Alan Pardew was predictably and understandably smug in his interview with NUFCTV following the signing of Siem de Jong from Ajax Wednesday. Reporters working for the club are always going to serve up softballs, and this one was a beauty:
The first day of the transfer window, and you've completed your third signing. Are you happy with the latest one?
Of course he is. You don't need to watch the video to know that, but if you didn't happen to take a look, you would have missed Alan Pardew's sly smile when the number 3 is mentioned. That smile was perhaps the first we've seen from Pards since he was sent off and subsequently suspended for headbutting David Meyler in March. I'm not Joe Kinnear, that smile seemed to saying.
The 2014 half of the 2013-14 campaign was dreadful, to be kind, and Pardew admitted that himself, saying that the team lacked "intelligence" and creative ability in the final third. All of that should change, according to the manager, with the addition of Siem de Jong, Ajax captain, wearer of #10, scorer of 78 goals in all competitions, Champions League veteran, and the closest thing to a Yohan Cabaye replacement we're likely to see anytime soon.
De Jong, whose capture was incredibly shocking given the club's recent track record, may be just the cure for what ails the Newcastle United offense, at least in part. Since Cabaye left in January, there's been no true creative force. The few goals that the Magpies managed to score in the intervening period were the result of heroic individual effort. As a team, they had no ideas about how to break down any team that didn't harbor Alex Bruce.
De Jong, like Cabaye, will be the lone man in the engineer's room, directing traffic, picking out runs, and testing the keeper himself. The difference is that Cabaye has always preferred to play further back, where De Jong's natural tendencies should put him right in the thick of it. That, in turn, should open up opportunities for others. Papiss Cisse, for one, was never a striker who consistently scored when making speculative runs in front of the ball, though he has made some spectacular plays in that role. On the contrary, his early success with Newcastle came largely as a result of his partnership with Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa. De Jong isn't Ba, and NUFC continue to desperately covet a striker capable of holding up the ball. However, he might just be a more mature, less volatile Ben Arfa.
HBA, by the way, might as well go ahead and pack his bags now. It may still be a mistake for Newcastle to sell him when his value is seemingly as low as it could get, but if there was no room for him during last season's dry spell, there's certainly not now. Pardew has always desired a player who fit the classic trequartista #10 role, and he made comments before the 2011-12 season that suggested he believed Ben Arfa was that player for him. That season was a success for the club, which covered up a lot of its flaws. One of those was that while HBA was effective that campaign, it wasn't in the role Pardew envisioned. Pards never really could shake the enigmatic Frenchman - how could he continue to justify not playing one of his most talented players with so much on the line every week? - but when Newcastle's mid-table status was solidified early on last season, HBA became persona non grata at St James' Park.
There are other ripple effects, of course. Corners and set pieces might improve (there's only one way this thing can move, right?), given SDJ's ability in the air. Moussa Sissoko will continue to play on the right wing, which will no doubt drive some fans crazy while others will point to his superior performances in that role. Vurnon Anita may get squeezed out to some extent, which seems a waste. Overall, though, it's obviously a positive move for Newcastle, and not just because it feels good to actually sign a player for once.
Speaking of which, note that Pardew claims in his NUFCTV interview that he'd been chasing Siem de Jong for 14 months. Kinnear was hired just over 12 months ago, and Alan never had a chance to get him over the line. So here's one for you alternate historians: What if JFK had never been brought on? Would de Jong have joined the club in advance of last season, and therefore would Cabaye have left in the summer window? If the answer to the last question is "no," how much closer to the top of the table would Newcastle have been in January?
We've learned this lesson before: that one bad transfer window can be disastrous. The Toon had two last season. At least this time around, they're starting off on the right foot.