Newcastle United and Sunderland acted with purpose not panic last month, says chief sports writer Mark Douglas
JANUARY 31 is a date forever etched in Alan Pardew’s memory.
It is the day that Andy Carroll was smuggled out of the North East in Mike Ashley’s helicopter and Pardew, who had delivered constant assurances about the striker, was forced to front up to disgruntled Newcastle supporters.
One of his hardest days, Pardew subsequently said – and he made another crack about it yesterday.
That Carroll business means that Newcastle fans will always fear the January transfer window but is it obscuring the bigger picture – namely that United have actually got pretty darned good at manoeuvring during this month.
Think about it for a minute. While the Carroll switch prompted raw emotion across Tyneside, it proved spectacularly successful business for the club – who proved they knew the value they were getting by accepting Liverpool’s eye-watering £35m offer.
Last year the signing of Papiss Cissé paved the way for a spring assault on the Champions League places and this month, United secured the signing of five internationals for just shy of £20m.
Perhaps it is the case that Newcastle’s transfer team operate best in the slightly more urgent environment of the January window than they do in the summer, when selling clubs have the luxury of time to smoke out interest in their players. It helps that Newcastle’s extensive contacts in their target markets of France, Belgium and Holland are consistently coming through for them. Agent trouble might have torpedoed the Loïc Rémy deal, but they have a couple of fixers across the Channel who are worth their weight in gold – and they were well primed to move in January.
Combine that with a policy of aggressively targeting players coming to the end of their contracts and it is clear that January is a fertile market for Newcastle.
In years to come, United will point to the Moussa Sissoko deal as proof that their extensive work in France has been worth it. By the start of January they were among eight clubs watching Toulouse’s game against Saint-Étienne, and when Sissoko delivered a man-of-the-match performance his representatives were approached by all eight.
By then it was a done deal, though. United had sewn him up and all that background work – the wining and dining process that began three years ago – gave them a massive head-start.
Newcastle needed it, for their effectiveness in January is not yet matched by their summer work. Left short of numbers and quality, United found themselves fighting a relegation battle and Mike Ashley’s largesse was sorely required. It should see them right. Given the frenetic business being done around the country, the North East was something of an oasis of calm yesterday.