James Perch has officially joined Wigan for a fee believed to be about £700,000. (NUFC Official Site) The move coincided with new Director of Football Joe Kinnear's first day in Newcastle, and according to The Journal, was made against the advice and wishes of manager Alan Pardew. Perch was originally purchased from Nottingham Forest by Chris Hughton upon the team's return to the Premier League in 2010-11. He fell out of favor after several high-profile mistakes early on, including an own goal that would have been hilarious had it happened to any other team. Now, though, his departure for what amounts to a pittance is a headscratcher.
The versatile midfielder and sometimes defender had made himself into a useful utility player for Alan Pardew, a Swiss Army knife in a footballing drawer full of specialty flatware. The very best football players are increasingly encouraged to specialize - to fashion themselves into utensils fit for a rich man's table. The Premier League is full of cocktail forks, wok spoons, and fondue cheese picks. The gritty Perch was Pardew's spork - not necessarily the tool you want to bring out at dinner parties, but good enough to get the job done, especially when injuries decimate a team, as Newcastle saw firsthand in 2012-13.
Here's where the admittedly thin metaphor breaks down: football is not a dinner party. As much as spectators love to bemoan the style of play when their chosen team plays too much hoofball, for example, results will (or should) ultimately trump style. That's not to say that Perch's lunchpail/graft/hustle/insert-your-favorite-moniker-for-a-player-that-succeeds-despite-a-perceived-lack-of-natural-talent-here style is going away, but it is disconcerting that two of the three heads of Newcastle's Cerberus didn't value his contributions enough to say "No, thank you" to 700,000 pounds in a summer where 8 digits rather than 7 is becoming a normal transfer fee. We hoped for more squad depth to be added before the advent of next season, and a player that can plug multiple positions is the ultimate kind of squad depth.
Perhaps there's more to this than meets the eye. Were Kinnear a DoF I trusted, I might be convinced that this departure represents a bevy of moves on the horizon, that the squad was simply about to be too crowded with quality arrivals to justify keeping a fringe player around. I don't trust JFK, however. He strikes me as a man that actually believes in addition by subtraction, and so I fear that no real effort will be made to replace Perch.
Am I getting way too angsty about a player that ended up back in the Championship, where we found him? Perhaps. To play the optimist's advocate, there is no room for Perch if everybody is healthy (though I'll maintain that counting on good health from everybody is a good way to fail in any sport). His departure may mean more chances for the likes of Vurnon Anita and Gael Bigirimana, as the Journal article linked above posits. I hope they are deployed in ways that play to their strengths.
In the meantime, James Perch will return to the Championship a much better player than he was when he left. Wigan still have plenty to do this offseason, but there's no doubt this move increases their chances of returning to the Premier League.