It will be a surprise if Newcastle United’s first signing of this transfer window Sandro Tonali doesn’t have the customary photos taken holding up a club scarf or shirt with his name on the back soon at SJP.
Educated estimates are putting the Tonali fee at around €55m though the sounds from Milan are much higher than that and designed it has been suggested to placate a Milanlista fan-base less than enamoured at a boyhood Rossoneri and significant rising talent leaving San Siro. Those of us of a certain vintage understand that and still remain scarred at the departures of Waddle, Beardsley and Gascoigne in the 1980s.
I won’t claim to be any expert on Calcio (or anything really) but ask anyone that is about Tonali and they will wax on about his talents.
In summary we are getting a player who is at the level of Bruno Guimarães with considerable scope to continue improving.
It is a mouthwatering prospect to think of Tonali and Guimarães in the heart of Howe’s United side before we think of options such as Joelinton, Willock and Longstaff in what is starting to look like a formidable midfield department.
Thoughts turn to who might be next.
It is strongly reported we are in negotiations to sign Southampton’s 20-year-old right-back Valentino Livramento with fees in the range £12 – 25m quoted and Ryan Fraser going in the opposite direction. None of us are privy to the details of the deal but it is quoted as being complicated by a sell on clause involving Chelsea where the Londoner came through the ranks.
I was surprised by this move as I hadn’t regarded right-back as a priority.
However, it would seem Manquillo is on his way back to Spain – possibly to rejoin Rafa Benitez at Celta Vigo.
Emile Krafth and Harrison Ashby are both a long-way down in quality terms to the excellent Kieran Trippier, who at 33 can’t be expected to play every game and on reflection it seems wise to plan for his succession. That said both Trippier and Livramento can play on the left-side, so whatever Howe gets in his first team squad he’ll have versatility in there.
Livramento is spoken of in gushing terms by his coaches and understandably Southampton aren’t keen to let him go for a bargain despite their relegation requiring them to cash in assets to rebuild for a promotion push.
Southampton’s full-back has been out for 12 months with a serious ankle injury but this iteration of Newcastle United doesn’t buy crocks and keep its fingers crossed. Livramento fits the template for the club – young with a high ceiling to reach in their potential and expected to be at United in the long term and who’ll grow and develop together.
This week saw the end of the James Maddison transfer saga. I have to be honest, I’d have loved to have seen him join United but I understand why he hasn’t.
Despite the vast riches of the Public Investment Fund (being lashed about on recruitment for players to join the four clubs it owns in the Saudi Premier League (SPL)) Newcastle United is currently restricted by Financial Fair Play rules.
They continue to cap our recruitment as do rules rushed through after the United takeover to further restrict related party sponsorships.
Those rules were implemented specifically to restrict Newcastle United but also to protect the position of the so-called “Big 6” within the Premier League.
It is not without reason Mags refer to the Premier League’s traditional big hitters as a cartel.
There have been several reasons advanced to explain why United did not get Maddison, though it appears in this summer, we made no serious bid to get him. Explanations he preferred to move to London are facile given Spurs had no competition in competing for his signature.
One of the major shifts in my lifetime following football is how much more supporters have an appetite to understand (rightly so) the granular detail of everything that goes on at the clubs they follow. When I began going to SJP in the 70s, few on the terraces had knowledge of what was going on in the boardroom (save that Westwood was a pirate).
TF began covering the club’s statement of accounts more than twenty years ago and there are now several respected websites dedicated to the finances of football. That was how we could see how much the Hall-Shepherd syndicate was pulling out of United in their time and how far backwards the club was going commercially under Ashley.
In short, educated football supporters know what is going on at their clubs.
The game is better for it with fans and latterly the media fulfilling this role.
Newcastle United is not the richest club in the world contrary to some You Tube footage I saw of some Mags boasting that claim and made me want to cringe in embarrassment. We are a long way short of that. Qualifying for the Champions League has been a huge boost for us but it is not a game-changer and won’t be until it becomes a regular occurrence.
On the park last season we finished very close to the commercial behemoth Man Utd and above Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham in the final knockings of the Premier League.
It was a phenomenal achievement but if it is to be repeated regularly the amount of income United generates will have to increase massively in forthcoming years.
Put simply, we are miles behind and the level of spending we’ve had since the takeover is completely unsustainable – not because PIF don’t have the money or the inclination but because of Financial Fair Play.
Therefore Maddison, on an estimated £170Kpw is far too rich for us at the moment. Spurs can blow us out of the water head to head – not that I’m suggesting they did – because the reliable gen is we made no bid for the lad this summer.
However, if his expectation was £170K pw at United, I don’t doubt we’d walk away from that.
That’s not simply because the deal in itself is over the top for United but because agents of players already at the club – and I’d be thinking of Isak, Botman, Guimarães et al would likely be knocking on the door and asking for parity for their clients.
In short, you pay that kind of wage for one player and others start looking for a bump in their pay-packets too. In that regard a football club’s dressing room is much like any other work-place.
