THE SEMI-MIDAS TOUCH
By Ian Cusack
Tuesday 23 Oct 2012 10:46:00
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Let’s be honest, the biggest transfer of the close season was a long, tortuous process, involving many hours of fraught negotiations, whereby the deal looked to be dead in the water several times, only for interest to be resuscitated on an almost daily basis. Finally, after several weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, the player put pen to paper and a genuine Geordie hero centre forward has returned home to play in front of his own kind. Welcome back Anth Lormor; 22 years after Jim Smith sold him to Lincoln City, the lad has signed for Heaton Winstons in Division 4 of the North East Over 40s League, no doubt inspired by the journalistic double life of the team’s powerfully built keeper. Ahem….

In all seriousness, Anth’s signature for my bunch of over the hill has-beens and never-wases at the business end of the lowest level of veterans’ football in the area seemed a more likely occurrence than Andy Carroll returning to Tyneside, especially back on April Fools’ Day when the returning villain of the piece was booked for a dive, mercilessly taunted by those who used to adore him and then hauled off by Dalglish, for whom he had some special words of thanks. However, stranger things than Andy Carroll returning have happened; just ask Lee Clark or Mo Johnston. Obviously, the existence of the transfer window until the end of August means that any comment on where Carroll will be playing his football in 2012/2013 must involve a degree of speculation, though it is reasonable to assume that the choice of venues for his talents has narrowed with West Ham (having signed Malian striker Modibo Maiga, with whom we were linked this time last year) pulling out of the race.

On the surface, the end of the Demba Ba specific transfer window on July 31st suggests that Newcastle are now less likely to want Carroll back, even as second top banana at the club, despite the departures, with all good wishes of everyone associated with the Magpies, of Lovenkrands to Birmingham and Best to Blackburn. It was desperately unfortunate for Leon that he picked up a serious knee injury in pre-season and I fervently hope he gets back to full fitness soon, but frankly neither of those two (solid, honest, committed professionals they may be) is consistently good enough to warrant anything other than a peripheral squad place for any side aiming to finish above halfway in the Premier League. Yet, their departures do leave Newcastle light in terms of available attacking bodies for a season that may involve up to a dozen more games, if we are to have a decent run in the Europa League. Behind our Senegalese superstar duo, there is only the great enigma of Shola Ameobi as perennial benchwarmer and in reserve, the busted flush that is the discredited and disreputable Niall Ranger. While remaining in the bounds of reality, it is perhaps unlikely that a call will go out to La Coruna to call Francisco Jimenez Tejada back to his parent club; we are uniformly content for Xisco to wind down the final year of his NUFC contract in his Galician idyll.

At the end of 2011/2012, Newcastle United sold Leon Best, as has already been stated, as well as Frazer Forster to Celtic, where he had been on loan for almost 2 years, and then dispensed with the services of Peter Lovenkrands, Danny Guthrie, Alan Smith and 8 reserve and fringe players, of whom only Tamas Kadar had enjoyed significant game time for the first team, albeit not for 2 seasons.  I’m sad to see Guthrie leave as I was always a fan; he wasn’t the new Robert Lee we’d been promised when he arrived from Liverpool via Bolton in 2008, but he was a steady, reliable, safe pair of hands in central midfield (and a load of bollocks out of the wing, incidentally); I would have liked him to stay, but I can understand the appeal for him to be offered a central role at Reading. In contrast I was utterly elated to see Alan Smith leave the payroll; not only because his reported £60k per week wages were a final, damning indictment of the legacy of the surreal squandering of money that marred the Allardyce administration, but because in 5 years Smith contributed nothing worthwhile on the pitch, meaning it is almost a blessing he made only 94 league appearances (including 17 as sub) out of a potential 198. Many would say he made his mark, in a Ryder Cup non-playing captain kind of role, by chairing the no-holds barred inquest in to the 6-1 mauling at Orient in July 2009; I would counter that by suggesting any Newcastle fan would have assumed such a role for free, rather than the estimated £15m wages he pulled in during his time with us. Last season, Alan Smith played 6 minutes of Premier League football for Newcastle, at a cost of around £3m (assuming we still picked up the tab while he was away getting booked for MK Dons), which is a statistic that requires no further comment.

Looking dispassionately at the Newcastle United first team squad as it stood after the end of season departures, it was clear that the 3 areas that needed strengthening were: a full back, a centre half and a striker. The three names most often heard were: Debuchy, Douglas and De Jong. To date none of them have signed; indeed De Jong has gone to Borussia Monchoengladbach in the Bundesliga. As I write, Debuchy, after a fine European Championships, is in dispute with his club and Douglas needs to remain in Holland until such time as his citizenship is granted in mid-August. Being candid, I’d heard of none of them before June, but I’d welcome the two still allegedly available, because Debuchy is class and a clear improvement on Danny Simpson, while Douglas has to be a good bet, simply because he isn’t Williamson. I’d also welcome back Carroll, but with the caveat that this would only be in the absence of the availability of other credible options up top; remember though, we didn’t sign a striker to partner Demba Ba last summer and things worked out ok, both before and after Papiss Cisse finally arrived.

However, we have signed some players, though not in the positions where we most need strengthening:  Roman Amaltifano (winger; arrived from Stade de Rheims), Gael Birgirama (presumably as a replacement for Guthrie in midfield; from Coventry) and Curtis Good (centre back; Melbourne Heart). Clearly I’d not heard of any of them and I doubt many people reading this had either, though if we rewind 12 months the names of Cisse, Santon, Cabaye, Marveaux, Abeid and further back, possibly Ben Arfa, were utterly unknown to any of us. Thankfully, the bizarre insistence of ESPN on showing our half-paced kickabouts in Germany, Austria and Portugal against Monaco, Fenebache, Olympiakos and Braga (though Brazil v Honduras in the Olympic quarter finals at SJP won out over a shaky internet stream of the 0-0 against Den Haag) have allowed us sight of two of them; Amaltifano looks like a touchline-hugger who can sling over a good ball and Birgirama appears to be Tiote’s younger brother, so signs are promising. However, these are friendlies; 10 years ago the team would waltz off abroad and play half a dozen games against opponents you’d never heard of and Alan Oliver’s 2 paragraph report would appear in The Chronicle 72 hours after the game had taken place, so let’s not put too much of a store on the results or performances in such practice matches. Let’s just try and look at the bigger picture as it begins to emerge.

I know this takes a great deal of faith in the judgement of those in charge, but I am prepared to implicitly trust the scouting network, management and executives of Newcastle United to provide us with the players we need by the end of August. I am also reasonably confident that none of our major players will be sold either. Since relegation, bar the farcical renaming of the ground that still festers like an open sore among all supporters of the club, Ashley and Llambias have not put a serious foot wrong in the running of the club, much as it pains me to say that. Indeed, and this is an argument for a whole different article, perhaps boxing Keegan in to a corner whereby he felt he had to resign (not that Keegan needs much persuading to jump ship), then treating Shearer so shabbily, before flogging Carroll and replacing him with Shefki Kuqi,  are decisions that have actually, and amazingly, worked totally in our favour. Let’s just hope that the return of Carroll, if it comes to pass, continues to prove the current owners have their semi-Midas touch, whether this is the result of luck, judgement or a combination of both.



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