January – It’s a horrible month in the football calendar for football clubs. The weather is bleak, the schedule is packed and the transfer window is open. For Newcastle, there’s an added dimension – the annual will he/won’t he takeover saga.
This year, as ever, Mr Mike Ashley played the role of pantomime villain while Peter Kenyon posed as a potential knight in shining armour. Predictably though, the takeover fizzled out, the Geordie nation were up in arms and a frustrated Rafael Benitez had one foot out the door. All of a sudden, Newcastle United was on the brink of a revolution.
The Geordie faithful had protest plans aplenty as sit ins, pitch invasions and even anarchy by tennis ball was planned for Manchester City’s visit to St James’ Park on January 29th. Until, that is, something resembling a miracle occurred on Tyneside.
Within the space of 12 hours Newcastle United agreed to fill a gaping hole in their defence with the loan signing of Antonio Barreca, agreed a club record fee for Paraguayan superstar Miguel Almiron, went 1-0 down within 26 seconds against the Premier League Champions before staging a second half comeback to win 2-1 – in doing so achieving two things they have failed to do since 2006. That’s beat Manchester City and win a Premier League after being behind.
The window started the way it normally does for Newcastle – a lot of speculation, a lot of players linked but not a whole lot of actual activity. In fact, until last week, nothing at all of any note happened. That was until a deal was agreed with Lazio to bring Jordan Lukaku to the club on loan for the rest of the season. However, in true Newcastle fashion – the player failed his medical and was therefore sent back to Italy.
Then, in an absolutely monumental turn up for the books, Newcastle went and broke their transfer record. A record which has stood for 14 years – since they signed Michael Owen for £16.5 million in 2005. To be honest, that statistic has been absolutely rammed down our throats – but you can see why. It’s absolutely astonishing that a club with Newcastle’s size has not broken their record transfer fee in that long a period.
Moving away from the fee, the player coming in, as I’m sure you’re all aware by now, is Miguel Almiron. The 24-year-old Paraguayan took MLS by storm in the last two years, helping his side Atlanta United to the MLS Cup in the season just gone. Every MLS expert has hailed this signing by Newcastle, declaring that he will take the Premier League by storm. Let me tell you, if he’s half as good for Newcastle as he was for Atlanta, he will be worshipped like a God on Tyneside.
As well as Almiron, Newcastle also signed Italian left-back Antonio Barreca on loan from Monaco. The loan deal sees the Italian stay on Tyneside for the rest of the season but includes the option to buy for £9 million come July. As a left-back who likes to attack, Barreca will be a welcome sight not just for Rafa Benitez, but for Matt Ritchie too. The Scotsman has been filling in for the injured Paul Dummett in the Left wing-back role over the last six weeks or so. He’ll be relieved when he’s allowed to move forward and play in his more natural wide right position.
Newcastle’s takeover debacle seems to have been rumbling on for decades. This season, as earlier stated, former Manchester United and Chelsea Chief executive Peter Kenyon was tipped to rid the Geordies of the man they call ‘Cashley’. The Toon Army were as cynical as ever and saw this as nothing more than PR Spin so the owner could avoid cracking open that wallet – something which he has had no trouble doing in his other business ventures.
The cynicism came due to the fact that last season, a very similar takeover ‘attempt’ took place when Amanda Staveley tried to purchase the club. Curiously, it happened at exactly the same point in the season and lead to no money being spent in the January transfer window. Newcastle fans saw the Kenyon takeover attempt as Mike Ashley’s efforts to hoodwink them so he didn’t have to spend again.
Regardless of the understandable cynical attitude of the Toon Army, it seems the takeover attempt was in fact real. It all fizzled out this month when Peter Kenyon struggled to gather the cash to get any deal across the proverbial line. As a result, Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez held talks following Newcastle’s 3-0 victory over Cardiff on January 19th – the talks seemed to be quite productive and it looks as though the penny may have finally dropped.
The Newcastle United manager has been very clearly frustrated this month and had made his feelings very clear. In his press conference at the beginning of the week he all but said he was ready to walk away. Then all of a sudden, the club have a reached an agreement for a new record signing – coincidence? Probably not.
Benitez’s current deal as Newcastle manager runs out at the end of the season but negotiations over a new deal had reached a major impasse. The club were refusing to make funds available to Benitez until he signed a new contract whereas Benitez was refusing to sign a new contract until funds were made available. Now that those purse-strings have finally been loosened, does that now give scope for another round of new contract negotiations? The Geordie faithful will be praying that is the case.
Has Mike Ashley finally realised that the only way to make the club attractive enough to sell is to keep it in the Premier League? Has he finally realised that the only way to do that is to keep Rafa Benitez? Has he finally realised that the only way to do that is to spend money? Or is this all just a one off situation to paper over what is an ever-growing crack in the foundations of Newcastle United Football Club?
Only time will tell.