Newcastle United FC – Recruitment Analysis – Part One

Context

This recruitment analysis will aim to outline potential transfer targets for Newcastle United over the next two transfer windows (January and Summer of 2021). The series will initially analyse the current state of the club and squad, before highlighting positions within the team that could be strengthened and then finally making some suggestions on potential signings based upon several factors.

These factors include but are not limited to: 

  • Estimated budget constraints of the club.
  • The quality of player (based both on statistics and observation).
  • The club’s transfer activity in recent years 
  • The player’s likelihood to be open to a move (based on wage, stature of current club and length of contract). 

Evidently, some of the information required to complete an entirely accurate and exhausted analysis may not have been available, and whilst I am able to suggest potential candidates, so much of football business goes on behind closed doors and therefore some information may be beyond my reach. With that in mind, these suggestions are based upon the resources available to myself and are not the only viable options, but are all players who would likely improve the strength of the squad without being too unrealistic. 

Club Overview 

Newcastle United are a club that find themselves a bit adrift, not necessarily in terms of league position, but more in relation to the club’s hierarchy. For several years now, Mike Ashley has stated that the club is up for sale and there have reportedly been several interested parties of late, most notably last year when a deal seemed to be close with the Saudi Public Investment Fund. However, for one reason or another Mike Ashley still finds himself as owner of the club, and it seems as though that may remain the case for the time being. 

Newcastle United’s current owner, Mike Ashley.

This uncertainty within the club has been present for a few years now, yet everything must continue to function at all levels, and this obviously includes recruitment (though the global pandemic and it’s consequences, alongside rule changes that come with Brexit, have thrown another spanner in the works!). 

The man in charge of the team at the moment is Steve Bruce, who is mid-way through his second season with the club as I write this. He had a tough job to begin with, directly replacing the incredibly popular Rafael Benitez, and whilst he was able to guide Newcastle to a solid 13th place finish in 2019/20, he remains a somewhat divisive figure on Tyneside. His tactics, style of play and team selection have left him open to frequent criticism and this hasn’t improved during his time as manager, with calls for him to be removed continuing to be prevalent. 

With Steve Bruce at the helm, Newcastle seem unlikely to develop much further in terms of playing style or league position, and whilst the team has continued to overperform compared to their statistics, it often seems to be the case that the team is a bad run of results away from turmoil. As a result, although this recruitment analysis will aim to provide options to improve the squad, perhaps changes higher up the hierarchy are even more important to the growth and success of the club. 

With regards to the team’s performances thus far in the 2020/21 season, ‘uninspiring’ would possibly be a good way to describe the style of play (though I suspect many of the Geordie faithful may use a stronger choice of vocabulary!). The emphasis on defence instead of attack and the inability to retain possession or score goals have been points of criticism, and whilst Newcastle were able to forge a reputation for being defensively solid (especially under Benitez), this has begun to fade somewhat and the team find themselves towards the wrong end of most statistical tables when compared to the rest of the league.

The Squad 

Newcastle’s current squad is arguably quite strong when compared to those teams towards the bottom of the table. They have rotated between 5 and 4 at the back at times, often depending on the strength of the opposition, however, Bruce talked about his preference for playing a back four shortly after he was appointed and it is therefore most likely that is the system he will prefer to implement whilst he is in charge. Based upon that inference, below is a chart that displays the squad depth with the players’ ages in brackets alongside.

Newcastle United Senior Squad 2020/21.

Evidently, many of these players can play in several different positions and roles, however, this chart is based upon their most natural position and where they are most likely to be deployed most often when Bruce has a fully fit squad available (which, it must be said, has been a rarity). 

Between the sticks, Karl Darlow (30) has had a chance to stake his claim to the number one spot this due to a long term injury sustained by regular first choice Martin Dubravka (31), and both provide very solid options in goal having proven to be very capable Premier League level shot stoppers. Whilst Mark Gillespie (28) was brought in to provide cover as a third choice option. 

Summer signing Jamal Lewis (22) is arguably the club’s only senior left back. The 22 year old, has been a first team regular since joining and has found it tough at times, perhaps showing some naivety at stages. Though that is to be expected due to a big change of playing style after his first big transfer. His young age and pedigree make it likely that Newcastle hope for him to be the starting left back for years to come. Paul Dummett (29) held the left back slot in his younger years but has since drifted more centrally over time. Matt Ritchie (31) has been used as a left wing back, but has struggled for form this season and his ability to play in a back four remains questionable.

In central defence, Newcastle have several options and even felt comfortable loaning out Florian Lejeune (29) who has been impressive with Alaves in La Liga over the first half of the season. Federico Fernandez (31) and Jamaal Lascelles (27) seem to be Bruce’s favoured pairing, though due to injuries and formation changes, both Fabian Schär (28) and Ciaran Clark (31) have also featured regularly. Paul Dummett (29) has been sidelined for several months through injury, and his ability to play as a central defender in a back four remains a doubt, however he could provide some cover at left back.

