Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time again when I use transfer rumors to speculate exactly why the rumors may be around (and int his case, persisting). In installment one, I speculated on the reasons we may be pursuing Portsmouth's ROI youth international goalkeeper Stephen Henderson. In judgement perhaps clouded by my distaste for his acquisition in the first place, I predicted the departure of Rob Elliott over the summer, which may or may not be a foolish thought. Time will tell.
In installment two, I shall turn my eye to the recently re-exploding rumors that we are chasing Crystal Palace wing wizard Wilfried Zaha and Guingamp's France youth international Anthony Knockaert. Much like the goalkeeping situation, we are facing no shortage of players who can play in the wing positions... at least the right wing. We are specifically lacking in players who can step in and deputize for Jonas Gutierrez on the left (or at least players that AP will trust to step in ... ahem Shane Ferguson ahem). This point being evidenced by the fact that Peter Lovenkrands was turned to as Jonas served his one game suspension for his exhaustion induced red v. Manchester United. The right side, however, is a different story.
Heading into the January window, conventional wisdom said that we had two specific and dire needs: Striker and Centre-half. The newspapers told us that we were likely to only bring one player in during the window.. of course this information was coming out in the errily transfer-bereft first 10 days of January or so, so grain of salt and whatever. Anyway, two needs and the targets should have followed in those veins.
In large part, many of the early rumors did address these needs. Early links to Luuk de Jong or Melvut Erdinc or Papiss Cisse (this one was sneaky... old rumor in new bottles?) as well as links to Jan Vertonghen or Alex or Douglas were about what we expected. Early rumors of interest in Knockaert and Zaha, though, were perhaps a little surprising for one main reason: they are both right wingers. If you were to rank present need per position on the squad as it sits, you're probably looking at the least need for a) Center Mid, b) Goalkeeper, and c) Right Wing.
If we consider the January window to be used for mostly "ehh... we screwed up or got hurt and need help" type moves, a move for Zaha or Knockaert do not seem to fit considering the squad as it stands. At right wing, we have and can use the following players:
- Hatem Ben Arfa
- Gabriel Obertan
- Ryan Taylor (now without a home with Davide Santon's seizing of the LB slot)
- Sylvain Marveaux (injured)
This effectively leaves us with three players on the roster to fill one on-field spot... and yet we're after two (2) right wingers. So what gives?
Hatem Ben Arfa
If Hatem lived in his happy world, he would not play out on the right (and I had hopes that he would be a true central #10 myself)... but the fact remains that when AP has played Hatem centrally, he has looked significantly less impressive than in the last couple of matches when he has been on the right. Tactical system shifts aside, and especially with the arrival of Papiss Cisse, it looks like HBA's home is going to be on the right, so these players are not here for his spot.
Ryan... he's really turned into a rich man's James Perch in that he is essentially now a utility man. Over the last several matches we've seen him at left back, right back, right mid and central mid... I think he's had his strongest performances on the right wing (predictable, as he's always been listed as a right midfielder), but his versatility would really preclude Zaha or Knockaert being brought in so he could be moved. Oh, and #RyanTayolrOverTheWall.
This is where it starts getting interesting. Alan Pardew has been extremely loyal to the former Manchester United man much to the chagrin of many in the Toon Army, and to Pardew's credit, Gaby has shown brief, brief flashes of the player that AP must see in training. Until recently, that is, when he suffered another knock that gave Pardew his chance to slide HBA to the outside. Gabriel has since recovered from the knock, but I think that a number of eyebrows will be raised if he returns to the starting lineup now (as he's been on the bench for the last two matches). This is the first situation in which you stop, sit back and think. While all evidence to this point would seem to point to the contrary, could Zaha or Knockaert be viewed as a short term replacement for Gaby?
The complete X factor in this discussion. I think I speak for most of us when I say that we were quite excited in the brief glimpse we got of Sylvain before his groin injury. The skill and creativity are definitely there, but the groin becomes a huge question mark. It is not a new injury for Mr. Marveaux, and I think that there is a very real concern that a full recovery will not be coming, in which case I think that I would be very very sad for a very very long time. Worst question in sports... what might have been?
I really don't see AP giving up on any of these players at this point, unless Sylvain is perma-crocked, so I don't really see the point save for stockpiling saleable talent... but the danger in stockpiling talent in areas where you already have too much cover in the first place is evident in our situation at the middle of the park. Cabaye and Tiote are (rightfully) the first choice pairing, but it makes for little opportunity for a player such as Danny Guthrie who probably has earned playing time... but ehm... Cabaye and Tiote are clearly the number one pairing. Consequently, we have a 24 year old midfielder with loads of talent sitting in the last year of a contract who might end up leaving on a free due to lack of playing time.
Don't get me wrong... I wouldn't mind either player coming to Newcastle on a basic eye-test level. I just don't know where they fit, or who gives way. Both players are young (Zaha is 19, Knockaert 20), so perhaps they are just both ones for the future?