco to give him a run of games.
Xisco has done little to endear himself to Newcastle fans (in 2009 he announced his intentions to “stop trying” in order to engineer a move away from the club) and his behind-the-back signing played a big part in Keegan’s resignation. Severing ties with this Spanish flop is what’s best for both parties.
Newcastle have hardly looked toothless since losing Andy Carroll to Liverpool, but their attacking play is definitely a lot less incisive without the big man in the side. Leon Best has chipped in with a few goals and a fading Peter Lovenkrands has given his all, but neither are long-term solutions to Newcastle’s striking woes.
A new striker will be Newcastle’s priority this summer, and they could do a lot worse than Lille striker Sow. Signed on a free transfer from Rennes at the start of the season, Sow has torn the French league to shreds this season and is the division’s top scorer with 19 goals. Quick, strong,and a neat finisher, the 25-year-old has a bright future ahead of him and would be an excellent addition to Newcastle’s XI.
Sow’s attributes are tailor-made to contribute to those of Newcastle’s wingers (especially if Gervinho is signed). Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez aren’t traditional wingers who race to the by-line and deliver a cross. Both prefer to dribble through the opposition and cut inside, which is why signing a well-rounded striker like Sow instead of another target man makes sense.
The Senegalese’s movement will allow fluid attacking play between Newcastle’s front three in a 4-3-3 formation. He may lack Carroll’s aerial dominance, but Moussa Sow’s ability to terrorise players on the ground will benefit Newcastle in ways Carroll never could.
Tottenham Hotspur, Portsmouth, Fulham, Aston Villa, and now Newcastle. Plenty of clubs have given Wayne Routledge an opportunity to impress, but the only time he’s ever shone at Premier League level was during his formative years at Crystal Palace.
Now 26, it’s unlikely that Routledge will ever develop into a top-tier winger. His January 2010 signing completely revitalised Newcastle’s promotion push and he’s always looked deadly in the Championship, but he lacks the skill or invention to make it at the highest level.
A jet-heeled player with a good range of passing but mediocre crossing ability, Routledge has been excellent on-loan at Queens Park Rangers this season. QPR may be the latest club to give him a chance in the Premier League if they are promoted this season, but he’ll never be Newcastle’s first choice in this league. A decent option from the bench, yes, but Newcastle must aim higher if they are to progress.
It’s often been suggested that Routledge left Crystal Palace too early and never quite lived up to his full potential. At 26, his career is far from finished and maybe there’s a manager out there who can help him fulfil his early promise, but that’s unlikely to happen at St. James’ Park.
A loan signing from League One Southampton, Blackpool’s Puncheon has taken to Premier League football like a duck to water. The former MK Dons winger has already scored two goals for the Seasiders and has shown enough class to suggest he’d be worth any mid-table Premier League side taking a chance on this summer.
Selling Routledge and signing Puncheon may seem a needless like-for-like move, but Puncheon has impressed more in a handful of Premier League games than Routledge has at any club. Puncheon knows Pardew from his spell as Southampton manager, and has looked a real threat at every level he’s ever played at. Routledge was given a chance to prove himself at four different clubs: the least Puncheon deserves is a full Premier League season.
Nobody would expect Puncheon to stroll into the Newcastle team. He’s still largely unproven at this level, but Newcastle need to build a squad, not just a first 11. Newcastle have suffered this season because they lack depth in wide areas, and Puncheon would give them an excellent option from the bench.
Guthrie, like Routledge, was excellent for Newcastle in the Championship last season. He’s been at Newcastle since 2008 and has, at times, shown flashes of genuine class and composure. A capable playmaker with a mean right foot, Guthrie is probably the harshest “sell” on this list, but his inclusion is not without reason.
The former Liverpool man has struggled this season. Injured for much of the campaign, Guthrie has looked sluggish since his return and is noticeably less assured on the ball than in the Championship. As good a passer as he is, Guthrie lacks the physical attributes to be a starting midfielder in one of the world’s most intense leagues.
It’d be unfair to criticise Guthrie too heavily. He’s often been deployed as a winger (a role he’s clearly uncomfortable with) and has made only fleeting appearances this season, but Dan Gosling’s return from injury will make Guthrie irrelevant. Danny still has plenty to offer at a lower level, but his options at Newcastle will be limited with Gosling, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Cheick Tiote ahead of him in the pecking order.
