Bright future after new signings on Tyneside
Going into the January transfer window, it was clear Newcastle United’s squad was in need of a serious makeover.
After an injury-hit and generally dire first half of the season, the Magpies sat 15th in the Premier League, despite a magnificent fifth-placed finish last term.
Two morale-sapping defeats over the Christmas period to Manchester United and Arsenal left Alan Pardew’s side staring a relegation battle in the face, and investment from owner Mike Ashley was badly needed.
With hindsight, last summer’s decision not to build on the success of last season was a gamble which backfired badly on Ashley, with Vurnon Anita the only regular first-team player brought in.
Fans were sceptical heading into this month whether the owner would provide the funds needed, and these fears grew further on just the second day of the year.
On the morning of Newcastle’s crucial home clash with Everton, it was announced the club’s top scorer Demba Ba had been given permission to speak to Chelsea.
Despite Papiss Cisse’s early goal, United lost that game 2-1 and then saw Ba complete his move to the European champions.
On the eve of Newcastle’s FA Cup game at Brighton and Hove Albion, right-back Mathieu Debuchy joined the club from French side Lille for £5.5million after a long-running transfer saga.
The deal could yet see Danny Simpson depart the club in the closing stages of the window, and it kick-started the Tyneside club’s winter recruitment drive.
More disappointment on the pitch was to follow, however, as an inexperienced side crashed meekly out of the FA Cup at Brighton and then followed that up with a goalless draw with Norwich City the following week.
Signings were badly needed in all areas of the team, and it appeared Newcastle had found the man to replace Demba Ba in Loic Remy of Marseille.
A fee of around £8million was agreed, and the Frenchman looked all set for a move to St James’ Park before Harry Redknapp’s Queens Park Rangers nipped in at the last and offered Remy more wages.
When the 26-year-old opted to move to Loftus Road, this transfer window was turning into a disaster for Pardew.
Captain Fabricio Coloccini made clear his desire to leave and return home to Argentina for personal reasons, and Newcastle once again looked set to implode.
A cataclysmic home defeat to fellow strugglers Reading – in which a section of the Tyneside crowd turned on the manager – made signings an absolute necessity.
Just when it appeared Newcastle were going to shoot themselves in the foot again and let another transfer window pass by, however, Ashley got his chequebook out as the squad had a French makeover.
Highly-rated defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa joined from Montpellier for £6.7million, kicking off a period of four French signings in as many days.
Forward Yoan Gouffran signed from Bordeaux on a cut-price deal, left-back Massadio Haidara was brought in from Nancy to provide competition for Davide Santon and then the Magpies pulled off arguably their biggest coup of the window.
Box-to-box midfielder Moussa Sissoko – who was out of contract at Toulouse at the end of the season – joined for £2.2million after Newcastle brought forward a signing they were likely to make in the summer.
From transfer window no-hopers, Newcastle had suddenly become the busiest Premier League club in January, and were boosted further when it was announced Coloccini would stay until at least the summer.
There is now a great deal of positivity surrounding the club, despite their precarious position in the league, but the new signings need to hit the ground running.
Sissoko was magnificent in the first-half of Tuesday night’s crucial 2-1 win at Aston Villa, which gave Newcastle some breathing space in their battle against relegation, while Gouffran also impressed and Yanga-Mbiwa made a vital block after coming on as a substitute.
However, the Magpies are still far from safe, despite the fact they have moved up to 15th in the table and are now four points clear of the bottom three.
Pardew’s side now face two extremely difficult games against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, the two teams which finished either side of them in last season’s Premier League table.
Ba’s departure now seems a distant memory, but have Newcastle replaced his goals?
Although Pardew has suggested the club’s transfer business for this window is done, they have been linked with the likes of Wilfried Bony, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel in recent days.
Florian Thauvin and William Vainqueur have also been linked, while Simpson could depart before the window closes as his current deal runs out in the summer.
Thauvin, however, will not be moving to St James’ Park this month after he agreed a move to French side Lille.
Some youngsters may also be sent out on loan due to the increased competition for places, with the club’s supporters now much more confident of at least staying up.
However, Newcastle have to start winning games soon and their new French acquisitions will have to adapt to the English game incredibly quickly.
The Magpies may still be one short up front with Papiss Cisse struggling to replicate the form of last season – although he did score at Villa Park – but it is hoped the likes of Gouffran and Sissoko, coupled with the return from injury of Yohan Cabaye and imminent return of Hatem Ben Arfa, will help drag Newcastle to safety.
Long-term, with the new arrivals on board, the goals are much bigger, but for now there is only one objective: to preserve Newcastle’s Premier League status.
Credit must go to Ashley for sanctioning these signings, but unless they can deliver quickly, it could prove to be a gamble too late.
There can be no more excuses for Pardew; he now has a squad which should be more than good enough to remain in the Premier League.
Ashley, albeit belatedly, has backed last season’s LMA Manager of the Year, and Pardew must now find a formula with his new signings that works. Quickly.