This this time of year,I try to write a post about Newcastle United's summer transfer activity and strategy for the new season, which begins just over a month after the FIFA World Cup concludes.
I began writing this post on June 8 at San Juan International Airport. I was in the same terminal in June 2011, which was Alan Pardew's first summer with the club as manager. In that month, Pardew embarked on his strategy of buying undervalued French players and trying to develop them into Premier League starters. Newcastle had bought one such player before Pardew was hired. That player was Hatem Ben Arfa, an under the radar deal completed by Pardew's predecessor, Chris Houghton.
Pardew's four purchases that June signaled an attempt to build a new midfield. He brought in Sylvain Marveaux (left wing), Gabriel Obertan (right wing), and Yohan Cabaye (attacking center), the man who could become Newcastle's next number 10, to lead the offense. The hope was that Marveaux could replace Jonas Gutierrez, and Obertan could start cup matches, giving the injury-prone Ben Arfa rest in what could have been a run of seasons in the UEFA Europa League, as well as a possible League Cup run.
Well, Newcastle supporters knew what happened after that. The club had a season in which they overperformed, due in large part to their defense and it's rising star goalkeeper, Tim Krul. That gained them entry to the Europa League. However Pardew and the club almost immediately regretted playing in Europe. In match after match in that tournament, Newcastle showed resiliency in the backfield, but an inability to score up front. While Cabaye and Ben Arfa proved themselves to be the most talented offensive players, there were strong signs that they didn't fit with the other players. Also, it had become well documented that Pardew was deploying 3-3-4 and diamond formations because he recognized that he lacked natural strikers who could be used in a 4-4-2 formation.
Despite Pardew's occasional encouragement of diamond formations, the squad lead the league in long passes, rather than the short, triangular passes that can sustain attacks and produce chances. The squad gradually replied on counterattacking for goal scoring opportunities, no matter which midfield players Pardew chose to start. It wouldn't be long before knowledgeable supporters recognized that the squad's problem was not a matter of incorrect player selections by the manager, but rather a failed strategy.
Pardew and the board brought in talented players who were not attracting too much interest from bigger clubs. Simply put, they were making value conscious purchases. If one of them proved to becomes quality starter in the EPL, such as Cabaye, then he became a profitable sale opportunity. Conversely, if he was not trusted or utilized by Pardew, he became dead weight, and lose value, as was the case with Marveaux.
All the while, Newcastle's inability to score proved to be the biggest concern. They dropped from sixth to sixteenth in the table in just twelve months, saving their 2012-2013 season with a lucky win against QPR in the penultimate match.
Players who fell out of favor were felt away, with unsuccessful attempts to replace them during transfer windows. Furthermore, the last two summer transfer windows before this current one were not productive. It was about about cashing in rather than building. A spurt of purchaes in January 2013 helped save that season, and until this month, there had been no new acquisitions.
Which brings us to this current round of purchases. Basically, Pardew and company lost an entire year in maintaining their squad. What we are seeing today, with the purchase of two players, should have occurred a year ago. However, that was blocked by the asinine hiring of Joseph Kinnear as Director of Football, who essentially blocked Pardew from doing what he needed to do to right the ship (putting aside the probability that Pardew doesn't have a chart to navigate his ship).
Now Pardew finds himself in a very similar position he was in last June. He has lost talented players. His squad cannot score, and is in terrible form. Pardew has become the sixth consecutive manager since the Sir Bobby Robson era to fail to steer the squad to a positive goal differential in the EPL.
This summer, Pardew is faced with the additional problem of a broken defense (something I doubt he recognizes nor cares about). Last year, the defense was a key injury away from being broken. Fortunately, Mike Williamson surprised everyone and became the squad's most improved player. However, this squad cannot rely on Williamson in the season ahead. Every defender, with the arguable exception of Dummett and Williamson, is no longer helpful. Coloccini wants to leave. Steven Taylor has served his purpose. Matthieu Debuchy wants to reunite with Cabaye at PSG. And Davide Santon, once one of the best offensive defensemen in the Premier League, has become a liability. This defense, ideally, needs to be completely rebuilt.
But time was lost last year, and now time is being lost this year, as the World Cup has the whole football world shelving transfer news for the next month. And the stack of things to do over at the club is higher now than it was in May 2013. Last year, Newcastle arguably only needed a new defender, midfielder, and a striker. They only managed to get a quality striker on loan. This summer, they need 3 or 4 new defenders, 2 or 3 new midfielders, and 2 or 3 new strikers. But that won't happen. They are already running out of precious time.
Before the World Cup, Newcastle was able to make two small purchases. They purchased second tier Spanish striker Ayoze Perez. Days later, they acquiredJack Colback on a free transfer after his contract had expired at Sunderland. Now transfer season is on-hold for Newcastle until the World Cup is finished. What ar the next moves, Alan? The league fixtures have been announced, and the clock is ticking.