The last thing Newcastle will want from the forthcoming transfer window is for start left-back Jose Enrique to leave the club. The Spaniard has come into his own after a shaky first few seasons in English football, and this year has seen him develop into one of the league’s best attacking fullbacks. His left-flank partnership with Jonas Gutierrez has been a key outlet for Newcastle and losing him this summer will be a big blow.
Enrique’s form has been so good that he’s already been linked with the likes of AC Milan and Liverpool. Talk from his side suggests that Enrique may seek to move on to bigger and better things when the window opens, which would leave Newcastle without a natural LB in their senior squad.
Enter Taye Taiwo. The Nigerian international has already announced he’ll be leaving Marseille this year after declining l’OM’s latest contract offer, and signing him on a free transfer (assuming Enrique leaves) would be a massive coup for Newcastle.
Though not as defensively solid as Enrique, Taiwo has built a reputation as a fast attacking fullback who looks to get forward at every opportunity. Marseille fans will be sad to see him leave after over 170 league appearances for the French side, and the livewire LB would be a perfect, ready-made replacement for Jose Enrique.
Cheick Tiote, Mike Williamson, Danny Simpson: Chris Hughton made some excellent signings as Newcastle manager. James Perch, unfortunately, wasn’t one of them.
A utility player able to occupy a number of roles, Perch started the season as Newcastle’s RB but was quickly dropped after Danny Simpson’s return from injury. Perch has barely featured since, and for good reason. He started his NUFC career with five yellow cards in five appearances (a league record), and scored the decisive own-goal in a loss to Stoke upon returning from suspension.
Flat-flooted, reckless, and easily skinned by opposing wingers, Perch is not cut-out for Premier League football. Nottingham Forest fans were glad to see the back of him after a dismal final season with the Championship side, which makes you wonder why this liability of a player was signed in the first place.
A lynchpin and virtual ever-present in one of the Championship’s tightest defences, Ashley Williams has been a colossus for Swansea City. The talented Welsh international has notched-up over 120 appearances for Brendan Rodgers’ side and has developed into one of the league’s most dependable defenders.
There’s always a risk associated with signing players from the lower leagues, but the likes of Phil Jagielka, Scott Dann, and Roger Johnson have demonstrated that the transition is often smoother for defenders. Williams is a rock of a defender who deserves a chance to shine in the Premier League. Williams may get that chance with Swansea next season, but the Swans can expect their star CB to be in high-demand if they fail to win promotion.
Newcastle don’t necessarily need to sign a central defender, but another body (especially one as talented as Williams) would be useful. Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini have been a surprisingly solid partnership for Newcastle, but the two are hardly faultless and Williams could comfortably replace either in the starting XI.
Williams' ability to fill-in as an emergency right-back or holding midfielder may also be attractive to Newcastle, as the Toon currently lack quality replacements for Tiote and Simpson.
It should be clear to anyone who's watched Smith over the past few seasons that he's not the player he used to be. The striker-turned-midfielder is as tenacious ever, but lacks the discipline required to fill a holding role in the Premier League. Smith throws everything into his tackles but possesses very few defensive qualities and has looked woefully off-the-pace when playing for Newcastle this season.
It's hard not to like Smith's blood and thunder spirit, but the former Leeds player just isn't good enough any more. A series of bad injuries have robbed him of the edge that made him an England international and Newcastle can no-longer justify his alleged £50k p/w wages.
Where Smith would find a new home is anyone's guess. It's easy to see a player like Smith in a Stoke City shirt, but why would any Premier League side take a chance on an ageing midfielder whose wages are grossly disproportionate to his playing ability? The terrier-like Smith, like so many who've come before him, looked a decent player in the Championship and a return to Leeds has been mooted, but this seems unlikely after their financial difficulties through the 2000's.
Alan Smith is the first player Newcastle should be looked to offload this summer. He's capable of putting in the odd good shift for the Toon, but he's a liability more often than not. Cheick Tiote's full-blooded style means he's always going to miss games through suspension, and Newcastle need a player better than Smith to fill in when the Ivorian is missing.