Numerous sources are reporting that Newcastle midfielder and captain Kevin Nolan is in West Ham for a medical, with a fee for the Toon's leading scorer ostensibly having been agreed upon. (The Northern Echo) Negotiations of the almost 29 year-old Nolan's contract extension have been very public, with reports suggesting that the two sides have been nowhere near an agreement for some time. Nolan's current contract runs out in 2013, which led many to speculate that NUFC would indeed try to sell him in order to get some value in return.
West Ham United had a bid reported to be anywhere from £1-3.5 million rejected by Newcastle last week, but if these reports are true (and given the volume and credibility of the sources involved, there's no need to think otherwise), then apparently the Hammers have sweetened their deal, either by offering more cash or a player. Rumors at this point have been highly speculative, so there's no need to add to the confusion here, but the bottom line is that the captain and heart and soul of the squad has been sold to a Championship team. Very troubling, at least on the surface.
Commentary after the jump.
It's almost never a good thing when you wake up and "Mike Ashley" (or any other variant, use your imagination) is a trending topic on Twitter. The first instinct is to groan, ask yourself what he did this time, and then clear your calendar for the day. Turns out the instinct was right, once again. Newcastle's captain is gone. Say what you want about his playing ability or the price received, but that fact is inescapable, and it hurts. As I mentioned above, Kevin Nolan is one of those "clubhouse guys," somebody who leads by example and is respected by his peers. Perhaps the most devastating effect this move will have will be on the clubhouse, and particularly on the players who might be leaving. More on this in a moment.
For a moment, though, I want to downplay the impact of chemistry. I fully realize that one of the stages of grief that supporters go through when a player is sold is that of Bargaining; in other words, diminishing said player's impact and performance in order to feel better about the transaction. I'm not going to plead innocent of that charge, but let's be real: Fabio Capello isn't exactly knocking down Nolan's door. He had a good season in the black and white stripes - very good, in fact - but ask Newcastle supporters to rank the current set of midfielders, and there's no way he's higher than #3 on the list of anybody who understands that you must look further than goals scored when evaluating players. (I'd put him at #4 personally, and that's just out of the healthy ones.)
Yes, Nolan will be missed, but not because he's irreplaceable as a player. The impact this move is likely to have in the minds of Jose Enrique Sanchez, Jonás Gutiérrez, and Joey Barton cannot be understated. It doesn't matter how you or I rate a player; if he's looked up to as a leader by the other players, his departure will set off alarm bells in the locker room. It's well known by this point, of course, that Barton has said as much on Twitter, though he's already backed off his comments and pledged support to the hand that currently feeds him. (goal.com)
Barton's subsequent retraction rings false for many reasons, but there's truth behind the soundbite he offers up as a pseudo-apology: There's no player bigger than the team. If this plus any subsequent move equals a net win for Newcastle, then I am for it. It's certainly hard to see that possibility in the immediate aftermath of a sale, but once perspective is attainable, I believe we'll all begin to see this move for what it is: Newcastle have sold high on an aging player that wouldn't have returned any value in the future. It's a shrewd and gutsy move, one that may end up backfiring, as we all know that player egos don't operate in a vacuum, but maybe one that needed to be done. Or, perhaps you think that Mike Ashley is simply trying to pay himself back for all those loans he's given the club. Either way, the captain is gone (probably), and that hurts.