The outpouring of grief from some sections of Newcastle’s support on hearing the news that Jonas Gutierrez had left the club, on loan til the end of the season at Norwich, was such that a passing Martian might believe they were witnessing the passing of a true great. An overreaction; he’s a good player but not good enough to break back into Alan Pardew’s wildly inconsistent team after suffering an injury in the season opener at Manchester City. This isn’t one of Pardew’s mystifying selection anomalies either, he really isn’t worth his place in the starting eleven. He’s a trier with more talent than he’s generally given credit for and I join with most fans in wishing him well, but I doubt many would argue he should be playing.
The hardly-shocking-at-all rumour sweeping Tyneside is that a contract clause meant one or in some versions a few more appearances would result in increasing the value of that contract, either by length, by wage, or by both. I have no idea if this is true or not as those who would know aren’t saying, but does it really matter? A player on big wages is no longer a first choice. Most clubs would be looking to move him on in those circumstances, and there can be no surer thing than Mike Ashley’s Newcastle doing so. If more appearances would increase his wages that only becomes more likely. No-one would be looking to increase the wages or lengthen the contract of someone who is usually not required to perform on the pitch anyway. That is the definition of a drain on club finances. Jonas has become Alan Smith with long hair and a superhero mask secreted on his person fruitlessly. Jonas himself has stated he doesn’t know what he did wrong but the move is hardly a surprise. What would be a surprise is if we saw him in the side again next season. It seems he’ll sign a permanent deal with a new club for next season, if not Norwich then elsewhere and I’m sure he’ll have no shortage of suitors. So farewell to a favourite, thanks and let’s move on.
Do we believe someone better and cheaper will be brought in during this window, so that the squad has improved in quality and not been reduced in numbers, all while improving the club’s financial bottom line? It’s a trick they’ve pulled off before. Unfortunately Newcastle’s tactics in the transfer market seem to be based on the seduction techniques of a badly-advised teenage boy; treat ’em mean and keep ’em keen. Newcastle feign not to be interested in anyone at all throughout the window, so as not to let either player or selling club get the idea they can inflate their demands. The idea is evidently to pounce as the window closes, the equivalent of shutting time in a nightclub, when desperation has set into the target. When viewed from outside, Newcastle have all the trappings of a big club; the attendances, the stadium, the facilities, a history albeit ever more distant. Again unfortunately, even now when the aim of pushing on and improving into a Champions League club is demonstrably achievable as richer clubs make one mistake after another and show themselves to be very fallible, Newcastle evidently have no intention of doing so. In short, to paraphrase a regular assessment of a friend of mine when on the pull, in the eyes of potential targets Newcastle are good from far but far from good.
What is interesting is that throughout his time at the club Jonas’ status has been a kind of weather vane, indirectly pointing us to the club’s priorities, to the thinking of those at the top. At times he’s signified change in how the club wish to do business. When he signed, he was the first of the summer transfer window following the difficult season in which Sam Allardyce had been sacked and Kevin Keegan had steadied the ship. A lot of money had been spent the summer before on new players, Ashley’s first as owner, but most if not all had been squandered by Allardyce. Jonas signing on what the club thought was basically a free under the Webster rule when he bought out his contract was not the end of big-money signings altogether, compatriot Fabricio Coloccini costing a large sum later on that summer. It did begin a shift in emphasis however towards more cut-price deals, much to Keegan’s undoubted chagrin.
As an aside, the stories of Yohan Cabaye leaving ‘on a Webster’ this summer should be viewed remembering Newcastle’s own experience of signing Jonas. They ended up paying a lot more than they thought they’d have to initially. If this was a straightforward process it would be happening a lot more than it is. I can’t remember many people moving on these terms, certainly not at the highest level. Why didn’t Coloccini buy himself out of his contract last year when his personal life supposedly meant he was desperate to move back to South America? Being stranded for years thousands of miles away from his young family would seem more of a driver for Coloccini than Cabaye’s urge to pay 75% tax at PSG.
The second time Jonas’ situation gave us a window into what was going on behind closed doors at the club was when he signed an extension to his contract in 2011. At a time when several high-profile stars had been shipped out in the previous transfer window, it had seemed that there was a policy of slashing costs by transferring those receiving the highest wages at the club. Jonas’ new contract bucked that trend, for make no mistake about it he was already one of the highest paid at the club. His wages would have been pushed up initially by the circumstances of his move, the reduction in fee Newcastle believed they’d be liable to pay when he first signed. It became apparent then that the requirement to move players on was not just dependent on how high their wages were, but was also a function of how useful they were to the team. High wages were permitted if the player was deemed to be important enough. It was only when the wages either received or demanded by a player outstripped their influence on the pitch that they were to be sacrificed.
Now, Jonas himself has found that his own usefulness has waned and the club no longer wish to pay his wages. Again, he would still have been one of the highest-paid at the club before his loan. This tells us if we needed reminding that there are no favourites, no sentimentality within the club. The squad is constantly being assessed as to their individual usefulness and if the opportunity arises to shift a high-earner off the wage bill without damaging the first team then it will happen. Cutting costs remain a priority rather than building a squad. Jose Mourinho in his first spell at Chelsea stated that he wanted two top players in each position. That’s what you need to be successful. Newcastle’s ‘purples’ policy, still active it has been shown, is in direct contrast to that. A top player who isn’t in the team is a waste rather than an insurance policy to maintain results through all eventualities. Much has been made of talk earlier in the season that Newcastle couldn’t compete financially with Southampton and other similar clubs. They’re certainly not trying to transform the club to compete with Chelsea and others at their level. Talk of the Champions League is nothing more than that, talk.