Revealed: Newcastle's approach to the January transfer window
Kevin Keegan's philosophy was simple '“ buy while at the top.
Well, Newcastle United are at the top of the Championship after seven successive league wins – and hopefully will still be there come the New Year.
So what’s the club’s thinking ahead of January’s transfer window?
Keegan’s old argument is a powerful and persuasive one. You can’t stand still, and investment is needed as much when you’re at the top as it is when you’re at the bottom.
But the first question is where do United need to strengthen?
And it’s a hard question to answer, for this season at least.
Benitez has cover in every position after the club’s remarkable 12-player buying spree, overseen by managing director Lee Charnley, in the summer.
There’s strength, there’s depth. It’s all there.
Defensively, Benitez’s side have been sound. They are also the division’s top scorers. And in the middle, there’s industry and invention.
Also, there are players, like Daryl Murphy, Achraf Lazaar and Jesus Gamez, that are yet to come into play this season.
Murphy was signed as something of a specialist Championship striker, a player capable of winning headers, holding the ball up and scoring goals in the division.
Benitez knew he didn’t have another target man in the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic through injury or suspension, and he went out and signed a player who knows the division inside out.
It was a wise move, and Murphy, having been limited to just one EFL Cup appearance so far this season by injury, could yet play a significant role this season.
However, Newcastle are NOT looking at making any more short-term signings, though that stance could be changed by a major injury between now and the end of the window.
Any January acquisitions, it seems, will be with a view to the longer-term.
But this window, historically, has been used for emergency, and not strategic, buys by clubs.
United spent tens of millions of pounds on Jonjo Shelvey, Andros Townsend and Henri Saivet in January this year in an attempt to stave of the threat of relegation.
It didn’t work, though it did in January 2013 when the arrivals of Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran helped energise a struggling Newcastle, who went on to stay up.
United, unless they lose a key player or more to long-term injury, won’t need any emergency signings.
Newcastle, however, have an open mind to more strategic buys.
If a player became available in January that could help this season – and play in the Premier League in the event of promotion – they would have the funds to sign him.
There may be players out there that could be easier to sign in the New Year as opposed to next summer.
United might look well covered for this season, but the squad would need to be significantly strengthened – in all areas – should the club go up.
The club, with an average gate of more than 50,000 this season, certainly has the money. It made a £30million profit from transfers in the summer and is set to bank around £10million next year from the return of Florian Thauvin to Olympique Marseille.
Newcastle could also try and do an early deal for Christian Atsu, on a season-long loan from Chelsea.
Atsu – who scored his second goal for the club in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Cardiff City – has caught the eye when he’s played, and Benitez may feel that the 24-year-old has already done enough to earn a permanent move to St James’s Park.
The winger joined the club on deadline day – hours before Moussa Sissoko left.
Midfielder Sissoko joined Tottenham Hotspur for £30million. It was thought at the time that the club hadn’t had time to get a replacement given that the midfielder’s departure was only confirmed in the final mintues of the summer window.
However, Sissoko’s late exit did NOT stop any incoming permanent deals.
One of the players United looked at late in the summer transfer window was Callum McManaman.
However, the club ended their interest in the 25-year-old – who has made just one Football League Trophy appearance for West Bromwich Albion – once they signed Atsu.
Intriguingly, however, the Gazette understands that the club were considering more potential loans in the final hours of the summer window.
As for likely departures, the odds are on Cheick Tiote finally severing his ties with Newcastle.
A series of proposed moves have broken down in the last two windows, but Tiote, in the final year of his contract, can’t afford to wait until the summer to secure a move.
Tiote has hardly featured for United during two injury-hit seasons, and he just needs to play.
Newcastle would also get some kind of fee for him and the move would free up some wages.
But it’s hard to see many other departures. Even Yoan Gouffran, also in the final year of his United deal, seems certain to stay and continue his renaissance at the club.
Benitez, put simply, does not need to sell.
You could also argue he does not need to buy.
Newcastle, however, ARE looking at what will be available in January.
And Benitez will have a clear idea about what could help his team in the second half of the season – and potentially next year in the Premier League.
Speaking in September after the summer transfer window closed, Benitez said: “We will continue to assess the squad over the next few months and see how we are doing before the end of the year.”
The club is doing well, very well, so the need for new signings is not acute.
But what better time to buy than when you’re at the top?