Thursday, February 10, 2005

View From The Home End

The B&W&RAO reaction to the club's January transfer dealings...

Paul: "January came amidst a flurry of expectation and the arrival of two new players, and ended with two departures and a sense of frustration amongst those of us who ultimately pay the bills.

The early arrivals of Boumsong and Babayaro, and the later arrival of Faye, have given a clear indication of Souness’s priority. Not unsurprisingly, we’ve looked to stop the flood of goals which we’ve conceded so far this season.

Babayaro appears to have taken to the team like a duck to water, with a couple of promising displays and a decent goal showing what I hope will be signs of a long and prosperous career on the left hand side of our back four.

Boumsong looks like he may take slightly longer to settle and his hamstring injury won’t help him in that respect. However, there have certainly been signs of a quality player, and if he can stay fit and healthy we could have the makings of a reasonably solid defence. (Stop laughing, it could happen.)

The emergence of Taylor is perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the season so far (although if Kieron Dyer can continue to improve then his re-emergence as a footballer rather than a twat will also be a major bonus – he still some way to go though). Taylor’s development will now come with games, and hopefully he’ll be given the opportunity to prove himself in the centre of our defence alongside Boumsong over the coming months.

In midfield, it’s hard to judge Faye on a handful of matches. From what I’ve heard he tended to blow a bit hot and cold for Portsmouth, but at least he should give us a bit more depth in the defensive midfield department, and allow those more creative than him to get forward and hurt the opposition.

On the departures front, I’m personally sad to see Olivier Bernard leave. It’s been on the cards for a while now, and I’m not shocked that he’s gone. At least we got some cash for Bernard, which we weren't going to get when he tried to piss of to West Ham, or would have got if he had stuck around for another five months. Given his commitment to the cause (can you name more than one game where he hasn’t had the physio on due to his commitment in the tackle?) he should be afforded a decent welcome when our paths next cross.

Bellamy’s loan move to Celtic is perhaps the best outcome we could have got from the whole sorry saga that has been the Souness / Shepherd / Bellamy January subplot. He can’t score any goals that will hurt us (unlike LuaLua last year), and there is the always the prospect, however remote, that they might manage to resolve their differences in the summer. Failing that, we should still be able to sell him and get a replacement in when the transfer market reopens in June, when we can take our time to ensure we get the best price for a talented player whose ability is undermined by his personality.

Come the summer, I think we’ll be looking for strikers, with Shearer seemingly certain to depart and Kluivert / Bellamy unlikely to be playing in Newcastle next season. With Shola as our only remaining senior striker it’ll be no surprise to see us linked with every forward under the sun over the coming months. Still, it’s a change from usual crop of defenders!

Ben: "As expected, Souness moved quickly to firm up one of the leakiest defences in the Premiership, signing Jean-Alain Boumsong and Celestine Babayaro from Rangers and Chelsea respectively the moment the transfer window opened. The arrival of Amdy Faye from Portsmouth later in the month was unfortunately overshadowed by the Bellamy fiasco (more on that later), and he proved to be our final capture.

The signing of Boumsong had of course been on the cards for weeks before January came around. Rangers will no doubt be delighted to have got £8m for a player who cost them nothing in the summer, and my feeling remains that we've paid over the odds for him. That said, he arrives with a big reputation as someone on the fringes of the French national side, and should hopefully bring the rigidity and organisation we need.

Faye, though a midfielder, has also been brought in with the defence in mind. Butt's injury has often left us exposed, and he should give other more attack-minded players the freedom to venture further forwards in search of opportunities. Now that Butt is fit again, though the difficult choice facing Souness is whom to pick - it has to be one or the other, for the sake of our offensive ambitions.

Of the three new arrivals, Babayaro is the one who has excited the Toon fans most so far. A skillful attack-minded left back with a bagful of tricks, he's already caught the eye on a couple of occasions. I've heard some Chelsea fans complain that letting him go was Mourinho's first managerial mistake. Let's hope they're proved right.

However, the addition of the Nigerian was counterbalanced by the loss of Bernard to Southampton. Whether this was a teary farewell to a committed, talented and much-improved defender or good riddance to a money-grabbing little toerag is a matter for some debate amongst fans. I myself probably lean towards the former view. His refusal to sign a new deal meant he'd have been leaving the club anyway, but £400,000 isn't a lot to pocket given that we could have kept him as back-up for Babayaro until the summer. We're effectively back where we started, one injury away from having Hughes trying his best but ultimately failing to fill the left-back berth adequately.

Of course, January's real talking point was Bellamy's fatal bust-up with Souness over his selection at right wing for the game at Highbury. Though I'm no fan of the public way he conducted the whole affair, Souness had little option but to lay down the law and freeze him out of the club. However, though his departure to Celtic might be good for squad togetherness and morale, it still leaves an unfilled hole. With Shearer retiring in the summer and Kluivert unlikely to be offered a new deal, we need at least two strikers then - but, judging by the last two Premiership displays, we're already suffering from a chronic lack of attacking and creative options, desperately crying out for players who can unlock stubborn and resilient defences.

Typical Newcastle - just as problems are addressed at one end of the field, more rear their ugly heads at the other...

(What we said before the transfer window opened.)


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