At right back, Javier Manquillo (26) impressed so much last season that he was rewarded with a new four year deal, and as such he has been the first choice this season. Emil Krafth (26) and Deandre Yedlin (27) provide other options. Swedish international Krafth was a shock signing (in that nobody saw it coming, nor knew much about him) in the summer of 2019, and has failed to ever really pin down a starting spot, he has looked defensively relatively solid, even playing at centre back on occasion, but it remains to be seen whether he has the quality to be a regular Premier League right back. Deandre Yedlin was once a regular starter for Newcastle, but a drop in form, injuries and Manquillo’s performances have seen him dramatically slip down the pecking order and with his contract up at the end of the season, there is a lot of doubt over where the American’s future may lie.

Out wide, once again, Newcastle have several options at their disposal. Miguel Almirón (26) and Allan Saint-Maximin (23) would likely be the first choices when both are fully fit. However, as it stands they have both had some injury issues, but it is clear that both possess quality and have the ability to be game changers, and as such are expected to feature regularly. Other options include summer signing Ryan Fraser (26), his Scottish compatriot Matt Ritchie (31), and Jacob Murphy (25) who returned in the summer after a decent spell out on loan with Sheffield Wednesday. 

Fraser and Ritchie have also had their injury issues, but can add quality and depth. Ritchie has now been a part of the Newcastle set up for several years. Murphy has been a bit of an enigma, used as a wing back, full back and winger this season, and showing some glimpses of quality and ability but then perhaps struggling to have an impact consistently enough to pin down a starting spot. Meanwhile, the versatile Jeff Hendrick (28) has also been deployed in wide positions on several occasions throughout the season thus far. 

In central midfield, Bruce has five main candidates to choose from for the two man midfield partnership. Jonjo Shelvey (28) and Isaac Hayden (25) both command the most authority in the squad and having proven their ability at Premier League level, they are the likely first choices when fully fit. Sean Longstaff (23) and Jeff Hendrick (28) are probably next in the pecking order, with Longstaff having an impressive breakthrough season but now trying to develop into a Premier League quality midfielder, whilst Hendrick was brought in on a free in the summer of 2020 and has been utilised in several different positions by Bruce so far this campaign. Then comes Sean’s younger brother Matty Longstaff (20) who, like his brother, broke into the first team impressively but has since struggled for regular game time.

Bruce seems to be aiming to play two up front when he deems it to be viable, and this has so far involved Joelinton (24) or Almirón (26) playing a slightly deeper “second striker” role just off £20 million man Callum Wilson (28) who has had a great start to life on Tyneside since his arrival. Other striker options include Dwight Gayle (30) and Andy Carroll (31). With regards to the quality of this forward line, it is fair to say that Newcastle do have some talented players who are vital to the success of the team.

Newcastle United striker, Callum Wilson.

Wilson has been a revelation and has already proven to be an excellent addition, whilst Joelinton looks far more comfortable now that he has a strike partner and he is not being asked to play as a lone target man. Dwight Gayle has proven that he can score goals, especially in the championship where he has been prolific, however, he is yet to find consistent goalscoring form in the English top tier and may have to make do with an impact sub role for the immediate future. Andy Carroll seemed like a fairly low risk signing on a free to bring him back to Tyneside, and whilst he retains his aerial ability, his lack of mobility greatly hinders him and it remains to be seen what his future will hold.

Areas to Strengthen

Left Back 

Jamal Lewis had a fairly solid start to life in a black and white shirt, and there seems little doubt that he is seen as the long term starting left back at the club (or at least until he has gained enough value to sell on for profit, as seems to be the club’s current philosophy…). He is still young at just 22 and has his best years ahead of him, he is not the finished product but is a solid option who is on the whole decent defensively while also offering an attacking threat when allowed to.

However, due to him being the only real senior left back at the club, he is relied upon to stay fit and play a lot of minutes and if he drops in form, there seem to be very few natural replacements who can help share the Northern Irishman’s workload. Furthermore, as mentioned previously Lewis is young, and it would perhaps be beneficial to bring in someone with more experience from whom he can learn and can provide competition. 

Consequently, a relatively experienced left back who can offer depth and competition would be a very useful addition to the Newcastle United squad. 

Right Back

Right back is another position in which Newcastle could look to strengthen. Manquillo provides a solid option, however, the drop off in quality and consistency is quite significant when looking past him. Although Krafth is a decent cover option, he is yet to really demonstrate that he possesses the ability to regularly feature at this level. Whilst Yedlin was once a mainstay in the starting eleven, a drop in form combined with injuries has seen him slip down the pecking order, and with his contract due to run out in June 2021, it could well be that his days on Tyneside are numbered. 

