The tale of Newcastle’s two transfer windows of 2012 is largely one of expectations. The summer transfer window, as ever, was one of high hopes also as ever eventually to be dashed. In comparison, the mid-season window in January was one in which nothing was thought to be on the cards but ended up resulting in changes which boosted form and the club’s standing dramatically.
At the end of December 2011, Alan Pardew went on record as saying that there would be no bid for a new striker the following January. The season had started well, better than anyone had thought possible. The summer before had ended in a mad failed last-minute attempt to hijack Fulham’s acquisition of Bryan Ruiz, with helicopters supposedly poised dramatically and club staff waiting in a secret location. Rumours had suggested Ruiz was only one among several other strikers attracting Newcastle’s interest, but as the possibly baseless story of the bid for him proved not to have concluded with his signing, the window had closed without the club managing to get anyone through the door, as Pardew might have put it. Demba Ba had joined earlier in the summer to counteract the loss of Andy Carroll in January, but scare stories about Ba’s knees – manageable, we were told, like a pane of glass beside the target on a firing range is manageable – led us to believe that this was not an improvement but merely a bolstering of numbers in the squad. The time to buy a striker had been in the summer, but it hadn’t happened. The success of the summer’s transfer dealings had been a lucky punch, not to be repeated it seemed. Mike Ashley had no interest in improving the squad any more than was absolutely necessary to maintain the current position. When Pardew informed us that we wouldn’t be getting a striker in January either it made perfect sense.
As with all our best transfer moves these days, the purchase of Papiss Cisse in January came completely out of the blue. His record in the Bundesliga at Freiburg could leave no-one in any doubt that here was a goalscorer in his prime. Nobody knows what the future may bring but on the basis of his first few months in England, his progress resembling more a space launch’s blaze of unstoppable power than a meteor’s display of its dying embers, his capture would appear to be something of a coup. His goals propelled Newcastle to the brink of the Champions League and he looked the best striker in the division until the season’s end. The unexpectedness of the transfer made the wildness of its success doubly pleasurable.
Come the end of last season, basking in a 5th place finish and wondering just how far this team could go, a fan could have been forgiven for hoping that some more clever squad improvement might take place. A squad thin on numbers but high on quality was the perfect platform to build upon. The extra games resulting from European qualification meant a boost in numbers was imperative. The transfer business of the season before had been encouraging to say the least. Mike Ashley appeared to have finally got the message about building for the future with sustainable spending. A talented scout was finding unheralded gems and we were picking them up for a song. There was a common consensus of thought on what was needed, mainly defenders and yet another goalscorer after the departure of both Lovenkrands and Best. This time Alan Pardew went public with his desire to boost the squad in the transfer window, specifically mentioning aerially powerful centre-backs who could chip in with goals from set pieces. He’d virtually flashed his list at us all. “Dear Mike, this year I would like a centre-back, a full-back or two, and you can never have enough strikers.” All we had to do was sit back and wait for Summer Santa to do the business and the scarf and strip pictures to appear in the Chronicle.
The days passed like drips of water slowly drilling a hole through the forehead, one by one by one. Surely tomorrow would be the day the breakthrough was finally made? As the days left in August reduced to single figures though, there was a horrible dawning realisation that it just wasn’t going to happen. The window ended with pretty much only backups added. As good as they may turn out, our first team has not been improved in the short term. This time the let down was doubly upsetting for the fact that squad improvement had seemed such a sure thing.
Newcastle’s transfer policy remains a puzzle. Perhaps we can widen that out to be more general and say that Mike Ashley himself remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma surrounded by a corpulent bloke from Buckinghamshire. Every time you think you have a handle on the plan of either, something happens to show that you don’t. Perhaps Ashley and the club can draw inspiration or failing that just instruction from the reaction to 2012’s two transfer windows. Handling expectation is a major part of keeping fans happy at any club. It’s the hope I can’t stand. Nobody minds a bit of subterfuge with the aim of getting a better deal for the club, but without divulging targets, budgets, or anything else of any substance, a bit of honesty on aims would clear up such a lot.