January is proving a troubling time for many Newcastle fans. With the mid-season transfer window yet to develop momentum and Newcastle’s better-than-expected start making bids for one or more of their successes seem likely, worry might seem an appropriate emotion. To lose any from the crucial spine of the team, Krul, Coloccini, Tiote, Cabaye & Ba, would risk smothering the revival before it had really taken hold. Those in control haven’t been slow to accept a fee for previously important players in the recent past. It so happens those transactions have ended well for the club both financially and in a footballing sense, but whether that was the result of following a clever plan or just good fortune, experience tells us that everyone is for sale, the only question being whether the required price is met.
Every player everywhere is for sale of course if enough money is offered, none of this is as unusual or objectionable as it at first seems, though selling your best player and replacing him is a difficult trick to pull off over and over again. Some do it more often than others, but even Arsenal have been doing it for years. This isn’t about being a selling club, by definition inferior to the buyer, but about spotting a good deal and relieving fools of their money. The trick of it is to hang onto players for long enough that the team truly benefits from their presence, and sell them at their peak ( or rather just before they begin to deteriorate). Henry & Vieira were both subject to transfer sagas for a couple of seasons before Arsenal finally sold for ridiculous money, when they were both in their late 20s and their value had been maximised. Tiote turned 25 in the summer, he’s on a 6-year contract, and it would make sense to keep him for at least another 2 seasons after this and flog him then if we must. His supposed most likely destination, Chelsea, this weekend welcomed Michael Essien back, making a bid from them that bit more unlikely. Coloccini’s future is more uncertain. He is 30 this January, and will be in the last season of his contract in the summer. That makes him ripe for a sale, unless they give him a 2-year extension and sell in summer 2013, by which time he’ll be 31 and worth a lot less, though selling in the last year of a contract inevitably reduces the fee also. We may end up keeping him just because we’ve missed the boat on getting a big fee. It may seem heretical to talk of sales of such vital, magnificent players in so matter-of-fact a way, but football has no sentiment, a player past his peak has little value, and someone in 2 years time has a good chance of bearing little resemblance to themselves now. The problem is not in the sale but in the failure to replace.
When it comes to replacements, it doesn’t matter how much you spend, free transfers or £35m, you either get someone in as good as who has left or you don’t. Does anyone think at the moment that Demba Ba replacing Andy Carroll has weakened the team? That could change if his injuries come back but for now that one has come off. ‘Spending the money’ makes no difference whatsoever. If you can get someone in for less who is a success, you have the opportunity to improve other areas of the team without increasing your net spending, and that is the crux of the whole plan. You have to get someone in comparable to the original star man who left though, or the whole thing becomes a downward spiral. And the more you do it, the more likely you are to get it wrong.
Football is a massive financial food chain. We have hit on the fact that we can lure players from better teams in specific countries because we can pay bigger wages. Clubs here know they can lure our players by offering wages we’re not prepared to. That’s just the way things are, and it’s exactly the same for players whether they leave or come in, they’re just moving up the wages chain. If we can get someone from the French league with Champions League experience on less money than we’d have had to pay for someone from the Championship that has to be a good thing for us. Graham Carr knows France & we have identified a price anomaly to our advantage. Now everyone else has too, market economics mean prices there will rise as demand does. The continued success of our plan to sell high and buy low relies on identifying undervalued players. As France gets more expensive, we will need to find other markets. If we can do that transfer windows need hold no fears for us.