Following the outstanding title-clinching campaign in the Championship last season, plenty of positivity and hope was surrounding the club for the first time in a long time.
There was a buzz in the air; Rafa Benitez had pledged to the process and was committed to staying. Mike Ashley was finally rumoured to be willing to spend on the team and even said so in a statement on the club’s official website, on May 10th.
“I’ve confirmed to Rafa Benitez he can have every last penny the club generates through promotion, player sales & other means”.
Despite all the optimistic vibes coming from the fans, the media and the club, there was always a slight sense of pessimism; a trait that is naturally entrenched in all Newcastle fans. It was simply too good to be true.
Fast-forward to two months later and the Magpies have been awfully quiet in the transfer market. The club has only made two signings thus far; one of which is Christian Atsu, who was on a season-long loan deal from Chelsea, which turned into a permanent £6m signing.
The second is Florian Lejeune, a centre-back from Eibar in an £8.8m deal and according to some reports, it was a deal that could have been done a lot sooner. United wanted to trigger a clause with the signing that would see the fee paid in instalments, which would help save the club some transfer budget for the summer. The length of time that the Lejeune deal took was not encouraging whatsoever.
Despite the lack of real traction on the transfer front, there definitely hasn’t been a shortage in the “rumoured players to Newcastle United” department. There have been players linked to the club at every single position, from goalkeeper to striker. The one position that the Magpies are lacking in quality, however, is the number ten role.
Last season, United flipped between Mo Diamé and Ayoze Perez at the attacking midfielder position. Both players consistently failed to thrive in the role and never took advantage of outshining their teammate. Siem De Jong is coming back from his loan stint at PSV Eindhoven, where he started ten matches and scored six goals.
De Jong is a player with plenty of talent but simply cannot stay healthy. Patience is running thin within the organisation and the majority of fans are not sure if he can be a contributor this upcoming season with the constant rashes of injury issues and unreliability.
The CAM position in Rafa Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 plays a vital role in the gaffer’s game plan. During Benitez’s successful tenure at Liverpool, Steven Gerrard manned the attacking midfield position for the majority of the time. Some say Gerrard’s best years were under Benitez, and the numbers speak for themselves.
While managing Napoli, Rafa signed Dries Mertens in the 2013-14 season and played him in the CAM role behind Gonzalo Higuain. He also had Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik play that position as well.
Needless to say, Benitez most definitely prioritises the attacking midfield role and it would be an absolute shocker if the position was not upgraded before the end of the transfer window. Rafa did sign Diamé last summer thinking that he could contribute, and at times, he did.
However, there were a handful of games where Diamé would simply disappear and there was no link between the number ten and the striker. Perez is also a player that was inconsistent last season; there were times where he stood out and looked exceptional and other times, you would question whether he’s on the field or not. This leads me to believe that Benitez will look to improve at the position, and that, despite the lack of attacking midfielders that have been linked to Newcastle United this summer, there are some players out there to be had for a reasonably cheap price.
Some of the attacking midfielders that have been linked to Newcastle so far are:
Gabriel Pires: Possible, we were very interested in the winter.
Tom Cairney: Re-signed with Fulham.
Ryad Boudebouz: Possible, if NUFC are willing to spend over £15m.
Gylfi Sigurdsson: Swansea want £50m – not happening.
Lewis Holtby: Also possible, rumored to be available for £5m from Hamburg SV.
Victor Camarasa: Rumours of NUFC interest have cooled down since mid-June.
Lewis Baker: Possible on a loan deal with Chelsea.
Suso: Great season at Milan but with all the changes happening with the club, he could be on the move.
Some of the names mentioned above are long shots but there are more realistic options out there. In my opinion, Suso is the name that stands out the most. He would be a fantastic coup; coming off a formidable season with AC Milan, has PL experience, very young and has also played with Jonjo Shelvey at Liverpool.
I am not convinced, however, that AC is willing to sell him at a cut-rate and not so sure Newcastle will be willing to pay as much as Milan wants. Nonetheless, it is certainly a link to monitor.
When looking at the current Newcastle squad, there is quantity at the attacking midfield position but there is an obvious and glaring need for more quality in the role. It is instrumental for that position to be addressed in order to compete and succeed in the Premier League. You can get away with flipping between Mo Diamé and Ayoze Perez in the Championship but the PL is a different animal.
I am not convinced that United has enough talent in that role at the moment to thrive this upcoming season. Will Rafa Benitez, Lee Charnley and co. address what is arguably our biggest need? Only time will tell. In the meantime, Newcastle fans’ patience will most certainly be tested. All there is to do is simply hope and to look on the bright side; we still have Rafa Benitez.