Signs of unease as Mike fails to splash the cash

By Mark Douglas on Aug 31, 12 04:51 PM

YOU have to admire Joey Barton's brass neck.

As his private jet touched down on sizzling tarmac in the South of France, an earnest Barton was delivering one of the all-time great footballer quotes to the Sky Sports News reporting team that had accompanied him to Marseille.

"This is the ugly side of football that most people don't see," he said with an entirely straight face.

These days we can afford to observe the slack-jawed Barton sideshow with a wry smile, of course. He is long gone from these city walls so his relevance is miniscule, but it should serve as a warning to those griping about Newcastle United's lack of ambition in the transfer market.

Barton was the cause celebre for some supporters last summer, but Newcastle's decision to release him has been vindicated in spectacular fashion. He is someone else's problem now and the determination of Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley to see him off was one of the triumphs of last summer.

It was also unpopular, which brings us to the imminent closing of the transfer window - and United's very modest spending.

We're used to things happening in transfer windows but the revolving door at St James' Park has been dormant. Renowned gambler Ashley has uncharacteristically decided to stick rather than twist and it leaves me feeling uneasy.

This was never going to be a close season that required a revolution because Newcastle have a first XI that is the equal of anyone outside the Premier League's regular Champions League qualifiers. They no longer require the culture changes that were ushered in last summer by the brutal culling of senior players but it is asking a lot of Alan Pardew to repeat the feat with only one new addition who is considered ready for immediate first team action.

It is made doubly difficult by the fact that the rest of the Premier League is showing few signs of standing still. Newcastle finished a place above Chelsea last season but the Blues have spent an eight-figure sum to bring in a crop of glittering internationals that includes the season's early breakout star Eden Hazard.

Now no-one was expecting Mike Ashley to suddenly match the benevolence of Roman Abramovich but a modest outlay might have allowed supporters reason to believe Pardew's assertion that his imagination had been fired by Newcastle's achievements last season.

That might have been the case but in reality, Newcastle have spent the summer haggling over the price of a right-back that they had been watching for two years. It hardly seems like time well spent by the club, especially when finding that extra million or so might also have kept Yohan Cabaye happy.

It was a story repeated elsewhere. Newcastle's meticulous extensive scouting efforts had identified four or five targets who fitted the mould but for one reason or another, they failed to land them - with the honourable exception of Ajax's Vurnon Anita.

On the other side of the balance sheet, they managed to sell Leon Best for a remarkable amount and saw Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands depart. The need for senior recruits, especially up front, seemed acute but the recruitment process became tortuous as clubs reacted with dismay to offers for their stars that they thought were significantly below their values.

Now we can't have it both ways here. Having praised the club to the hilt in May for their work in the transfer market, it does not mean the blueprint should suddenly be ripped up and tossed in the bin. United have shown themselves to be canny operators before and may yet be vindicated in their approach to Luuk de Jong, Debuchy, FC Twente defender Douglas and Andy Carroll.

But just because there has been success in the past does not mean the club is immune to critiques of their work this summer.

Keen students of the Magpies will remember that last season's fine start was running out of steam as January approached. The club had hit turbulence but the ambitious signing of Papiss Cisse kick-started a run of form that helped them into that remarkable fifth-placed finish.

It was sensible, sober investment on a player that had been extensively scouted by Newcastle. His impact was spectacular but that was no fluke: United had done their homework and got themselves a terrific striker.

Similarly, investment on Debuchy or de Jong would surely not have been wasted either. The club had enough faith in Graham Carr to hand him an eight-year contract this summer but that was not matched by the courage to spend big on some of his recommendations.

Luckily, Newcastle have a manager and coaching staff who are now used to pulling rabbits out of the hat - and fans should take plenty of encouragement from having Pardew in the dug out. You don't get manager-of-the-year for nothing and he is sharp, smart and more-than-capable of extracting the best from a very talented squad.

Even he will recognise that replicating last season's heroics will be that bit harder if Newcastle United - as expected - sit on their hands today.

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