Eddie Howe has made his first mark on the Newcastle squad by bringing in Kieran Trippier. It’s a real statement signing, and it’s exciting to think who may follow him through the door.
The big question surrounding the transfer window was whether Newcastle would be able, given their current position, to attract the quality of player that can drive the club forward. With the signing of England right-back Kieran Trippier, the answer seems to be that, if the circumstances are right, then yes, they can.
The signing of Trippier is huge for Newcastle on so many levels. He is the first current England international to join the club since Michael Owen in 2005. He chose to sign for us despite the Spanish champions, who are still in the Champions League, wanting to keep him. He adds top-level experience, leadership and quality to a defence lacking all three. His set-piece ability is beyond anyone Newcastle have had for many a year, arguably since Nolberto Solano left the club. His versatility means he can play either full-back role, and he is comfortable in the wing-back position should Howe adapt his tactics. Trippier brings so much to Newcastle, and it seems remarkable the transfer fee – rumoured to be £12m plus £3m in future add-ons – is so cheap.
The most important thing Trippier gives to Newcastle, though, is confidence. His signing, at such an early stage of the transfer window, tells the fans that the new owners mean business. After so many years of Mike Ashley floating high-profile names only to sign budget alternatives or ‘fail to get them over the line,’ Newcastle have signed their top target, which gives the fans confidence that this regime walk the walk. It gives confidence to other targets that Newcastle is a club worth signing for, and though the next few months will be tough, it is a club on the up. It gives the rest of the team confidence that new signings are coming, and that the level of performance will improve dramatically. Perhaps most importantly, it gives the recruitment team confidence they can pull off this level of signing, which will be so crucial over the next few weeks, as the club move to improve the quality of player available to Howe.
These next few weeks will be critical to Newcastle’s future. While many say that Newcastle will come straight back up should they get relegated to the Championship, it’s a theory that they do not want to put to the test. People say that mass overhauls are best left to the summer transfer window, and in ideal circumstances, that is true. Newcastle, however, are operating in circumstances that are far from ideal. If you were to imagine this squad in two years, you’d think only Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin, Joelinton, Trippier and maybe Martin Dubravka would be challenging for first-team places, with perhaps Ryan Fraser, Joe Willock and Jamal Lewis remaining as squad players, and maybe Sean Longstaff, should he find his former levels and not be used as a makeweight for Lucas Digne. That leaves sixteen or seventeen players that are likely to be upgraded sooner, rather than later. The issue facing the management and board is how fast they should move, especially with January being less than optimal and our league position being so unappealing.
The most persistent rumours say that four defenders, a midfielder and a striker are the aim for January, with Trippier the first of the defenders through the door. It came out last night that Newcastle are in negotiations with Everton around the transfers of both Digne and Longstaff, but that Digne was not interested in the move, preferring instead to join Chelsea or West Ham. If that is the case, it would be wise to move on to another target for left-back, because Newcastle can ill-afford not to strengthen what is such a problem area, especially with Lewis and Paul Dummett out injured. However, it would be worth making a bid for Digne that other clubs will not match, essentially making it a choice between staying at Everton, where he is unwanted and may well not be registered in the squad, or moving to Newcastle, where he would be first-choice in a squad that plays to his strengths. If those were his only options, it’s hard to see him turning down the move.
People will say that they only want players who see us as a destination club, but the fans have to accept that Newcastle have not been a destination club for many years. Being second, third or fourth choice for players does not mean they are not worth signing, and just because they don’t immediately love the club does not mean they won’t love it in six months or a year, and be thankful for the circumstances that led them to Newcastle. There is the risk of ending up with another Florian Thauvin, who never wanted to sign for Newcastle and only flourished after his departure. There is also the chance of ending up with another Rob Lee, who originally wanted to sign for Middlesbrough and had to be persuaded to make the move to Tyneside, yet went on to give us an exemplary decade and make himself a permanent fixture on fans’ best Newcastle XI lists, or another Duncan Ferguson, David Batty or Tino Asprilla, who performed fantastically for the club despite not wishing to leave their previous club. Given Newcastle’s predicament and financial power, some gambles will have to be taken, and some players will need to be convinced. Some of those players will fall by the wayside, but some could well become legends.
Whoever follows Trippier to Newcastle, he will go down in history as the first major signing of the new era. His name will answer the quiz questions, and whoever follows him, he will always be the one that chose Newcastle United first, in a moment of crisis. England’s right-back, dumping the Spanish champions for the Geordie boys. Who would have dared to dream of that three months ago?
