AND now for their next trick. Having cracked the French market Newcastle United are now preparing to take one of football’s hardest tasks – importing teenage players of sufficient quality and character to take care of the next generation.
The signing of Servette’s Kevin Mbabu, a 17-year-old defender of terrific promise, might not have captured the imagination of the Tyneside public in the same way that Moussa Sissoko did but it was extremely significant. The first of a planned influx of recruits into the development team, Mbabu represents the initial phase of Mike Ashley’s next big project.
United, you see, have embarked on a recruitment drive that they hope will staff their squad with some of the best talent in Europe. It is an open secret in France, where Newcastle began this project in earnest last month. Their requirements are two-fold: they must be born between 1991 and 1993 and they must have the talent and mentality to cope with eventually playing for Newcastle’s first team.
They want eight or nine more to go with Mbabu, and might have had another addition in January if they’d managed to smuggle Florian Thauvin out of Bastia before deadline day. He went to Lille despite an offer in the region of £3million being tabled for a player with only 35 games under his belt – a definite sign that Ashley is serious about his next big project.
French sources tasked with finding the next tranche of Magpies stars have told The Journal of Newcastle wanting to create a trio of distinct groups in a move that would be a significant development of their colour-coded strategy. They will retain the “purples” – those players who are considered first-team regulars – but there will be more colour coded groups below them, one of emerging players who can be promoted into the first team at any time and another that features mostly 16 and 17-year-olds that should be ready in a couple of years’ time.
In the second of the three groups would be designed for the likes of Gael Bigirimana, Adam Campbell, Michael Richardson, Curtis Good and Massaido Haidara – who can step up if need be. In the third group, Mbabu is a trail-blazer but he will be joined by others.
It’s an interesting project but United fans might think they’ve been here before. Signing the best teenagers from around the globe is nothing new but the problem in the past has been that a few have failed to capitalise on promising starts in black and white.