He’s been one of the bargains of the season. The Ivorian defensive midfield who joined Newcastle for £3.5m has taken to the league like he’d played in it for years. I recently went to see Birmingham against Newcastle at St Andrews. I watched it like many games, with my Dad. After another smart turn and lay off by the aforementioned Tiote, my Dad turned to me and said “How we couldn’t do with ten more like him.”
I knew he didn’t mean ten more African defensive midfielders. Instead like Mike Ashley he shared the desire for young exciting players that cost little and grew with the club. The biggest issue with this transfer policy is that fans don’t like the selling aspect, and who would? Like many, I was disappointed with the sale of Andy Carroll but I’d be lying if I didn’t think the £35m held massive potential for the club’s future playing staff.
After all, the policy of well-scouted transfers can unearth real quality. Take Hatem Ben Arfa for example. He may now be nursing a broken leg, but in his four appearances prior to that, he looked exciting. A comparison to David Ginola or Laurent Robert seems too easy but you can bet either would have been proud of Ben Arfa’s strike against Everton at Goodison Park.
Signed in January for £5m, his move to Newcastle was anything but smooth. A month of drawn out transfer negotiations saw OM president Jean Claude Dassier claim the deal was off. It was on, rinse and repeat. During this time Ben Arfa had refused to train and flew to Newcastle in a bid to seal his move away from France.
Depending on how you viewed the situation, it suggested one thing, Ashley was either a tough negotiator or cheap. Either way he was the antithesis of his predecessor Freddy Shepherd who regularly bowed to the demands of player agents in a desperate bid to bring home the club’s first domestic silverware since the 1969 Fairs Cup.
Graham Carr, the club’s chief scout, and Chris Hughton both explained that the Tiote deal, much like Ben Arfa’s, was a careful one. The reports conflict slightly but claims they had watched him at Anderlecht, Roda JC and more recently FC Twente, completed the dossier that made those in charge decide he was the right man to give the midfield strength. He also came with a glowing report from former Twente manager Steve McClaren. So when he was offered to those in the Premier League, both Newcastle and West Brom moved to secure him.
Carr also revealed that France is a big market for the club as they are still held in high regard there. He mentioned Tiote’s international colleague Gervinho as one target as well as Kevin Gamiero of Lorient. Nearby neighbours Belgium is also a constant scouting ground with the club represented at the recent Anderlecht vs Genk match, where it’s likely they were watching Jonathan Legear. His suggested price of around €3m fits the club policy and Newcastle are desperate to secure a long term solution to the lack of depth on the right hand side.
His poor injury record won’t have gone unnoticed and with Newcastle operating a risk assessment type policy, no facet is overlooked. Re-sale value is the new buzzword, and when you consider that some of this season’s players like Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson only cost £1.75m combined, the frugal approach doesn’t seem such a bad idea.
Using a mixture of scouting and asking those within the game, they use all the available resources when identifying targets. Take Leon Best who was recommended by former Arsenal and Republic of Ireland player Liam Brady. Carr also mentioned discussions he had with Sven-Goran Erikksson about Gervinho who won’t be as cheap as many of the recent purchases.
The real problem with this style of transfers is the risk of not always finding quality. The concept of paying peanuts gets you monkeys being the argument of those cynical of the new transfer strategy. There have been failures during Ashley’s tenure. James Perch looks well out of his depth but at £1.5m you’d think the club would recoup a fair portion of that fee. Spanish striker Xisco, however, who cost £6m, makes the mind boggle. An assist against Aston Villa at the start of the season made you think he had a future, all be it in the unorthodox position of right wing. He’s now back at Deportivo on loan from whom he joined Newcastle with his future at the Magpies not looking likely.
Ashley’s history means many will never trust him. That image wasn’t enhanced by the sacking of Chris Hughton who did all that he could and was much loved by the fans. So while the mega fees and star names are unlikely to be joining Newcastle soon, it would appear they want to go a different route. And instead of buying the stars, they want to make them.