Newcastle United are set to land their sixth signing of what is proving to be a fruitful summer transfer window, with £5.5million rated Blackburn Rovers defender Grant Hanley set to follow Matz Sels, Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle, Jesus Gamez and Isaac Hayden through the entrance at St James’ Park.
Hanley’s arrival means that the Magpies have snapped up a goalkeeper, a full-back, a central defender, a central midfielder, a winger and a goalscoring forward thus far during the current window; demonstrating that the club are conscientiously strengthening all areas of their squad ahead of what is sure to be a long and arduous campaign in English football’s second-tier.
The shrewd and pragmatic business being conducted behind the scenes on Tyneside this summer is in stark contrast to the shambolic dealings that took place last season; where, despite glaring inadequacies throughout the side, United failed to recruit in key areas; leading to a jerry-built squad suffering demotion to the Football League.
Cast your mind back to the end of the January transfer window. Steve McClaren’s troubled Newcastle side were haemorrhaging goals week after week, whilst desperately struggling to register any at the right end of the pitch – an unwelcome amalgamation when you’re sitting in the bottom three, teetering on the brink of relegation.
In seeking to address United’s blatant deficiencies whilst there was still a fighting chance of maintaining their top flight status, the board, a beleaguered McClaren and Graham Carr inanely threw a whopping £30million at the side’s problems; bringing in midfielders Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey and Henri Saivet, whilst blindly praying that their ill-conceived panic buys would somehow steer the sinking ship to safety.
Alarm bells were well and truly ringing as the curtain began to fall on the window, with figureheads within the club belatedly coming to their senses and acknowledging what all fans had seen for months – the team were severely lacking at both ends of the pitch. However, by that point, it was much too late.
United’s scraping of the barrel saw out of shape ‘striker’ Seydou Doumbia – who had been offered to almost every Premier League side – arrive on a six-month loan, and an eleventh-hour scramble for a left back even saw the club desperately try to seal a deadline-day deal for former Spanish schemer Jose Enrique, but it was to no avail.
With the side still not fit for purpose, in spite of their new recruits, Newcastle unsurprisingly continued their dismal slide towards the foot of the table, and by the time McClaren was tardily relieved of his duties by a criminally vacillating hierarchy the team already had one foot in The Championship.
The improvement in all aspects of United’s performances following Benitez’s shock arrival in the Newcastle hot seat was fourfold, however, the Spaniard was simply given too little time to turn things around, and relegation was ultimately sealed with a game to spare despite a commendable stab at survival over the final weeks of the campaign.
Watching Newcastle bumble through seasons with square pegs in round holes is an unpalatable sight that the Toon Army have become all too accustomed to in recent years, however, with Rafa at the helm, that is all about to change.
The former Real Madrid boss’s common sense approach to recruitment is exactly what United have lacked in recent windows. They are strengthening the spine of the side; signing players who are specialists in fundamental areas of the pitch, whilst ensuring that any outgoing players are suitably replaced by players of equal quality.
This season will see Newcastle play in excess of 50 games, and with the inevitability of injuries, suspensions and international call-ups, it’s essential that the side are well-stocked in every single department.
This recruitment drive is not simply about getting bodies on board, though. Each signing that the club has made so far gives Benitez a wealth of options that will be vital when contending with the innumerable variety of tactics Newcastle will face this season.
Grant Hanley ensures that we now have your meat and potatoes, no nonsense centre-back to contest with physical teams that will inevitably look to launch long ball tactics to gain results against us.
Isaac Hayden’s versatility means that, should Benitez choose to change formations or tactics midway through a game – as we know he likes to – the former Arsenal youth protege can adopt any number of positions seamlessly, allowing for smooth transitions.
Matz Sels’ superior commanding of his area is a huge boost for the back four, and gives Newcastle the type of assertive, imposing goalkeeper they have lacked for a long, long time.
Dwight Gayle is a proven goalscorer; the type of one chance, one goal forward the club have missed since Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse first arrived on the scene.
Jesus Gamez’ is a seasoned and vastly-experienced defender with the nous, leadership and know-how to have a calming influence upon a youthful defensive unit, and his ability to defend ambidextrously in either full-back slot will be invaluable over the course of the season.
Matt Ritchie’s arrival speaks for itself. The former Bournemouth man is a proven winger with top-flight pedigree; he’s been there and got the t-shirt, he knows the Championship, has a wand of a left foot, and has shown that he can score goals and provide ample assists at this level.
Crucially, Newcastle are now building a proper squad, a collection of hungry, talented individuals that can fit into a variety of systems and are suitable for what is sure to be a gruelling quest for immediate promotion back to the Premier League.
Rafa’s impressive recruitment drive is righting the wrongs of the last few seasons, and with many outgoings and incomings in the pipeline before the new season kicks off at Craven Cottage on August 5th, fans can rest safe in the knowledge that United will head into the campaign with a befitting squad that is capable of going the distance.
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