Kristoffer Ajer, Allan Saint-Maximin's future & transfer budget - Q&A with Newcastle United writers Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin
Domestic football may be in its off season but there is always something to talk about when it comes to Newcastle United.
Last week, the Magpies received their very own England call-up, well… kind of, with assistant coach Graeme Jones joining Gareth Southgate’s backroom staff for Euro 2020.
Transfer talk has also hit the headlines, in particular, Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer, as Steve Bruce looks to bolster his squad despite his restricted transfer budget.
As they regularly do on a weekly basis, our Shields Gazette writers Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin have tackled the latest topics surrounding United:
What are your thoughts on Graeme Jones' surprise 'call-up' to the England squad?
LK: "A resounding endorsement of the decision to bring him in at United. He is very highly rated in coaching circles and is someone who Gareth Southgate did his coaching badges with and tried to get on board with the England under-21s. His impact was impressive at United - fingers crossed he has a positive one on the national team, too."
JC: “It’s a testament to his impact at Newcastle. Bar the sticky patch in the middle, it was no coincidence the team improved and finally developed an identity about them when Jones arrived. It wasn’t just tactics either, United became a bit more inventive from corners, set pieces etc, something fans hadn’t seen under Bruce. I think his call up to the England set up is a shrewd one, so hopefully it bodes well for a successful Euros and a better season coming up.”
Do you believe there are any Newcastle players that can count themselves unlucky at being left at home for the Euros?
LK: "Not really. I've heard people talk up Karl Darlow, but I would argue Freddie Woodman was in a better position to take up a place in the squad. There isn't really anyone else who comes into the conversation really bar Callum Wilson. He is, of course, recovering from injury - however, I don't think he was really in the thinking of Southgate anyway."
JC: “You could definitely create an argument for Darlow, Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Joe Willock. That said, the counter argument is fairly straightforward too. Darlow was dropped just as Southgate took notice, Wilson’s lay-off between February and April ended all hopes and Willock has only shown his ability in half a season. Saint-Maximin? He can definitely feel hard done by but it’s hard, especially with the pool of talent in France’s squad. It’s one of those that if he was playing for a club competing for trophies and Europe, he’d probably get in.”
Reports this week have suggested Kristoffer Ajer could be on his way from Celtic. Would he be a good signing for Newcastle?
LK: "Yes. Very. An impressive, towering, ball-playing centre-half with bags of experience in the Champions League and at international level. If United can tie this one down, it would be a positive first step this summer."
JC: “I haven’t seen enough of Ajer to offer a definitive judgment but for £6million to £8m, it’s effectively a no-risk buy. He’s only 23 and has been compared to Virgil Van Dijk – that’ll do for me!”
With Steve Bruce set to be handed a heavily reduced transfer budget, are there any players you'd look to sell to increase funds?
LK: "Dwight Gayle would be top of my list. I'd be on the phone now talking to the likes of West Brom and Fulham, both of whom were considering £15m+ moves for the player within the last three years. I'm sure both would consider a reduced deal for the player, you'd imagine £8-10million would be a fair price for a striker with all skills to fire you out of the Championship at the first attempt."
JC: “It seems a given that Florian Lejeune will leave permanently – you’d hope he can fetch a couple of million in at least. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t be against selling Jonjo Shelvey if a West Ham are willing to pay £15m-£20m+, something that has been rumoured in recent summers. Gayle is also one the club should look to move on if they’re looking to sign a back-up striker to Wilson. He really struggled last season and I’m concerned he’s past his best at Premier League level.”
There has been more noise around Allan Saint-Maximin's future this week. How do you rate United's chances of keeping hold of him this summer?
LK: "I think he will stay. Obviously that has to be caveated with the fact he is a talented boy, with a lot of admirers - and will want to move on in the not too distant future if the club continues to fail to match his own ambitions. And who could blame him? I certainly wouldn't. I do think, however, the balance of probability suggests the player will remain for at least one more campaign on Tyneside."
JC: "His price tag might price a lot out of moves, especially on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic where finances are tight. I’m with Liam, I think he’ll stay for another season at least but won’t be surprised if he leaves next summer. It’s all takeover dependant I feel, unless Mike Ashley suddenly wants to compete for Europe and trophies. His interview with Sky Sports last month was an interesting one, the player wants to compete on a stage that puts him under consideration for the France national team. Fighting relegation with Newcastle sadly doesn’t cut it.”