The January Transfer Window; for many clubs it is a chance to strengthen their squad heading into the latter half of the season, but for Newcastle and its fans, the January Transfer window has been a mixture of desperation and inactivity under the Mike Ashley tenure. Spoiler alert: this season will be no different. We have the same owner who refuses to invest, a squad not fit for survival, and a brilliant manager that is, I would imagine, slightly disgruntled. Unless Newcastle sees the sudden change in ownership that the fans have been praying for since October, this will be yet another boring, dead window where Newcastle do not improve while everyone around them does.
If you look at the last few years of investment in January under Mike Ashley you can see a trend. When Newcastle is struggling, he invests a lot of money in the window. When Newcastle is not struggling, he does not invest, even when it makes sense to do so. Last January Newcastle saw a host of loaned out players return, and then proceeded to loan them all out again. As a matter of fact, the biggest story of last January was the fact that Tim Krul left Ajax to finish the season on loan at AZ Alkmaar. This lack of investment by Ashley and Charnley was simply due to the fact that Newcastle were in first place in the Championship and, in the eyes of the duo, no investment was needed in order to improve the squad. This came with a ton of backlash considering the fact that Rafa had apparently been promised money to spend in January. Rafa was looking ahead to the next season, where he expected Newcastle to be in The Premier League and knew that the squad he had would not succeed in the top flight.
However, the January window of 2016 was a completely different story. Newcastle was under the reign of Steve McClaren, and were struggling. Fears of relegation forced Mike Ashley to shell out nearly £35million in order to strengthen the squad. McClaren brought in Townsend, Shelvey, and Saivet with the money Mike Ashley gave him. Charnley also brokered a terrible loan deal for Seydou Doumbia during this window, but that is something to be ignored. The season before, in January of 2015, Newcastle again saw no arrivals only the departures of Davide Santon at the end of his loan deal, the sale of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and the release of Hatem Ben Arfa. This was a season where Newcastle flirted with relegation, but ultimately ended up in 15th under Alan Pardew. The season before, Newcastle were a mid table team and of course there were no January signings. Looking at this season, Newcastle currently sit in 13th but on a decent run of form in the last few matches. How Newcastle ended 2017 gives no motivation for Mike Ashley to invest, even though Newcastle had one of the worst runs of form in recent history right before Rafa was able to salvage a couple of wins.
Long story short: Mike Ashley won’t invest this window.
In addition to Mike Ashley’s lack of concern about Newcastle’s relegation, he also is negotiating the sale of the club. This gives him no reason to invest in the club, especially now because the negotiations have gone into January. If the deal was done earlier, maybe we would have seen him invest a ton of money under the promise that he would be reimbursed, but given that we are midway through the window and we are nowhere close to a deal, you should expect the similar Mike Ashley spending habits we as fans have had to live with for the past decade.
Ashley, knowingly or unknowingly hurts the progress of the sale by his lack of investment this window. If the squad does not improve, the squad becomes at risk for relegation. This is even more worrisome given that clubs like West Ham and Crystal Palace are actively trying to invest in their squad. To Newcastle fans it seems as if every club but our own is trying to improve. This lack of investment, while other clubs continue to invest, could spell trouble for Newcastle and paint a harrowing picture of relegation. The more likely we appear to get relegated the less value the club has. Staveley and her partners are definitely watching closely to see if the club improves at all this window. If the club does not, and the sale drags on into February, this could be the end of not only the sale but the Rafalution. It is no secret that Ashley and Benitez have not seen eye to eye at times, but the tension is always strongest during the transfer window. Repeatedly Rafa is promised a lot of funds, and repeatedly Rafa has been given scraps or nothing. It is hard to see the manager staying after a 3rd consecutive window full of broken promises by his superiors. This lack of investment could spell out the end of the takeover and the tenure of Rafa Benitez at this club. Investment this window is key for the future of the club, but sadly it is not likely.
Rafa, however, has seemingly found a loophole in the transfer policies of Mike Ashley. Rafa has been keen on bringing people on loan to Newcastle. This way he gets quality players without having to beg Ashley for the funds in order to purchase them. Rafa began this with a loan-to-buy deal for Christian Atsu, and followed this up in the summer window by trying to pursue Tammy Abraham, Kenedy and Joe Hart on Loan deal as well as securing Mikel Merino on a loan-to-buy deal. The vast majority of January links to Newcastle have been centered around loan deals with Rafa apparently trying to pursue Danny Ings, Michy Batshuayi, and even Luke Shaw. The main issue in these loan deals have been wage.
We missed out on Ings due to a change of heart at Liverpool, but The Chronicle points out a huge issue with our transfer policy.
“Newcastle have funds to do loan moves but clubs are asking for big fees for their players and negotiations are fraught and unlikely to be concluded quickly. “
After missing out on Ings, we moved on to Sturridge, and of course the big hurdle there is his wage bill.
Those are just a few of the early wage bill hurdles Newcastle have had to deal with THIS window.
That being said, expect Newcastle to bring in another Joselu/Manquillo level signing on loan this season, because Rafa needs depth in this squad.
Ashley has “done his part” in making sure Rafa has funds for the window by reportedly declaring to Rafa that he needs to sell players to fund his purchases. He also has given Rafa the final say on who gets sold this window. The only issue with this approach is that nobody wants the players we want to sell, and Rafa, like many sensible managers, is not going to sell players unless he has replacements. This creates a cycle in which no business gets done and Mike Ashley gets to claim victim claiming “If you had only sold players, you could have bought players”. That being said, it is highly unlikely Rafa is able to purchase any players this window, and will have to resort to bringing in players on loan.
This window is always a depressing and frustrating one as a fan of the club. My advice to you is to not get excited about anything until (if) the takeover happens. Mike Ashley is set in his ways, which means Newcastle is set to spend no money this window. All we can do is watch as every other team improves, while we spiral down the table into the relegation zone, hoping that last minute heroics rescue us from another season in the Championship.
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