At the end of October, I wondered aloud whether this January window was gut-check time for Mike Ashley so far as his short term intentions for the club. At the time, we had a healthy back line and no immediate need for a center back. Shortly after that post Steven Taylor had his Achilles injury and the relatively simplistic picture that I painted at the end of October became a little more complicated insofar as exposing a staggering weak spot in the squad complicates a situation. Now, not only did we need to see if Ashley had the intestinal fortitude to keep the high-flying squad together and press for Europe, there was, for the second window in a row, a very clear and very real need in the squad to be addressed. In hindsight, the need for a striker was addressed somewhat though not in the sexy manner in which many supporters would have hoped. There also remained the small matter of the re-investment of the £35m from the sale of the previous no.9 shirt.
Entering January, all of the predictable rumors were present. Cheik Tiote was linked with Chelsea and Manchester United; Captain Colo was linked with Liverpool; Tim Krul was linked with Spurs; Demba Ba was linked with Liverpool, Spurs and almost any other club in the top half of the Premiership. . . all of which had the potential to add up to another white-knuckle ride through the mid-season window for Toon fans. On the flip side, we were still without (with all due respect to Leon, Shola and Peter) actual cover for a second full-time starting striker and a viable first team centre-half. The goals for the window pretty much fit into one of my old boss's business philosophy: Keep what you've got and then get a little bit more. On 2 January, I gave this exhortation to Mike Ashley, and appearances were that maybe he just might listen:
SO, Toon fans. Let's get at it. 2011 was eh... then great... then AMAZING... then fizzled out a bit. 2012 will be different, right? (It's got to. I mean... when the world ends in December, it'll be mid-season, and mid-season honors don't count in the record book.... so this is our last chance! DID YOU HEAR THAT MIKE ASHLEY? SPEND NOW, BROTHER! YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU!)
Early in January, the appearances were that we were moving in the right direction. (This word "appearances" and its variations are going to be important when regarding this and probably all transfer windows from here on out... file it in your pocket.) We picked up where we had left off in the summer, linked with Papiss Demba Cisse and Olivier Giroud among other striking targets. It was very late December into early January that Bognor Regis striker Jason Prior (now of AFC Wimbeldon) came on trial and all stones looked to be on the list to be turned.
Then the rumors started to get a little strange. The thing about any transfer window is that we as supporters will never be able to know which of the rumors were true, which were fabricated to sell papers and what actual contacts our club made that never even made the paper. The first rumor that didn't really fit into the overall view of the squad was Benjamin Corgnet an attacking midfielder from Dijon. If there is a position on the squad that we really were not in any sort of need, it had to be at the center of midfield. Through injuries, international tournaments and suspensions, we still to this day are not getting all of our center mids. Add to the fact that (in retrospect) this rumor can't be tracked to the re-structuring of the reserves (Benjamin is 24), This one looks to be filed away for the "we'll revisit in summer" file. Following the principles of Soccernomics, the idea is to replace players that you intend to profit from hopefully 6 months before you sell the player on. The mind's wheels start moving and wondering. . .
Finally into the second week, rumors started surfacing regarding The Centre-Half Conundrum - we were linked with Championship players such as James Tomkins (West Ham) and Harry Maguire (Sheffield United), then also with unlikely Premiership level targets such as Alex (Chelsea --> Paris St. Germain) and Christopher Samba (Blackburn --> His own personal rage at not being moved), but predictably all of this came to nowt. Tomkins and Maguire may still yet be seen in a Newcastle jersey as they are both young and "ones for the future"... Alex and Samba would have been statement signings that told of a commitment to qualify for Europe. Sure they are both a touch older than our mission statement dictates, but not older than a certain 30-year-old Argentinian whose contract they are efforting mightily to extend. Channeling my best Milton Waddams, I threatened to break the server and burn the site and also threatened to break Twitter and burn it as well. I am still working on both of these projects... don't worry. In seriousness, there is a reason that I tried to start the hashtag #AllTransfersAWindowLate..
As January trudged on, the rumors drifted away from The Centre-Half Conundrum and became indicators (though few if any saw it at the time) of the iminent clearout of the reserves setup. Junior Hoilett came into the frame, which at the time seemed like a fine idea to me, but after yesterday's match I fear he has a love for the bottle. Also jumping back into the frame at this time for the Toon were former target Melvut Erdinc, Crystal Palace phenom Wilfried Zaha and (fantastically) the former no.9 shirt. Sprinkle in a little Olivier Giroud and Motpellier centre-half Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa for good measure, and the middle of the month was rather fun to pay attention to, even if most of the links turned out to be investigations into summer moves or flat out smoke screens. Oh, by the way... this also happened, and 'arry managed to escape without so much as a whisper of a suggestion of "tapping up" or tampering. This led to Demba Ba to any Sky6 side rumors for the last 2/3 or the month, which was fun. Demba is still a Mag, though, and I hope he puts 6 in when next we play Spurs. Not that I'm vindictive.
So January trudges on, and the smoke screens continued (fortunate for Alan Pardew's desire to keep transfer dealings under wraps), and the ridiculous rumors of the former no.9 coming back or Demba Ba leaving provided the perfect distraction for this to happen without much notice. And then things got quiet. Very quiet. Robert and I at one point agreed that it was eerily quiet. A couple of token rumours flowed in regarding a potential young goalkeeper signing (ROI Under-21 International Stephen Henderson) and the continued rumors connecting us with right wingers Wilfried Zaha and Anthony Knockaert (which again in hindsight make a lot more sense in hindsight with the Reserves Clean-Out). Then came perhaps the most infuriating part of the January transfer window.
It was worse than the persistent rumors that the former no.9 was coming back or that Demba Ba was on his way out. I am speaking, of course, of the late-January Adrian Mariappa Debacle. This situation was the ultimate wool-over-the-eyes move from the club. Ultimately, we were sitting there yet again with a clear need in a transfer window, and we had made no progress in addressing it. #AllTransfersAWindowLate... Not too dissimilar to the end of the summer window, we suddenly fixed in on Adrian Mariappa, making a couple of ridiculous offers that we knew Watford would not accept and then drug it on. And drug it on. And didn't really want to sign him. If you want him in January, shouldn't you want him in the summer?
"We have made our last bid now and it's a final bid so if he doesn't come today then he probably won't come to this football club because in the summer we will probably look elsewhere," said Pardew.
Soooo, yet again the management of the club insulted the collective intelligence of the supporters by perpetuating this smoke screen so that they could throw their hands up at 11:01 pm GMT and say (honestly, but dubiously) "Hey, we tried."
I figured I would be furious with the failure to bring in a first-team level centre-half during the window... and I am angry about it. But somehow, thanks to the previous establishment of such low standards of what we would deem a "successful window", I can't manage fury. We signed the highest cost player in the window in Papiss Demba Cisse, and there was no last-minute dagger to the spine as with last year's January window. Somehow, despite our dire and desperate need for a centre-half, I was left standing there at 11:01 pm GMT looking at our shiny new striker, our squad intact and the club in honest contention for Europe, and I couldn't help but smile. Looking back on the January window, I can't help but come up with this final thought about Newcastle's performance in the window
Sorry this is just a touch late... but hopefully it was worth the wait. What say you on Newcastle's performance in the window?