Therefore a relatively young right back option who could provide competititon for, or surpass Manquillo would be a big improvement to the team. 

Striker

Having signed in the summer of 2020 and hit the ground running excellently, it would seem that Callum Wilson is set to be the club’s primary source of goals for the coming seasons, if all goes to plan (it’s a big “if”… I know). As mentioned earlier, Joelinton looks comfortable in his second striker role and at 24 he is starting to get used to life in the Premier League and hopefully he can continue to develop and become an important asset for the team. 

However, beyond those two, perhaps some problems start to arise, with the fear that should Wilson get injured, there would be a lack of players able to pick up the mantle and score goals for the team. Dwight Gayle marked his return from injury with a winning goal against West Brom in December 2020, however, he is yet to prove himself as a consistent goalscorer at Premier League level, and although he does provide a decent option off the bench, he could probably be improved upon. 

Andy Carroll probably doesn’t have the fitness levels to feature regularly anymore and whilst he is able to provide an aerial threat, his game has become quite one dimensional due to his lack of mobility. Perhaps most importantly, both Gayle and Carroll are out of contract at the end of the season, and with that in mind, it is likely Newcastle will be looking to bring in at least one other forward in the next couple of windows, certainly if neither of those are given new contracts. 

As a result, it may be a useful addition to bring in a striker who could go some way to providing cover and competition for the current first choices, so that in the case of injuries or drops in form the team does not lack too much of a threat going forward. 

Central Midfield

Despite Newcastle’s numerous options in central midfield, there is some room for improvement, and with Matty Longstaff needing more minutes in order to develop and Hendrick providing cover in several different positions, it could be a good idea to bring in a more natural central midfielder who can provide a creative presence from deeper areas, by providing competition for Jonjo Shelvey.

When Shelvey is not in the side, Newcastle seem to lack a creative midfielder, as Sean Lonsgtaff works hard and can be impressive going forward, but is also still young so has areas of his game that require improvement. Isaac Hayden is the team’s main defensive minded midfielder and has been very impressive ever since he joined the club in 2016 and it seems more than likely that he will partner whoever is selected to provide a more attacking impotus from central midfield. 

Therefore, a creative central midfield player who can play in a two man midfield and provide competition for the likes of Shelvey and Sean Longstaff could be a productive addition to the side. 

The Budget 

This is the area in which it is most difficult to know the exact information, as generally it is only the club’s hierarchy that know the financial constraints that they are required to work within. As a result, the budget for this analysis will be based upon previous transfer activity, combined with news from the club and any other information that may help to narrow down the estimate. 

Prior to the opening of the 2021 January transfer window, manager Steve Bruce was quoted as saying: 

“Unless there is something there jumping out at us that we think can really drastically improve us, which you very rarely get in January, then … I think it’ll be very quiet”

Newcastle United manager, Steve Bruce.

So this would indicate that Bruce has limited funds and is fairly content with his current squad, displaying an unwillingness to be drawn into January transfer business. However, based upon his business the same time last year, there could well be some movement, especially on the loan front, and this may free up funds to spend on permanent transfers in the summer. Bruce said this regarding it:

“We brought two or three loan players in [last January] that certainly helped us and keeping that money back allowed us to go and get Wilson [in the summer] for example” 

As a result, it may be prudent for us to analyse players that may be available for loan when looking for short term signings but then there may be money available in the summer. Another area of the market that Newcastle may well look to utilise is signing players on free transfers as they did for Hendrick, Fraser and Gillespie in the last summer window. With Bruce stating that: 

“Make no mistake, we’re monitoring Bosmans. We monitor the situation all the time and that will always be the case” (All these quotes courtesy of The Newcastle Chronicle, and the original article can be found here.)

Therefore, it would be appropriate to look for players available within a limited budget, with those who are available on frees and loans preferable, especially for January. However, based on last summer (2020) when Newcastle had a net spend of £35 million, it may be the case that some funds are made available and so players with a reasonable price tag shouldn’t be ruled out.

This concludes part one of this recruitment analysis series on Newcastle United. In part two we will examine potential targets for the first position: Left Backs.


Thank you very much for taking the time to read part one of this ‘Recruitment Analysis’. I would be more than happy to discuss the suggestions I have put forward here, or hear any other suggestions people may have regarding Newcastle’s transfer options. Furthermore, I would be delighted to hear any feedback, positive or negative, on the piece itself and would be happy to discuss it in more detail with anyone who wishes to. You can contact me via Twitter here or via email at thomasmillman@yahoo.com. Thank you

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