In Part 1 of our review of Newcaslte United's transfer window activities, we took a look at the players who left the club over the summer. Here in Part 2, we will be taking a look at the players who have been brought in to the club.
It took years for Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley to come out and speak directly to the Newcastle United supporters. That was just what he did in a carefully arranged and orchestrated television interview prior to the match against West Ham United on the last day of the 2014-15 season. In that interview, he famously promised that he would "continue to invest" in the playing squad and that he would not sell the club until it had won something. He backtracked on the long-held "cups aren't important" stance that had led to concentrating on the Premier League to such stunning success that finishes of 16th, 10th (!!) and 15th were gifted to the fans. The main takeaway was that some of the restrictive ideas about player acquisition would be lifted and the squad would finally receive some needed upgrades. Although met with some degree of skepticism by the Toon Army, Ashley followed through with that promise.
Although the timing of the moves that were made could ultimately (and rightly) be criticized, the £52.6m transfer outlay both represents a departure from "the norm" and also represents a good first step towards fielding a competitive Premier League team. Let's take a look at the players who came in.
Georginio Wijnaldum: In the wake of Yohan Cabaye's departure to PSG in January of 2014, it became clear that Alan Pardew's assertion "I'd be foolish if I didn't have a plan to deal with [Cabaye] going" both placed Pardew as a fool and highlighted problems with the overall talent level in the squad. Surely Siem de Jong was brought in with the idea that he would take over some of the responsibilities held by the France International (six months on, of course). His inability to stay healthy is surely not Pardew's fault, but repeated long-term injuries showed that another player was going to need to be acquired if new-look Newcastle United were going to have any real teeth in the attack. Enter Gini.
Wijnaldum was brought in from PSV where he had been their Captain, had earned a spot on the Netherlands' World Cup squad in Brazil, scored against Brazil in said World Cup and was the 2014-15 Dutch Footballer of the Year. He was the one player who was purchased in a timely enough fashion that he had a chance to link up with his new teammates, joining up with the club for the Sacramento and Portland matches of the preseason US tour.
Thus far, Wijnaldum has impressed. He scored in the season opener against Southampton and has since acquitted himself well against perennial Premier League blue bloods Manchester United and Arsenal. He has – in separate matches – led the club in chances created and ball recoveries and displayed an excellent all-around game in a squad that is still learning how to attack and defend together. There will be high hopes for him as the season carries on, although his duties with Oranje over the international break will minimize any real progress the club will make with regards to developing team work during the week off.
Aleksandar Mitrovic: Aleksandar Mitrovic made a name for himself with Anderlecht in the Jupiler Pro League. At 20 years of age with a Champions League goal-scoring pedigree already, he is one of the more exciting players that the club has acquired in some time. A self-professed physical player who likes to get stuck in, his game should ultimately translate well to the Premier League. Ultimately.
With fewer than two full matches worth of time on the pitch in the first four matches of 2015-16, saying that Mitrovic has struggled would be jumping the gun a little, but would also be a completely, 100% accurate statement. I wrote about his struggles following his sending off against Arsenal here. His struggles are not due to a lack of talent or desire. They are down to his desire to establish himself as the physical presence that he believes himself and wants to be. Two extremely quick yellow cards in his first two appearances have given Premier League refs (like Andre Marriner) license to take the leap from "that was an unfortunate incident" to "HE'S GAN RADGE!" He is going to have to find a way to take step back from his desire to establish his desire to fly in and demonstrate his lack of fear of the league. All signs suggest that if he can do so, he can make a different mark on the Premier League with the help of Gini, Florian Thauvin and his fullbacks providing him with service in the box.
Chancel Mbemba: At a paltry £6.9m transfer fee, Mbemba was the least expensive first team player acquired by Newcastle this summer. At £6.9m, he also looks by far to be the best value for investment out of the players purchased this summer. A teammate of Mitrovic's at Anderlecht, the Congolese also has a Champions League pedigree having made 11 appearances in the competition for Anderlecht by age 21.
Mbemba has quickly become a favorite with the Toon Army. This is partially due to the fact that he turned up to the opening match of the season rocking a tuxedo.
It is more directly due to the fact that he has slotted directly in to Newcastle's back line and looked completely comfortable. He has largely allowed Fabricio Coloccini to do Colo things which is likely directly related to the Argentine's uptick in form thus far this season. It's amazing what can happen when you're not terrified that your CB partner is going to go Turnstile Mode.
It hasn't just been at CB that Mbemba has made a mark for Newcastle this season. When Daryl Janmaat was suspended for the Manchester United match following Daryl Janmaat's sending off in the Swansea City match, he was the player called upon to slide over onto the right side of the defense. HIs task? Stop Memphis Depay. And he did. Depay had minimal impact on the match and Newcastle earned a nice point at Old Trafford. The future for Chancel Mbemba looks very bright indeed. He could ultimately be Newcastle's signing of the summer.
Florian Thauvin: Usually, when Newcastle United pursue a player over the course of years, that player ends up playing elsewhere (Bafetimbi Gomis, anyone?). The French winger has been a long-term target of the club, and it was an initial miss on Thauvin and Clement Grenier that led to the acquisition of Rémy Cabella, who moved the opposite way on loan to Marseille in the Thauvin transfer.
The 22-year-old came with a reputation as somewhat of a dressing-room malcontent from his short spell at l'OM, but has excited Toon Army dreams already. He was inches away from getting a foot on a brilliant counter-attacking move and stealing a late winner against Manchester United. He destroyed Northampton Town in the [insert sponsor here] Cup, scoring once and making three in a 4-1 victory. We don't want to get carried away but he is the man, after literal years of trying, that made the Back Post Willo™ free kick work. Let that sink in. Not even Yohan Cabaye could do that.
Joining late in the window, it's hard to project exactly what Newcastle have in Thauvin, but based on what we've seen thus far, thoughts of a future front four of Thauvin, Wijnaldum, Aarons | Mitrovic is enough to make even the most hardened of Toon fans' hearts pump just one little bit faster.
Ivan Toney: Toney was brought in as another one for the future. Newcastle's track record with these young players who have been brought in with that thought in mind is less than stellar. In this window alone, we have seen Mehdi Abeid and Olivier Kemen (both given that mantle upon their arrival at St. James' Park) leave the club. Perhaps there is hope that his experience in the English game will stand him in better stead than his French counterparts.
At 16 years of age, Toney became the youngest-ever player to represent Northampton Town. By the time of his transfer to Newcastle United during the summer, he had already made 60 first team appearances for Northampton, scoring 13 goals across all competitions. Given previous acquisitions in which a loan-back option was in play (Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow to Nottingham Forest), it is slightly odd that the Toney was not loaned back or loaned out while Adam Armstrong has been sent to Coventry City. Perhaps it is indicative of a preference by Steve McClaren for a more hands-on approach to a player's early career vs. late-stage youth development. Whatever the reasoning, Toney will be looked upon to tally on the positive side of the "one for the future" acquisitions.
Newcastle United still have some pretty significant gaps in the squad. They did address several needs and did so with exciting young players who have so far looked to be "Premier League ready" and who have largely hit the ground running. If only they'd managed to bring in a second CB or, more pressingly a RB – which is a smudge on an otherwise brilliant window – this would have been the best transfer window for the club in ages. As it is, it will go down as "supremely encouraging, but not a job completed" which fits in with McClaren's suggestions that reshaping the squad is a three transfer window process.
Arrivals Grade: A-
This is part 2 of a 3 part look at Newcastle United's performance in the transfer window. Part one can be found here and part three will be coming your way soon!