Newcastle United Repeat History

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“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – George Santayana

Famous words that have been uttered many times, yet Newcastle United seem to have not taken much notice, seemingly heading towards the Premier League’s trap-door for the second time in seven years, it is a painfully familiar sinking feeling for the Newcastle United fanbase. There are definitely some comparisons that can be drawn from the last relegation campaign in 2008/09, and plenty of signs and red flags that the club’s hierarchy should have spotted before they reared their ugly head in the form of a settled spot in the relegation zone.

Newcastle United Repeat History

One such issue is the number of players in the squad that can be considered ‘mercenaries’. Players signed purely through prior deals with agencies, in order to increase the brand image of a certain agency or a certain player. There are a number of players at Newcastle United over the past number of seasons who fit that bill. Some have been successful and moved on to bigger and better things, however on the whole, the so-called ‘mercenaries’ in the United squad have failed to gel and failed to live up to the high expectations upon signing. This is a close comparison to the years leading up to the 2008/09 season where signing the likes of Geremi, Xisco, and Ignacio Gonzalez (on loan) did not help to create a team atmosphere in the dressing room, as a number of players knowledgeably playing for large wages with the intention of remaining at the club for only a short period of time, meant that the side lacked fight and desire, finishing the 2007/08 season poorly, before the beginning of the relegation season.

This is seen in the way that United’s current dressing room is filled with players of different nationalities, different factions and cliques, which shows on the pitch, as the squad is packed with obvious talent, yet the team cannot play as one. Revelations of dressing room bust-ups and strong words being spoken at half-time during the 3-1 defeat to Southampton, are not good signs and do not point towards a team coming together to fight for the cause and achieve survival. On the pitch, the side look already-beaten, downtrodden and many players, the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko in particular, look to be playing with one eye on next season, not playing whole-heartedly, as they are well aware that they will be leaving the club in the summer. After recent performances, one could be excused that many players will be on the phone to their agents after every defeat, enquiring about interest in their services. If this is the case, United are in a dire situation because if the people who are capable of changing the club’s fate do not believe in survival, then what chance does the club have.

Newcastle’s recent acquisitions in the transfer market are of the same ‘mercenary’ mould as seven years ago. Wijnaldum’s performances and effort levels have plummeted in recent weeks, ghosting through every 90 minutes. The same can be said for Daryl Janmaat, signed following the 2014 World Cup from Feyenoord, and in the news recently for allegedly punching the changing room wall after becoming frustrated against Southampton

Arguably the perfect example of players on Tyneside to simply bolster their bank accounts are the two out-of-favour strikers, Seydou Doumbia and Emmanuel Riviere. Doumbia, signed in January, had big things expected of him, with fans hoping his reputation and goals would fire the club to the relative safety of mid-table. Despite Newcastle’s dire performances in front of goal, Doumbia has not been preferred by either Steve McClaren or Rafa Benitez. There was rumour that the Ivorian may have a clause in his contract that if he were to play a certain number of games, the club would be obliged to buy him in the summer, however that was mere paper gossip. Also in his position is Riviere, the French forward who underwhelmed spectators last year with a measly one Premier League goal all season, and has featured sporadically this season, showing no improvements or even desire to break into the first team. Sitting pretty collecting a hefty wage every month, both strikers seem perfectly content with Newcastle’s fate and their slide to the foot of the table, as they each know there will be a strong likelihood that they will leave this summer.

This example can be compared to Michael Owen and Mark Viduka during the 2008/09 season. Both names that were ‘too good to go down’, and as soon as the transfer window came around, they jumped ship, only after stewarding the club’s steady demise before relegation was confirmed on the final day, the latter of the two registering zero strikes in 12 appearances that year.

Flawed Transfer Policy

That begs the question; is Newcastle’s transfer policy all wrong? In a sense yes it is, with chief scout Graham Carr heading up the scouting operation, who has too infrequently scouted diamonds in the rough and ignored suggesting obvious talent because of the club’s unofficial policy of not signing players over the age of 27-28. Ayoze Perez, Chancel Mbemba and Yohan Cabaye are the obvious exceptions, but three players is not enough to build a Premier League team around. Carr had reportedly rejected the chance to sign Olympique Marseille’s then playmaker Dimitri Payet during the French club’s well-documented troubles. Despite creating the most chances across Europe’s top five leagues consistently, Carr opted for untried and untested talent in Remy Cabella and Florian Thauvin, both of which are now ironically at L’OM, enduring one of the club’s worst seasons in recent history. We only need to take note of West Ham’s excellent form this season, much of it can be attributed to the Frenchman, who they picked up at a snip of a mere £10.5 million, meanwhile Newcastle released Hatem Ben Arfa for free, before spending £36 million trying to replace him, with three consecutive £12 million transfers for Cabella, Thauvin and Andros Townsend, all of whom have flattered to deceive.

Mondial Sport Management

Perhaps more suspiciously, Newcastle’s dealings have been closely intertwined with France-based sporting agency ‘Mondial Sport Management‘, who represent a number of Newcastle’s current and former players. Moussa Sissoko, Emmanuel Riviere, Henri Saivet and Aleksandar Mitrovic are all represented by the group, as well as on loan wingers Remy Cabella and Florian Thauvin, and former players Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Mathieu Debuchy. Saivet arrived on Tyneside in January under peculiar circumstances, a defensive midfielder being bought by the club when either a forward or a defender was more desperately needed. Meanwhile, the French trio of Ben Arfa, Debuchy and Cabaye all openly pursued an exit from Newcastle once relations with the club had turned sour, or their market value had risen. Cabaye notoriously went on strike, refusing to feature in a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City, getting his desired move four months later to PSG. Debuchy, or the agency, similarly recognised when his stock had risen and there was interest from other clubs, eventually departing to Arsenal.

Forgetting the suspicious circumstances in which Newcastle have bought and sold some of the players represented by the agency, it is quite strange for an English club to have bought nine players, who are all represented by the same French management group. As mentioned, Dimitri Payet was supposedly offered to United but the opportunity was rejected by Graham Carr; the playmaker who is also conveniently represented by Mondial Sport Management. Likewise, some of United’s top targets in recent transfer windows have been Clement Grenier of Lyon, and Raphael Guerreiro of Lorient, once again both players from the same agency.

Newcastle United’s transfer dealings could certainly be called into question following these developments as the fact that Carr has returned to the same watering hole many times, indicates that the best scouting job possible is not being conducted by Newcastle United Football Club.

An assessment of Newcastle United’s scouting policy and failure to learn from past mistakes has undoubtedly contributed to the demise of the great club that it is. History seems to be repeating itself on Tyneside, as the inevitable drop looms, beckoning United into the second tier once again. One hopes that they can find the ability to regroup and rebuild to return to the Premier League a stronger team than the current one, that given recent results, is going down with a whimper.