That brings us to another subject and that is the unity of the current United squad which is a highly valued ingredient of the club’s success and you might say vital to how Howe has his team playing.
Discord and dissatisfaction related to wages could easily capsize the current espirit de corp and rather than risk that, the club will increase salaries on an incremental basis and avoid a sudden spike in payroll.
I think it makes sense.
Another proposition is how Maddison would work financially and as a footballer for United. If we’re signing players who have a high ceiling to reach in terms of their improvement and potential (as well as value), how does a 26 year-old Maddison fit into that?
How far will Maddison improve over the life of his Spurs contract and what will his value be in say 2-3 years hence? Or at the end of his five year contract aged 31?
When you look at this deal through that kind of lens and considering United’s modus then you understand why we stayed away from it.
The other element I’ve heard is that Maddison as a number 10 doesn’t fit into Howe’s tactics or formation. I’m not sure about that because United pursued Maddison last summer, enquired in January and there has been plenty commentary highlighting his versatility playing on the right side of midfield as well as through the middle. I think he’d be ideal for us.
My take for what it’s worth is the money invested in Tonali allied to FFP and other considerations and other recruitment priorities made Maddison unviable.
Then we move to the vexed question of RB Leipzig’s Hungarian midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai who had been linked to United for most of the close season.
Clearly, there’s always the risk there is no transfer connection at all and he is being punted by agents keen on their fee to whip up interest – or by clubs – with an interest in generating a bidding war for a player they know will leave them.
Whatever the veracity in interest from Newcastle United the Hungarian midfielder has joined Liverpool for a reported £60m fee.
Klopp’s recruitment to strengthen his midfield has been boosted by McAllister from Brighton for £35m earlier this summer, so it’s to be hoped Jurgen’s face will have straightened up after twisting about ceilings and all the rest of it.
£95m on midfielders and counting.
So, social media’s frenzy about who is coming to United has been rather spiked this summer.
No-one had a clue about Tonali until the club made its move out of the blue (leaving Barella of Inter alone, if they were ever interested in him) whilst the long running Maddison saga, like Paqueta last year, came to nought and now Liverpool have ended the speculation about Szoboszlai from Leipzig.
I’ve seen a few supporters become disheartened by Maddison and Szoboszlai going elsewhere but I don’t know why in honesty. No-one should rely on what is reported on social media, regardless of the source. Getting hopes raised and dashed appears to be a foolish endeavour.
United have limited funds and currently a bloated squad with a lot of players who need to move on – Fraser, Manquillo, Lewis, Darlow/Dubravka and possibly others.
I’d expect Dan Ashworth & Co are keen to get a few off the payroll to free up some space for salaries and that may well be the priority for the next few weeks.
Who are now in scope for United?
Well, we know the positions we’d like to strengthen in – a left-back, right-sided central defender and an attacking midfielder. As I’m greedy, I’d also flag the need for a striker given Wilson’s injury problems and age but we don’t have a bottomless pit.
There has been talk about Tierney (Arsenal) or Marc Cucurella (Chelsea) to fill the left-back spot. Both are fine players though have struggled with form and injuries (hence they’re available) but won’t come cheap for wages or fees.
Personally, I’m keeping an eye on Theo Hernandez, Tonali’s AC Milan team-mate and left-back, who at 26 might squeeze into United’s template for recruitment. He might be a wee bit old though.
With Maddison and Szoboszlai out of the picture but the position still requiring recruitment, I’ve no doubt others are being weighed up.
There will be others. I don’t think there has even been a consistent reference to a potential right-sided central defender or striker. Talk in the press of several marquee signings this summer, Tonali aside, remains talk. All of that can change.
I’m minded to reflect upon how United did business for big signings over the three windows we’ve had to date.
Guimarães, Botman, Isak and Gordon as well as Tonali appeared to be concluded very quickly once they had become public (admittedly Botman had been a target the preceding January last year). Talk of personal terms for those players barely figured and deals were concluded at pace.
This is a very big summer for United. Expectations amongst supporters are at their highest in many a long year.
But Eddie Howe counseled us it would be a difficult window. We are going in for players a lot of top clubs want and we have our own profile to guide us.
Well-placed journalists who’ve covered the club for years speak of limited budgets and they will be repeating that as a result of what they have briefed by the club. They could be on the money or they could be being misled. We don’t know. United don’t want to be considered to be going to market with a bag of gold they are anxious to get rid of.
We won’t sign anyone and mistakes would have a really negative impact given the boundaries we’re working within. And remember those players we need to move on.
United has to be cute. We aren’t able to sign the likes of Declan Rice just yet though I think within the next 3-5 years, all being well, we will.
The club hasn’t put a foot wrong with recruitment since the takeover. There is a clear process and profile of player United will pursue. I’ll be shocked if we don’t sign another 2-3 top class players but I’m perfectly fine with them coming to us without a protracted social media drama and bull-shit from mad ITK twitter accounts or plane watchers.
Top players have lots of options and we are one of them. We’ll get there but transfer speculation might not be the participation sport some want it to be.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, TFMick1892