Any Newcastle fan who has kept even half an eye on this summer’s transfer dealings will recognise the daunting task facing Rafa Benitez.
Today is only the 9th of July, but we have already seen some truly eye-watering fees paid out.
Perhaps the most eye-catching so far was Nathan Aké’s move from Chelsea to Bournemouth. Aké spent six inconspicuous years on the west Londoners’ books, but, despite the Dutchman starting just two league games in that time, Chelsea felt fully justified in demanding £20million for the Dutchman. Amazingly, Bournemouth agreed to their demands.
Tuesday finally saw rising tensions somewhat eased, as the long-running Florian Lejeune saga came to an end.
Very few Newcastle fans will have heard the name Lejeune a month ago. Fewer still will have watched the Frenchman enough to know whether he is likely to succeed on Tyneside. However, despite the yearly calls for United to pay ‘the going rate’ and sign established Premier League players, it is far more likely that we will be seeing several more Lejeune-type signings this summer.
Why? Take the case of Kelechi Iheanacho, for example. There was news on Wednesday that Leicester are set to sign the Manchester City striker for £25million – a player who has scored twelve Premier League goals. This prompted several fans on Twitter to ask why Rafa was not willing to pay ‘the going rate’, and steal the Nigerian away from the Foxes. But, the big question is, can we really afford it?
No one truly knows how much money United have in the bank this summer – save for Benitez and Charnley themselves – but reports suggest that it is somewhere between £70million and £100million. Given how long the latter dragged his heels over the structure of the Lejeune payment, it is probably safe to assume that it is at the lower end, if even that.
For now, let us assume that the figure is £70million. Rafa reportedly wanted at least eight new signings at the start of the summer, and so far has two, at an approximate outlay of £15million. That leaves us with £55million to acquire at least six players.
If we were to spend £25million of that on one player, that would leave us with just £6million left to spend per player. £6million for a player in today’s market? That will get you half a Fabian Delph.
It is a humbling sign of the times that we are struggling to match the fees paid out by clubs of a lower stature of our own. We should not be struggling to compete with the likes of Leicester, and certainly not Bournemouth, but we are.
However, Bournemouth have been in the Premier League for two years now, and they find themselves in a position where just a few strong signings will be enough to consolidate their place in the top flight, and maybe even push for a top-ten finish. They can afford to spend £20million on a player, because they don’t need eight of them.
Chronicle editor Mark Douglas has stressed multiple times this summer that Newcastle need to ‘box smart’, and he is absolutely right.
United had the second-highest net spend in the summer of 2015, behind only Manchester City. We brought in four first team players: Aleksandar Mitrovic, Gini Wijnaldum, Chancel Mbemba, and Florian Thauvin.
Just four players, although, to be fair, all but the latter enjoyed good campaigns. We were relegated nine months later.
The problem was not how much we spent, but where we spent it. Betting the mortgage on just four players to revive a woeful side was suicide. We were left with so many gaping holes in the side that the quality of the players we did bring in was irrelevant. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and our chain broke in multiple places.
Rafa is fully aware of the need to have a squad, not just a first XI, and he won’t make the same mistake.
I understand fans’ frustration that it is now twelve years since our last big money signing but the fact of the matter is, if we do decide to spend big on one or two players, we will be left short in other areas.
The time will come when we can really go for it in the transfer window, but if we’re not very careful with how we spend this summer, we will find ourselves preparing to face Burton and Barnsley next summer once more. And this time, Rafa won’t be around to bail us out.