Among football’s numerous unwritten rules, there’s a widely held assumption that you must build on success. In football this means buying good players to consolidate what you already have.
For supporting evidence see David Moyes’ eternal struggle to propel Everton higher up the league – most would agree that failure to reinvest has handicapped their chances of progress. Everton are blessed, because Moyes possesses spiritual powers capable of rousing performances from an army of battered corpses. A mortal would have fallen years ago.
But, how about Liverpool, who were narrowly beaten into second by Manchester United in 2008? They invested in the injured Alberto Aquilani who spent the rest of the season struggling to regain full fitness, and spent the rest of his Anfield career on loan. It was a remarkably reckless bit of business for a club handicapped in the transfer market, but desperate to sustain a title winning team. Not buying at all is better than buying badly.
Which brings us to Newcastle, who delighted fans (football hipsters especially) with their modestly assembled side of Football Manager talent. Compared to the previous summer, this has been a very quiet closed season at St James’ Park, with a trio of relatively unknown players arriving without much fuss. Romain Amalfitano, Gael Bigirimana and Curtis Good. Alan Pardew must be waiting for the next edition of FM, because even the most devoted British/European/World Football Experts would struggle to tell you much about those three, not without a good session memorising Wikipedia and re-wording it as their own knowledge. These players are not expected to threaten those currently occupying a first team place. The only established player the club has made moves for is Lille fullback Mathieu Debuchy. They were twice rebuffed, but that’s been about it.
Newcastle have resisted any sense of panic to improve. Possibly because Mike Ashley prefers the thrill of negotiating a big pay day to catching a big fish, but also because the club has an established transfer policy in place, and there is no reason to change tack.
Much was said and written last season about how Newcastle were no longer the circus act of the Premier League. There were no hysterical references to this ‘special club’, no blubbering oafs weeping into their shirts at some unremarkable tragedy, and most importantly, no star players being sold off out of the blue.
Despite possessing individual talents that would surely compliment some of their wealthier rivals in Champions League places, there have been no departures. That means Davide Santon, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Check Tiote can all continue their development at St James’ Park. Given the relative youth of this group, they should all be capable of further improvement this term. And we haven’t talked about the strikers, yet.
Andy Carroll’s return to Tyneside has been touted in the press and his signing would add depth to the squad, as well as pleasing the fans. But, if they can pick up where they left off last season, would Carroll’s presence improve the devastating partnership of Demba Ba and Pappis Cisse? It’s true that Ba’s goalscoring nosedived worryingly once Cisse arrived, but as a pair they achieved great success. Pardew would be taking a huge risk to drop either of his first choice front men at this stage, and if Carroll does leave Anfield, it will surely be to secure regular first team football.
It therefore seems likely that Cisse will carry the huge weight of expectation for goals. His half-season of goal scoring exploits last term was as explosive and impressive as any Premier League rookie has produced. Even so, he would not be the first striker to hit a ridiculous hot streak and fail to follow it up. He’s not going to waft them in from 30 yards with outside of his boot every week (although, if he did, well, that would be fine with me). Regardless, Newcastle will start the season with one of the most feared striking partnerships in the league, and they could get better.
Newcastle’s squad may lack depth, but you could make a similar critique of their rivals for Champions League football. Tottenham are in transition, short on strikers and appear set to lose their play maker; Arsenal have made exciting signings, but are likely to lose their only consistent goal threat. And, with all their investment, Chelsea will expect to fill one of the Champions League places as a bare minimum, but there will be no Drogba to save them if Di Matteo and his team start to struggle.
Does this mean Newcastle are poised to pounce? It most certainly does. It might take a bit of getting used to, but these new look Mags are the real thing. The 2012/13 season will be Newcastle’s third since their return to the Premier League. Their progress has been faster than anyone would have predicted, and a visit to the Champions League is next on the itinerary.