For a meaningless dead rubber, Newcastle’s defeat in Bordeaux threw up a few far-reaching questions. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports
IS it time for the purple reign to end at Newcastle United? In the wake of a French failure that prompted challenging questions about the Magpies investment policy, the Magpies are poised to review the notion that they can challenge on four fronts with a strategy that seeks to balance the books with the blend of a squad.
In truth, it has looked light on leaders below its established XI for a while now. At least that was the suggestion from Alan Pardew after the Bordeaux battering suffering by his team of youngsters and fringe men. His heavy hint that there will be – or at least should be – investment was the clearest indication yet that he wants more of the established men that Newcastle’s hierarchy brand ‘purples’.
Purples are one of Newcastle’s ‘big ideas’, one of the things devised by the club as they looked to secure success on a budget dwarfed by their bigger rivals. The Magpies approach to squad-building means that players are assigned colours depending on their status in the squad, but purple is the shade that is paramount to the club.
It represents established, frontline, first-team professionals – most likely internationals.
Managing director Derek Llambias explained that to The Journal back in October, while also setting out the idea that Newcastle’s current budget could only afford 11 of them at any one time. It was an interesting notion, even if it laid the MD open to charges of cost-cutting.
You supplement the purples with slightly paler shades who can come in and ‘do a job’ in football parlance – in practice that would be the likes of James Perch, Mike Williamson and Shola Ameobi. It worked well last term, when luck favoured Newcastle. The problem this season has been that United have virtually always been playing with fewer ‘purples’ than other colours due to a combination of injuries, suspensions and downright rank fortune.
And the hope that one or more of their fringe men might make the transition into purple territory has proved a little optimistic, as events on Thursday proved.
An excellent blog (StuffbyPaulBrown.com, if you want to check it out) pointed out after Llambias’ comments that the colour was probably related to casino terminology, because it is purple chips that have the highest value. That is the industry that Llambias was working in when he first met and impressed Mike Ashley, after all, but the irony is that for a man who made his mark in that world there is little of the high roller about United’s MD.
A gambler? Perhaps, because Newcastle do take chances in the transfer market and wider recruitment. But their transfer policy is underlined by the sort of prudence that would make Gordon Brown blush – and anyone hoping for a complete overhaul of the current blueprint will surely be disappointed.
Pardew wouldn’t have said anything if he hadn’t been given some sort of encouragement in the transfer market, though. He is shrewd enough and close enough to the hierarchy to know that they don’t really respond to external pressure being applied, and the manager has consistently illustrated himself to be ‘on board’ with the big ‘black and white’ idea.
It is also probably no coincidence that the club’s top brass were due to meet over the last fortnight to go through the club’s January recruitment plans. A list of targets with six to nine months left on their contract has thrown up some exciting names, and there is genuine interest in the likes of Mo Sissoko, the France midfielder currently turning out for Tolouse. It was also interesting to note a link with Mohammed Diame of West Ham, who reportedly has a clause inserted in his contract.
Not that Newcastle will crudely jettison those who failed to fire in France.
Pardew’s impatience with his second string was tangible in Bordeaux – and perhaps with just cause.
There is no doubt that there are talented players among the crop of Newcastle young guns that turned out in the south west of France but they were lacking in the authority Pardew wanted them to have developed by now.
Back in September he talked of an “unprecedented opportunity” that the likes of James Tavernier, Shane Ferguson and Sammy Ameobi would be presented with after the club’s limited transfer business and he was true to his word. They have been given minutes, but have yet to conclusively prove their longevity. Ameobi junior is a case in point: a hardworking player who has real ability and talent. He is likeable too, but he looked to have the world on his shoulders as he marched out of the Stade Chaban-Delmas on Thursday after being hooked at half-time.
There will be no shortage of Championship takers for Sammy in January if he is made available on loan and perhaps regular football is what he needs now.
The most important thing is that he and his fellow fringe men retain the favour of the Tyneside public, which has become a slightly fuzzy issue lately. When the team isn’t doing well frustrations are understandable and youth only protects you so far.
It all points to one conclusion. What Newcastle need right now are more purples, to ensure that their green horns are given every opportunity to really kick on. Really, they can’t afford not to.