Newcastle fans across the globe will be spending their time dreaming of potential signings to follow Trippier’s addition, and I am no different. If it was up to me, I’d identify my starting XI and then I’d bring in a new player for as many positions as possible. Some, like Trippier, I’d bring in as permanent signings. Others, I’d look to the loan-to-buy system, and see how they perform and whether the club avoids relegation. With the news that Wilson could well be out for the season, bringing in two strikers has to be high on the agenda, as well as a whole new defence. Based on the 4-3-3 system Howe has been using, here is the starting XI I’d keep, with Trippier classed as a new signing for the purposes of the exercise:
I’d keep those eleven players to maintain stability, I’d be prepared to replace any and every member of the squad remaining in this window, with the possible exception of Miguel Almiron, whose energy is useful even if his end product is so often disappointing, Jacob Murphy, who has developed into a useful utility player with pace to burn and underrated crossing ability, and Matt Ritchie, whose determination to succeed so often raises the level of those around him, and has been a trusty lieutenant to Howe over the years. The rest – Karl Darlow, Mark Gillespie, Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles, Emil Krafth, Paul Dummett, Isaac Hayden, Jeff Hendrick and Dwight Gayle – I would upgrade immediately. These players have no long-term future at Newcastle, and are either bereft of confidence or are lacking key qualities in crucial areas, and nothing would be lost by bringing in replacements. I’d even entertain offers for Ritchie and Almiron, but they wouldn’t be priority sales. Ideally, I’d keep the Longstaff brothers, both for their local connection and to see how they can develop under a proper manager like Howe, but I wouldn’t be averse to selling them either, especially if – like the potential part-exchange mooted between Sean Longstaff and Digne – the opportunity is there to vastly strengthen the squad.
For who to bring in, I’d ideally want Premier League-ready players. The likes of Sven Botman and Lloyd Kelly have been linked, but I don’t really know enough about them to comment. These would be my top targets for each position:
Some of those names – Digne, Neves, Ward-Prowse, Ramsey and Toney in particular – may be ambitious, but Newcastle are a club that must show ambition. In goal, I would go for Henderson of Manchester United, because he wishes to play first-team football and because I think Dubravka’s levels have dropped since his injuries and his howler for Serbia at the Euros. Tarkowski comes with the advantage of weakening a direct rival, and Phillips is a vastly-underrated defender with experience of playing with ultra-attacking full-backs. Digne is an excellent player who wants to leave Everton. Juventus have said Ramsey is for sale, and even if he only plays half the matches, he would be worth it. Neves and Ward-Prowse may be harder to get, but money talks, we have a lot of it, and both are very good players. Lingard, I’m less sold on, but I would try to get him on loan and see what happens.
It’s the strikers that will be key, and I’ve listed two players there that have not yet become prolific goalscorers in the Premier League. What I feel is crucial is that both men have a point to prove, with Toney's previous failure on Tyneside a wrong he will surely want to prove right, and Origi never having been given a sustained first-team run at Liverpool, yet impressing every time he has played. Both men are physical, powerful players who can link play and who are hungry for success. With the crossing ability of Trippier and potentially Digne, both would have the sort of service on which they would thrive. Crucially, I feel both men could play with Wilson, once the main man is back from injury, and that’s why I opted for them. Both would be ambitious signings for this window and hard to pull off, but both would improve our squad far more than some bigger names that have been floated, like Anthony Martial and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Of course, there are some Hollywood signings being floated, with the likes of Martial, Aubameyang, Gini Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and even Eden Hazard having been linked with Newcastle in recent weeks. While I obviously would not turn any of those down, I omitted them from the discussion because there are serious attitude questions over some of them, and others seem far too fanciful at this stage, even for a dreamer like myself. And, if I’m honest, I’d rather be bringing in Toney, Origi or even Aleksandr Mitrovic over Aubameyang, who may have the quality but whose mentality and professionalism are in serious question right now. Up front in particular, I think hunger is the key for Newcastle this January, and I’m not sure Aubameyang has that in the levels required anymore.
While those are the names I would choose, Eddie Howe will have different targets in mind, and I will back him whomever he brings in. Whichever names follow Trippier through the St. James’ Park doors in the coming weeks will be joining a revolution at the ground floor, and will find themselves taken to the fans’ hearts by virtue of taking a chance on a club in trouble, but which has immense potential. I doubt there will be the overhaul I suggested in the previous section, but I do expect to see six or seven players join the club, and – should Newcastle retain their Premier League position – I anticipate next season’s starting line-up will be one that, for so long, Newcastle fans thought they would only ever see on Football Manager or FIFA.
It is exciting times for fans of Newcastle United, and after the years of transfer famine under Mike Ashley, they are ready to feast. I suspect Howe will play it a bit shrewder, and I have no doubt he will ensure the club is far stronger at the close of the transfer window, before going on to perform an unprecedented escape act ahead of a summer of change.
At the very least, they are giving football fans everywhere something to talk about.
Song of the Chapter:
‘Money Changes Everything,’ by Cyndi Lauper
Quote of the Chapter:
“I had a dream to move to Europe and Newcastle gave me the first opportunity. I was really lucky and really pleased. I made the right decision. It was a great place. The Geordies adopted me and I really had a great time.”
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