You’d be forgiven for thinking Newcastle United’s only faux pas with the loan market was association with those adorable exploiters of the poor, Wonga.
Not so. In the same way our region’s most vulnerable are being stitched up by these profiteering (legal) loan sharks, Newcastle United’s recent activity in the other loan market (you know, the one that has recently brought us Loic Remy and before that, er, Zurab Khizanishvili) might be indicative of further problems.
First, a confession: I hate the loan system in the Premier League. It serves to reinforce the long-term dominance of the big clubs who can afford to farm out players to lesser clubs for “development”. When the benefits of the loan system are casually discussed by your generic pundit on TV, the positives are hammered home. Great for the young lad to get Premier League experience. Great for the owner club to get a young lad back next year who will be ready to challenge for first-team football. Great for the loaning club to get a player for a year who is better than any they could hope to sign permanently. Everyone wins.
Not really, of course. It’s all well and good if you are rich or well-stocked enough to possess what I believe fans of other clubs call “a squad”. I don’t think we’ve truly witnessed one of these on Tyneside. With “a squad” it is possible to ear-mark certain players as potential first-teamers in future years. If you have a really good squad, some of these potential first-teamers will be already good enough to go to another Premier League club and compete against your very own first-team (although not in the same match) over the course of a season. Chelsea could even afford to purchase a potential first-teamer, Romelu Lukaku, for £20m and send him out on loan for a bit of work experience at one of their Premier League “competitors”, West Brom.
Newcastle United have never loaned a player to another Premier League club in order to develop him for future use*. In recent years, the highest rung of the ladder our young talent has been loaned to is the Championship (Sammy Ameobi, Haris Vuckic and Shane Ferguson). The rest tend to knock about in Leagues One and Two and the Scottish Premier League. Adam Campbell recently spent a Friday night on the bench for Carlisle United at Colchester. James Tavernier has been on loan at five different clubs and never made it higher than League One. And while this is still patently better than reserve team football, our returning players still lack experience at the highest level and it takes serious optimism to see any of them as genuine Premier League first-team options in the future.
All of which is not a major surprise, and we’re by no means the only club in the Premier League not to be brimming with talent beyond the first-team (or sometimes even in the first-team). When we do stumble across a prodigy in our midst, he’ll be propelled into first-team action and given a purple bib before we even think of giving him a season at Crystal Palace. In short, we’re stuck with what we have, while the bigger boys use the system to create a wider long-term gap between them and the rest of us.
So while we’re a victim of our own lack of success in terms of outgoing loans, at least we can exercise some control on those coming in. And traditionally we haven’t been too bad at this.
There are certain clubs in the Premier League who serve their Top 6 masters impeccably in the loan system, and thankfully we haven’t been one of the worst offenders. My Sunderland-supporting comrades place themselves as particular losers in this game. In recent seasons, Sunderland have loaned (and subsequently failed to buy) numerous players including Danny Welbeck, Jonny Evans and Danny Rose. All three served Sunderland well for a season and went back to their real clubs a better player. In each case, Sunderland either weren’t permitted, or failed to request, an “option to buy”. Sunderland had to replace each of them with someone new the following year (in the case of Rose, still have to), while Man United and Spurs all of a sudden had a viable Premier League prospect to play. And so the cycle continues.
They’re far from alone. West Brom had an impressive season last year on the back of Romelu Lukaku’s goals. They adapted their style to suit Lukaku and now… well, he’s not there anymore, their chosen replacement Nicolas Anelka wants to retire from professional football, and they’ve loaned another striker (Matej Vydra) who in all likelihood someone bigger and better will buy next summer if he turns out to be any good. Bolton had a six-month fling with Daniel Sturridge which everybody raved about. They didn’t replace him and got relegated the following season. Brilliant.
Anyway, more fool them, the dicks. Newcastle United’s transfer policy over the past few seasons has been to shy away from such short-termism. Profit can only be made on something you own, after all. And credit where it’s due, in this Mike Ashley is right. To make a lasting challenge on the Top 6, you need to do so with your players, not theirs. Rather than filling first-team places with one-season loans, we bought young, hungry, relatively inexpensive players from the continent. In May 2012, after unexpectedly finishing 5th in the Premier League, this policy was lauded by everyone – aided in no small part by an easy comparison with a failing Liverpool side who had spunked millions on homegrown trundlers like Stewart Downing, Jordon Henderson and our very own Andy Carroll.
This policy meant that short-term loans were rare. We have brought in only two players on loan since our promotion in 2009-10: Hatem Ben Arfa, who we were able to make permanent and who sparkled in the second-half of our best campaign in almost ten years and… Stephen Ireland who, er, we didn’t make permanent and we can all agree that that was fine too. Things are a bit different now. We stalled last summer, only bringing in Vurnon Anita – a talented technical midfielder who clearly still baffles Alan Pardew. We played, and were managed, incredibly poorly for the vast majority of last season, despite a brief flurry in the winter following the signings of a new French contingent.
Off-field, there’s a new cowboy in town, Joe Kinnear, whose only tangible action so far has been to secure a loan deal for Loic Remy. Of the deal, he said this recently in the Daily Mirror:
“If [Loic] scores goals and does well for us, Alan will be happy with our end of the deal; the player will be happy because he will come into contention for a World Cup place with France; and if both those things happen, Remy will go back to QPR as a World Cup player with a higher value than when he joined them, so everyone will come out of it well.”
It hasn’t been confirmed, but it looks like Joe didn’t quite get around to that “option to buy” at the end of the loan.
“Everyone will come out of it well”.
Yes. For one year. Loic Remy appears to be a very good player, and arguably the best fit of all our possible forward targets given his ability to play out wide, too. He could be a revelation this season. He could be the reason we finish 14th rather than 17th. However, if we can’t turn this into a permanent transfer next summer, the exercise is ultimately futile (save for netting us an extra million or so for finishing a few places higher). He’ll need to be replaced. We’ll need to find someone as good. Joe Kinnear will again be the man to find him. The cycle will continue.
The impact of this transfer window will go a long way to determining how Newcastle perform this season, but it is not the only factor. Alan Pardew should have been relieved of his duties as soon as the season ended, and replaced with a coach capable of managing what evidently still is a talented group of players. That didn’t happen though, and in his infinite wisdom the owner decided to tweak how we do our transfer business instead by employing one of modern football’s most out-of-touch men into one of its most in-vogue roles.
The latest rumoured “fallback” option of a short-term loan for Demba Ba if the Bafetimbi Gomis deal falls through suggests that as a result of our (his) lack of foresight and ability to secure deals early, we may be more susceptible to this kind of deal in future. It would be a real disappointment to go from being a trendsetter in the transfer market as recently as two years ago, to another one of the also-rans, making short-term deals to our long-term detriment. With Kinnear as Director of Football, sadly that looks inevitable.