Friday, September 01, 2006

Oooh! Aaah! Oh dear...

Forgive the extended metaphor, but yesterday's frantic transfer activity was like a fireworks display, clubs competing in a bid to out-wow each other.

So we ooohed as Portsmouth flashed the cash again, one of their three deadline day signings being the very promising young Croatian playmaker Niko Kranjcar.

We aaahed as Spurs snapped up Fulham's one-time Toon target Steed Malbranque, as well as Wigan's Pascal Chimbonda.

And we gulped and blinked in disbelief as West Ham announced that two of the world's finest young footballers, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, will be plying their trade at Upton Park permanently. (That last "firework" was so loud and so out of nothing that it might have been the Big Bang all over again. Seriously, what the fuck?!!)

So, what could we muster? A one year deal for Antoine Sibierski, a 32-year-old goalshy attacking midfielder who couldn't find a way into a Man City midfield which is inferior to our own. In other words, the equivalent of a cheap, crap sparkler.

And that was it. Nothing else. A fact which means, quite apart from being increasingly concerned about some of our opponents (and Paul and myself looking nervously at our pre-season predictions), that we - a club with a poor defence at the best of times - are still two defenders short. And a fact which leaves Messrs Roeder and Shepherd with egg on their faces, following the confident predictions of quality incomings a few days ago.

Of course they'll say they tried their best and it wasn't their fault. The Smoggies will no doubt take great pleasure in knowing they thwarted us at every turn, not only beating us to the signatures of long-term targets Jonathan Woodgate and Robert Huth but also denying us the opportunity of tempting big-boned Aussie striker Mark Viduka away to somewhere where his gas mask would be redundant. It must also have been difficult for us to follow up our long-standing interest in Wayne Bridge, given that Chelsea didn't seal the signing of Ashley Cole from Arsenal - in the most drawn-out and tediously inevitable deal since David Beckham left Man Utd - until midnight.

Still, we had a right to expect much better, and we now look forward to the coming months with more trepidation than anticipation.

That said, perhaps we - and Fat Fred - should have learnt from past experience. In 2004, having sold Woodgate to Real Madrid, he claimed to have a really big deal up his sleeve. We bid for Wayne Rooney, Man Utd promptly trumped us, off he toddled to Old Trafford and we were left with nothing. Which then meant that, with Graeme Souness at the helm, we made rash decisions the following January, signing Jean-Alain Boumsong, Amady Faye and Celestine Babayaro for a total of £11.5m. Only Babayaro remains at the club, and it's clear he's not up to the job.

So, yet more hot air from Fat Fred - though, to be fair, he's been blowing cold as well as hot. Just ask James Milner, who was granted permission to talk to Aston Villa about a permanent return and had reportedly agreed personal terms before being recalled to Tyneside at the last minute, the proposed deal scrapped. I'm glad we haven't sold him - he improved a lot while at Villa Park last season, not least in discovering the ability to cross a ball - but this whole sorry episode is likely to have unsettled him and, knowing he's considered dispensable, he may well take the opportunity to pack his bags come January.

All in all, then, another inglorious day in the life of Newcastle Utd.


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