Has Rafa Benitez already begun preparing Newcastle United for the future?
The transfer window is shut and the next few months will either leave fans with new fan favourites or crying out for more money to be spent in January. As we reach the middle of the new season’s first international break it seems as a good a time as any to take a look Newcastle’s busy transfer window.
Rafa Benitez worked tirelessly over the summer bringing in over twelve players in an attempt to inject some confidence and new life into a tired team. Whilst few would argue that the level of change wasn’t needed, the incoming group of Dwight Gayle, Grant Hanley, Matt Ritchiem, Isaac Hayden, Ciaran Clark, Daryl Murphy and Mohamed Diame represents something of a quandary.
For one, none represent a proven Premiership commodity; Gayle was ineffectual for Crystal Palace, Ritchie and Diame have bounced around after some initial success whilst Hanley, Murphy and Hayden have never played a game in the Premiership. Lastly, let’s not forget Clark who was just relegated with Aston Villa.
It’s true their experience and proven record at the Championship level will no doubt assure a squad short on confidence, but do they have what it takes to be quality Premier League contributors? Or has Benitez simply splashed out on seven players whom will amount to expensive one/two-year rentals?
The Newcastle squad, full of individual talent, suffers from a series of structural issues. With over 8 managers in nearly 12 years (let’s not get started on Souness) the turnover of players and tactical ideas has been high. Unsurprisingly, the team has been left bereft of any real identity or chemistry.
Against more forgiving opposition Chris Hughton used his lone season in the Championship (2009/10) to build confidence, give young players first team football and settle upon an identity built around the attacking strengths of Andy Carroll. Notably, he did this whilst only making superficial changes to the squad he inherited and in the process got the club promoted with a historically great Championship record.
In the years that followed it wasn’t hard to see the roots of Hughton’s work in the relative success achieved by his replacement Alan Pardew. Benitez’s first set of transfers, estimated at a cool £55m, mark a firm departure from that formula.
In fairness to Benitez, he has trimmed the squad quite brilliantly so far. He got quality returns for players that wanted to leave (Janmaat, Townsend) and has handled the departure of Moussa Sissoko to Tottenham calmly, all the while not jeopardising the start of the season. The signings of DeAndre Yedlin, Mat Selz, and Achraf Lazaar should also provide some longevity. We’re also not privy to the to’s and fro’s of the transfer market and just how attractive an option Newcastle is for players currently. Indeed, at this juncture, Benitez may be doing as well as he could hope.
It will be interesting to see if these transfers, whilst perhaps ideally suited to gaining promotion, will appear short sighted. As mentioned, the consistent churn of players was one of the major reasons the club has been relegated twice in the last seven years. Should Rafa have aimed for younger players with more potential even if they lacked Championship experience? Or will this deeply rooted pragmatism mark one of the first positive steps in Benitez tenure? Only time will tell.
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