I understand why some supporters are disappointed to see Allan Saint-Maximin leave Newcastle United. ASM is what football is about and why we love it so much. He is a maverick, a player whose skills get you on the edge of your seat and there’s something lacking in any fan that doesn’t enjoy his trickery. I certainly have.
ASM has character and individuality. His flair is what kids in school-yards will mimic and they’ll try his feints, feigns and footwork in their games. He is part of the joy of sport. He has provided us with moments of pleasure and hope in those latter, dark-days at the end of Ashley’s negligence. Within Bruce’s mismanagement he could provide the sparkle in the rain. More practically, he did much, with Callum Wilson to keep us in the Premier League.
And now he’s off to Saudi Arabia. ASM will unquestionably leave with our best wishes and he should know he’ll be welcome back any time. Newcastle United is his club and he has taken the city and community to his heart. He is an adopted son of the Tyne.
Mindful of ASM’s popularity with supporters, his departure is presented as an evil of Financial Fair Play and our desire to comply with it. Various reports tell us all clubs trade players and this is a necessary part of modern football. That is a compelling argument.
There is another dimension to ASM’s departure too.
For all his dazzling skills there has been very little interest in ASM from PL clubs and others in Europe’s major leagues. That has to be because ASM isn’t the full package of the modern, elite player and part of teams that win things. As The Mail’s Craig Hope said at one of TF’s Forums, ASM is “a good player for a bad manager”, which pretty much summarises his role in the tactically illiterate, poorly conditioned and under-performing sides Steve Bruce put out.
With a side with as much of a philosophy of “our identity is our intensity” then it was inevitable a player with the maverick spirit of ASM was not going to last the journey with Eddie Howe. Nor has ASM attracted the attentions of Klopp, Ten Hag, Guardiola, Arteta, Pochettino, Emery or Postecoglou. Those further down the food-chain couldn’t afford a fee that would make it worthwhile to sell him or pay wages befitting a player with his box office star quality. A club in Saudi Arabia therefore seems ideal. We have extracted the optimum amount as his transfer fee. No-one would pay more. That is sobering for those who rate him perhaps higher than he deserves.
There are other players United could easily sell for huge sums of money. We have heard of Liverpool and Real Madrid mentioned in connection with Bruno Guimarães as well as Man City with Sven Botman. The club has rightly chased them. They have not chased away interest in ASM.
In the negative column for ASM is a poor fitness record over the last couple of seasons together with inconsistency and final product. He did improve but his lack of tracking back and work-rate made him a fish out of water in an Eddie Howe side in a way Harvey Barnes with his impressive statistics of goals scored and assists fits perfectly.
The fees incoming and out-going for ASM and Barnes are much the same (what’s a few million between friends) but I have a sense Howe and his coaches have welcomed the exchange. It would not have happened otherwise.
Interestingly, United appears not to have encouraged any interest in Almiron or Murphy – both of whom have less talent than ASM but who have had their most productive seasons in much the same position. When could we say ASM had as good a season as them for us?
There is also a stark difference in the trajectory of both ASM and Barnes. Whereas the mercurial Frenchman (c) will significantly enrich himself in the Middle East, I doubt he will improve his international prospects or his own game.
Barnes is leaving a relegated club to join one at the top end of the Premier League and about to compete in the Champions League. On a professional basis you don’t need me to state the bleedin’ obvious do you? Barnes had reported interest in him from Spurs and West Ham. ASM just hasn’t had the same.
For Newcastle United under the energy of Eddie Howe Barnes is ideal just as Tonali is and I expect our new arrival from Leicester will force his way into Southgate’s England set-up once he settles into a club with better players and improved coaching.
Older Mags have been here before with these changing of the guard moments.
Thirty years ago, a ruthless Kevin Keegan allowed Gavin Peacock, David Kelly and Liam O’Brien to leave United just as we started that wonderful Premier League adventure. The same would happen to Scott Sellars and Lee Clarke as the club sought out upgrades. More recently the likes of Nolan, Barton etc were replaced by Cabaye, Sissoko and others.
On both occasions there were sharp intakes of breath as we bade farewell to players who had done well for us and welcomed in what we didn’t really know.
I expect we’ll see this again. Indeed we might see it again in this window and with players who have been at United in the long term and who’ve served the club well – Darlow, Dubravka, Lascelles and Manquillo have been good servants in markedly different circumstances. Some may expect to leave.
There are others such as Lewis, Hendrick, Hayden and Frazer who appear to have little future at the club – though Lewis was subject of an interesting discussion in our car up to Glasgow on Tuesday centred on whether there was the possibility of him becoming an Eddie Howe “project” in the same way of Joelinton, Longstaff and Almiron. He should hope there is because if not I don’t think he’ll play for a club as good as Newcastle United again.
We do need to move players on. There are only a certain number of jacket pegs in the home dressing room and we can’t have players hanging around sullenly knowing they are surplus to requirements at United. There is a sporting reason why we need players to leave as well as financial. We can also hazard a guess not all would have the same levels of professionalism of Jamaal Lascelles. Managing players with their noses pushed out isn’t an activity Eddie Howe particularly needs this coming season is it?
But the arrival of Barnes with Tonali enhances our first team pool with Antony Gordon a January arrival who has greatly enhanced his reputation in an England U-21 shirt returning with impressive fitness levels ahead of the new season. I have so much hope this lad can do wonders for us. The same applies to Isak who was on fire in the second half of last season but missed much of it through injury.
Having a few years on the clock following Newcastle United, I’m predisposed to fatalism but despite myself I am as excited as I can remember for a new season starting.
I don’t think our work in the transfer window is finished. Reliable reporting has us linked with Southampton’s extravagantly named right-back Valentino Livramento and the player is keen to join us. He would appear to be an example of succession planning for Kieran Trippier who at 32 can’t go on forever (note: I don’t want to think about a Newcastle United without him in it).
The reporting has us linked with several top quality left-backs and a right-sided central defender to provide cover for Fabian Schar and eventually succeed a lad on the wrong side of 30 (though it would not appear we are in any rush to lose).
Those last three positions will place significant demand upon the Newcastle United budget because of Financial Fair Play concerns.
But United must know what they have to do to get ready for this coming season.
We will want to finish as high if not higher than we have in the Premier League as last time. We will want to get out of the group stages of the Champions League and we will want to go deep in the cup competitions. I’m desperate to see Trippier hold a cup above his head for Newcastle United in what would be a moment of valediction for him in particular.
That sounds ambitious and bold but it is what our club is about in this new era. We need to improve our squad to achieve that obviously. We can all see what others around us are doing to improve too.
United might need to consider loans with obligations to buy as a workaround for FFP – I’m guessing – alternatively we may be able to buy big again as only the money men at SJP know the true position regards the budget.
But we are so close, perhaps 2-3 players off having a squad that will look ready for the challenges of the 2023/24 season.
We’re two friendlies in, its mid-July and plenty of time for United to do what it needs to do.
Who will bet against United not finding a way to complete this summer’s recruitment?
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892