(This is not the view of the site itself, but rather the individual writer - think of it what you will!) There has been much complaint about Newcastle’s failure to pull up any trees in the transfer window this summer. For all the blustering of the newly-appointed Director of Football Joe Kinnear (stop laughing at the back, please!) about his ability to sign any player in the world (assuming he can pronounce their names correctly), the only first-team addition we saw was the on-loan signing of Loic Remy – the guy who turned us down for the more lucrative offer on the table in West London just a few months ago.
Understandably, many fans were left extremely frustrated by this – many feeling that serious improvement to the current first eleven was needed after the farce that was last year’s league campaign. This, however, has brought rise to a debate of its own – would simply signing more players really solve the problem?
Here are the principle points in my argument:
- Not making signings often allows the current group of players to grow together and become better simply through developing a better understanding.
- Many sides who buy lots of new players at once then struggle (QPR)
- It was not individual talent that Newcastle were lacking last season; to suggest their players weren’t good enough when West Brom finished above them with a team featuring Jonas Olsson, Billy Jones and Graham Dorrans compared to Newcastle’s Coloccinni, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, etc is a very poor argument
The issue revolves around whether signing a whole host of new players really benefits a team. Whenever a club makes a lot of signings that are intended to go straight into the first team in a short space of time, the old clichés about this new-look XI needing time to “gel” are often thrown about.
It must be said that unlike many of said clichés, this one is surprisingly accurate. Because modern football is in most cases at the top level very heavily based around tactical systems, clubs no longer simply sign a player because he happens to be quite good – the player must a) have the skillset and b) the intelligence to fit into the system the team he is signing for are using.
Generally speaking, teams perform better when the players have all been playing in the same system together for a longer period of time – they each understand their own role, and are more familiar with each other’s style of play, preferred moves, and tactical roles in their own right.
As a result, teams in which over two or three players have only just joined the side and are being thrust straight into the first team, and have not fully learnt how their team’s system works and are not yet fully accustomed to their role in it may come across as somewhat clunky for the first few months – although it is clear that each player is very good individually, it takes some time for them all to play well together.
To use a slightly abstract analogy, it is like preparing a theatre production – even if you have several very good actors, it will take a lot of rehearsing as a group before they can produce a good show together.
In fact, this season in general the sides who have introduced more than two or three new players as regular starters have not performed as well – Tottenham have scraped two 1-0 wins from penalties and lost to Arsenal despite the former having spent around the £100 million mark to replace the departing Gareth Bale and the latter at the time the game was played having made a grand total of two signings without having paid for either of them.
Swansea, having signed at least four players this summer who could expect to start regularly, have won once this season against a West Brom side who have won three league games in 2013 and have not looked anywhere near as fluid and creative as they did at the start of last year.
Most delightfully for Newcastle fans, Sunderland despite their intensive levels of transfer activity this summer have managed one point from a home game against Fulham, and away game against Crystal Palace and another away game against Southampton – not the most daunting group of fixtures in the calendar.
Whilst it is perfectly possible – and in the case of Tottenham fairly probable – that these sides will improve vastly as the season progresses and the new signings “bed in”, it also shows that there is often value in keeping the team more or less as it is and working on improving the chemistry of the players on offer rather than trying to improve on the players themselves. This is especially valid in the case of a team like Newcastle, who rather than lacking in quality last season instead had a team of players who were very good individually but underperformed massively.
The other point about allowing a team to grow into their system over time is that often in the cases where the system works well, a team can be more than the sum of its parts and go on to defeat sides with greater individual talent. Moreover, a team which is working so well together will often adapt better to minor tactical tweaks than one which has been hastily assembled.
To use Arsenal and Tottenham as examples again, one of the key reasons that Arsenal won on Sunday was because they recognised before the game that with three physically imposing midfielders in Paulinho, Capoue and Dembele starting in the Tottenham midfield, Tottenham would overwhelm Arsenal’s own trio of Wilshere, Ramsey and Rosicky through sheer athleticism – they could match those players on a technical level and outmuscle and outpace them, which would make it very difficult for Arsenal to prevent Spurs from creating chances from central zones.
However, Arsenal worked around this by having Cazorla drift inside from the left wing to help create overloads in Arsenal’s favour in midfield and make it easier for Arsenal’s midfielders to keep the ball when in possession, as the extra man meant that Spurs’ midfield could not simply press hard and dominate Arsenal’s physically.
Furthermore, when Cazorla did have space he would immediately play through balls to Walcott and Giroud, who he knew from his experience of playing with them and from Arsenal’s gameplan would be running in behind, and as a result they created many chances when playing through the middle – this was in stark contrast to Spurs, who struggled to create chances for Roberto Soldado despite his being more mobile and better than Giroud at running in behind defenders. This was a classic example of a simple yet effective strategy being used by a team who were not as good man-to-man as their opponents, but who through having played more games together had a greater mutual understanding, to win a game.
In the case of Newcastle, despite the poor performances of some players last year it may be worth giving the same XI another chance this year and trying to give them more effective tactics. It is worth noting that Newcastle did lurch from injury crisis to injury crisis last year, and that in general what came under heavy criticism was not the players but the management.
Because of this, it seems somewhat irrational to declare that the first eleven needs a total overhaul – if the management were really at fault last season, what makes anyone think they will do better with a new set of players? Newcastle did see many new faces descend upon the club throughout last season – the likes of Anita, Sissoko, Haidara and Debuchy all joining at some stage during the campaign and playing a large number of games.
There is no doubting the individual talent of each of these players – with the exception of Haidara, who is only 20, they are all internationals of either France or the Netherlands, two top international teams. However, given that they have only just joined, it is totally understandable that they would take a while to learn to play well with each other and their new teammates.
Moreover, as noted earlier it was generally tactical errors rather than poor individual performances which led to the team’s terrible season last year, so a total overhaul of an already talented squad may not be what the team requires.
Too often in the era of Sky-dominated modern football, knee-jerk reactions and instant platitudes are seen as a positive thing. It is rare that they make a noticeable and beneficial impact.
The way Newcastle has been run of late has earned enough criticism from the outside world already; to demand that six or seven regularly starting players be replaced would quite possibly see the club’s recent off-the-field dealings descend from farcical to ridiculous, especially if the new signings did not improve the team’s performance.
Newcastle have made a solid enough start to the Premier League season; the opening day mauling by Manchester City was disappointing, but at the same time they were up against a side who were playing towards the high end of their frightening potential and were down to ten men before too long.
It may well be worth trying to keep the current bunch of players together and allowing Alan Pardew to try and fit them more neatly into his system (assuming, which may be pushing it slightly, that he has a good one).
Long term plans are not seen often enough in football these days and if Newcastle try and grow slowly with the talented group they already have it may benefit them more than another misguided splurge on new players, the likes of which are far too frequently seen in the Premier League.