I would like to start this article by stating that I am definitely not a fan of the January transfer window. Players are usually more expensive, they are thrown into the middle of an established squad and generally do not gel quickly, and are potentially cup-tied for the FA Cup if they have been signed from England – not that this is an issue for Newcastle United in recent years. However, the January transfer window can sometimes serve a very useful purpose. For example, I would venture that we most certainly would have been relegated last season had we not panicked and made 5 signings in the January transfer window of last season.
If, in the summer transfer window, the squad has been inadvertently (or deliberately as is the case with Mike Ashley) left short of options, you can always use the January transfer window as an opportunity to re-assess the needs of the squad and potentially plug a few gaps that may be appearing. You could also use the January transfer window as an opportunity to get a head-start on replacing some players who are seemingly heading for the exit in the upcoming summer window.
With that in mind I would suggest that we definitely need to strengthen in January for a number of different reasons. While we have had a more than excellent start to the season, one could suggest that we have remained rather fortunate with regards injuries and suspensions – with the likes of Coloccini being adequately replaced by Williamson (or M’biwa as it would now appear) and the likes of Tiote, Cabaye and Remy staying largely free from any long-term injuries this season. If this continues for the whole season, all well and good, however, what are our contingency plans if and when we do suffer from injuries and suspensions?
Some of our fringe players have stepped up to the mark excellently this season – namely Mike Williamson and Shola Ameobi. The question remains, is this a signal of sustained improved performances from these two, or are they temporarily upping their performances? Either way, neither are really good enough to be first team options in the long run and given how Remy will be leaving the club in the summer, as well as the likely departure of our captain Coloccini, do we have faith in these two to fill their shoes?
It must also be noted that Shola Ameobi’s contract runs out in the summer of 2014, and I for one would be very surprised if it is renewed. So adding to the departure of our loan signing Loic Remy, club stalwart Shola Ameobi could be likely heading for the exit, leaving Papiss Cisse as our only recognised striker at the club. Looking at his recent performances, and his abject performances last season, calling Cisse a ‘striker’ may be using the term loosely.
So we are looking short of options up front, and will be faced with a need for a centre half in the summer. Will the club take a forward step and make the requisite signings in January which will not only replace these departing players, but also provide us with added options in order to continue our fine start to the season which could ultimately yield a European place?
I haven’t even begun to discuss the elephant in the room – Yohan Cabaye. Cabaye’s departure from the club seems imminent. Having not secured a move away from the club in the summer, it looks likely that following his involvement in the World Cup, wor Yohan will be moving on to pastures new, and who could blame him? Unfortunately, I do not think that any replacement will be signed for him either in the January window or the summer window. Cabaye’s replacement is currently making do with a place on the bench right now and has been one of our top performers when he actually gets on to the field. Vurnon Anita is an excellent little footballer, and I feel he will slot straight into the midfield when Cabaye does eventually leave.
It is all well and good discussing the hypothetical need for signings. In fact, these are very real and pressing concerns about our practical need for signings. One or two injuries, especially to key players, could see our fine start to the season falter away into a disappointing mid-table finish. So assuming that many can agree that these signings are necessary, will we then take the added step of making these signings? Our transfer history under Ashley shows that he does not make signings unless they are absolutely necessary, and even when they are necessary, he will gamble and take a chance if it means saving him some readies.
Our fine start to the season could possibly be a reason for NOT strengthening in January as Mike could take a look at the table and see us as being a mere 14 points away from safety and could make the decision to take his chances that this team will secure 14 points between now and the end of the season and thus secure of Premier League status for another year.
In the same breath, he could make a few bargain bucket signings by bringing in 1 or 2 players who have 6 months left on their contracts thus getting them for a nominal fee – much like Sissoko and Gouffran last January. While this would be better than nothing, I do not think this is a sustainable transfer model. Whilst Sissoko and Gouffran have both proven themselves to be very capable players, someone like Bafetimbi Gomis would not be a welcome signing, rather he would be a signing for the sake of one.
Ashley could also surprise us all, sign an upgrade for Mike Williamson, sign an upgrade for Shola Ameobi, buy an additional striker that we have always needed since the sale of Demba Ba and maybe even secure an exciting young player for the future. All with the attempt to build on our fine start to the season to push us towards the higher echelons of the league where we belong. However, I will not be holding my breath.
So to come full circle – do we really need signings in January? Most definitely. Will we get them? I really do not know.