Newcastle United is a club with some incredible fluctuations in terms of their performances. As a team, they have been known to switch off for an entire half of a season as much as they have been capable of beating the best in the land with a handsome margin (6-1 against Spurs in 2015-16 comes to mind).
These fluctuations in performances, combined with fluctuating policies at the top, have ensured that since the start of the Premier League era, Newcastle have finished seasons in all possible positions except 1st, 8th, 9th, 17th, 19th and 20th. Think about it – they have finished in 14 different positions in 23 seasons. They have been relegated twice during the Premier League era, finishing both the 2008-09 and 2015-16 seasons in 18th. They have also played in Europe for 14 of the Premier League seasons so far.
Just like this time, each time they have been relegated from the Premier League, they have responded by winning the Championship next season, coming back strongly. After jumping back up in 2009-10 they finished 12th and 5th in the next two seasons. Rafa Benitez also seems to have similar plans for the Magpies over the next couple of seasons. To ensure that his team secures its future again in the Premier League and possibly move towards the top half of the table, Newcastle have committed to spending and have already started making forays into the transfer market.
On May 9th, after winning the Championship, Rafa had a meeting with the club owner Mike Ashley and the managing director Lee Charnley to ensure that he will be supported in the transfer market. On the 10th, Ashley came up with a statement saying that “I’ve confirmed to Rafa and Lee that they can have every last penny that the club generates through promotion, player sales and other means in order to build for next season.”
So, in effect Ashley told Rafa that unlike last summer, when £68 million generated from player sales were not reinvested, this summer not only does Rafa get to keep the sales proceeds but perhaps he also could get some more transfer funds from the bounty that he has bagged for Ashley by winning the Championship. According to Deloitte, Newcastle is likely to make almost £170 million just by getting promoted (even if they end the 2017-18 season in the 20th position). It is estimated that Rafa will get a transfer kitty of at least £75 million.
Rafa has already started spending from these funds. His first acquisition was Christian Atsu, who was on loan with the Magpies for the last season. The winger cost Newcastle £6 million. For a talented winger who can put a decent cross in from the byline, create at least one shooting chance per 90 minutes and offers pace on the wings, it is a decent buy. Of course, it also helps that he also knows Rafa’s methods and preferences.
But to make Atsu’s transfer an effective one, Newcastle needs a good target man upfront. They already have 22-year old Aleksandar Mitrovic who took 1.7 headed shots per 90 minutes last season, scoring at a rate of 0.6 goals per 90 minutes. The other option they have in the target man category is Daryl Murphy, who is 34 years old and was able to play on an average 46 minutes per 15 appearances he made in 2016-17. Not really a confidence booster.
Newcastle’s main goal scorers last season were Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Perez, with 23 and 9 goals respectively, but neither of them fall under the category of a strong center forward who can out-muscle Premier League defenders and put a shot or two on goal per game. They offer pace and guile in attack, which they clearly used to their and Magpies’ advantage in the last season but perhaps Rafa feels that it will not be enough to overcome defensive challenges in the Premier League.
And perhaps that is why the transfer market is ripe with rumors of Newcastle’s attempts to buy a strong centre forward. What caught my eye was that the Newcastle subreddit had a post about them being the favorites to get Michy Batshuayi. Indeed, when I checked the SkyBet website, they are rated 4/1, ahead of Monaco (6/1) to get Batshuayi but it is less probable than the 8/13 odds for Batshuayi staying at Chelsea, especially since there is good chance that Diego Costa will leave for China.
Newcastle are also considered one of the top two-three favourites to get Charlie Austin, Andre Gray and even to get their hero from the previous promotion – Andy Carroll back. Of these, Andre Gray from Burnley might look like the best option given his goal scoring form for Burnley in 2016-17. But Gray’s game is more suited to a poaching role and not really a target man role. Also, he might prefer a move to Everton, should they come calling after Lukaku departs.
Charlie Austin may not have had the season he would have liked at Southampton due to injuries but he still managed to score at a better rate than both Mitrovic and Murphy and that too in the Premier League. He might also cost lesser than both Gray and Carroll as he might be deemed surplus at Saints, depending on the manager at St. Mary’s.
The last option for which Newcastle are considered favorites is Andy Carroll. The Geordie who led Newcastle from the Championship last time they found themselves fighting for promotion, has had an injury filled stay at West Ham. If any team can keep him fit and play to his strengths, he can be a great asset for the team, as he has shown in his last stint at St. James’ Park or when he is fit at West Ham. But keeping him fit is a challenge and perhaps an even bigger challenge is prizing him away from the London Stadium. It is very unlikely that West Ham will want to sell their target man and that too to a Premier League rival.
Whoever comes in at Newcastle, one thing is clear – Rafa seems to have the backing of Mike Ashley to spend and he seems to be looking at a number of options. While getting the deals done might be difficult, he seems to be focused on buying English players, preferably with Premier League experience. They would cost a bit more but perhaps that is the price for ensuring long term continuity in the Premier League for Newcastle United.