Sunday, July 17, 2005

So, according to the papers Nicolas Anelka is keen on a move to Newcastle United. Who better to help the club to shake off its image as a home for surly, uncooperative prima donnas?

Anelka did some good work at Manchester City but a fractious team like Newcastle shouldn’t be considering buying him. Graeme Souness continually complains about rifts in his dressing-room (although as Souness continually complains about everything, you could be forgiven for failing to notice this). In accordance with this he’s been getting shot of Bellamys and Kluiverts – anybody who fancies themselves a bit too much.

But the squad has also lost quiet, worthy players like Aaron Hughes (as an Aston Villa fan, I’m not complaining about that one), and been boosted with fancy-dan midfielders like Emre. Apparently they’re also looking at Mark Viduka, who memorably worked so hard at perfecting his trademark baffled and forlorn expression during Leeds’ relegation season.

Of course, the club’s incoherent transfer policy is no surprise given that Freddy Shepherd is in charge. Shepherd has always aimed to give the impression that he is a man of the people: assuming, of course, that those people are very rich. Lest we forget, this is the man who said, ‘When we have got 52,000 fans at each home game, the last thing we are worried about is clubs in the third division.’ (That comment was made late last year at a discussion entitled ‘Football Is Not A Plaything For The Very Wealthy’. I don’t feel a comment is even necessary.)

At present, Shepherd seems to be under the impression that he is running Real Madrid. He’s certainly adopted Real’s transfer policy of throwing money at big-name players and leaving his hapless manager to somehow piece them together. The difference is that, although Real are having problems at the moment, they do possess a number of players whom many would rate as the world’s best, whilst Newcastle possess a number of players who rate themselves as the world’s best.

Also, Real’s idea of a disastrous season is finishing second, a few points behind Barcelona, and failing to win the Champions League. It’s not quite on a par with finishing 14th in the Premiership. And Real did enjoy success before the bubble burst. The last thing Newcastle won was Football League Division One during the inaugural year of the Premiership. Before that, the last thing they won was the Fairs Cup. The fact that it was even called the Fairs Cup should give you an idea how long ago that was (1969, if you’re interested).

Yet players are still on their way to Newcastle: Scott Parker chose them over Everton, who finished a full ten places above Newcastle and can offer European football next season. By contrast, Newcastle are hoping to grab UEFA Cup action through the Intertoto Cup, a tournament so great it has not one, not two, but THREE finals. (The Intertoto must be the least dignified tournament in world football: clubs barely even like to admit that they’re entering. Villa actually won a UEFA spot through it a few years back, and I didn’t find out they were in the thing until the day of the final.) Also, because a few other big European clubs under-achieved last season, winning the Intertoto may require Newcastle to beat Lazio and Deportivo.

Add to this the evident behind-the-scenes problems at the club, including a manager whose depends upon his own replacement (Shearer) for support, and the question remains: what could possibly be drawing players to Newcastle? Maybe it’s the slimming effect of those vertical black and white stripes, or the region’s currently-vibrant music scene. Or perhaps – just perhaps – it’s the cash. It could just be the large amounts of cash. It does seem as though Newcastle have clinched a lot of fiercely-fought transfer deals mainly because they could meet players’ wage demands. Granted, they’re a Big Club and players always say they like to play for Big Clubs. But then, Nottingham Forest are/were a Big Club too, and I don’t think you’ll see many international stars flocking there for a few years.

The latest piece of transfer gossip is that Newcastle will only part with Jermaine Jenas in a part-exchange deal for Sol Campbell. Arsenal are apparently quite receptive to this. I wonder whether Sol is.