Doubting the scouting at Newcastle United

Newcastle United. Never before has a club’s scouting system been so, well, black and white. The much lauded scouting exploits of chief scout Graham Carr has been praised, unusually for a scout, right through the English game. I so desperately want the Corbridge-man’s scouting to indeed be fantastic and any faults to be attributed somehow to our evil leaders. Certainly it’s better than the days of Ashley’s little homunculus, Dennis Wise, being in charge of such affairs.

Confession though; I have doubts. Looking back at some of the ‘brilliant value’ signings we’ve made on the advice of Carr the picture doesn’t look quite so rosy to me. One of our latest, Emmanuel Riviere, smacks of desperation and a throwback to the years of signing endless Champions League rejects such as Emre, Martins, Cacapa, Duff, Geremi, Babayaro, Parker, Johnsen, Butt, Viduka, Bowyer and the rest. Despite some of them being popular, these signings were so bad due to a very simple fact; if you’re trying to reach Champions League level, you shouldn’t sign players proven to be no longer good enough to play for Champions League teams. Although, of course, you may disagree and fancy checking out free football bets and backing Newcastle to win things this campaign.

Remy Cabella was our ‘big’ signing this summer. As yet, he’s unproven, though we all hope he’ll go on to be a tip-top player. It has to be said though that if Real, Barca, Bayern, Chelsea et al thought he was up to the top level you can be sure one of them would have made a move.

There’s no doubt though that Ayoze Perez has been a great success so far and looks as though he will improve markedly every month of this season. Was this great scouting?  Maybe. Was it luck? Possibly. Alan Pardew has spoken recently himself about how Perez was no secret and that some of Europe’s top clubs were looking at him, but decided not to take a punt. Before Perez of course, there was Romain Amalfitano. Signing him from a minor European league like Perez was in this case an unmitigated disaster.

The signing of Cheick Tiote back in 2010 was hailed as a great value signing for such a top player. How did Newcastle spot this guy? He won the Dutch title for God’s sake! A rather obvious player to go after, one could argue. On a similar note, Vurnon Anita won the same title with Ajax in 2012, while Siem De Jong won it between 2011 and 2014. These players aren’t secret gems; they play and win in front of all of Europe’s top scouts. Daryl Janmaat seems to be a quality replacement for Mathieu Debuchy but again, he played for the Netherlands in the World Cup as recently as the summer in front of the world’s cameras. On top of all this, we didn’t make a concerted effort to go after Wilfried Bony when he was playing in the Eredevisie, something the powers that be may well regret now.

So if our voyages to the low countries haven’t been the stuff of scouting folklore then what about our notorious French landings? Again, our signings were hailed as terrific value and the praise was heaped on Lee Charnley and Graham Carr. How clever were they though?  Lille won the Ligue 1 title in 2011 principally because of Mathieu Debuchy, Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye. We signed two of them and the other was too expensive and had loftier ambitions. Is that genius, or obvious?  Not only that, but we were reportedly quoted over £10million for Cabaye before realising that he had a clause in his contract allowing him to leave should an offer of around £4million be received. We activated this clause, we signed Cabaye. What if that clause wasn’t there? Would this regime have sanctioned a bid of more than twice as much for the player? Many will be forgiven for having doubts.

One year later, the Ligue 1 title was won by Montpellier. The influential captain? Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. What did Newcastle do? Sign him. An obvious player to go after. You see the pattern so far? At around about this time, over a two year period, the top three goal scorers in the French league were Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Loic Remy and Yoan Gouffran. Newcastle signed two of them and tried very hard to sign the other. You can see where I’m going with this.

Our French fascination is unhealthy due to another rather obvious and repeating problem.  The same problem Liverpool suffered with under Gerard Houllier between ‘98 and ‘04.  We don’t get first pick of their players. Back in Houllier’s day at Liverpool, he too seemed to have a near obsession with bringing in French or French speaking players. What he didn’t seem to consider was that Arsene Wenger looked as though he had first pick.  Henry, Wiltord, Viera, Petit to name a few all went to north London while Liverpool were left with Djimi Traore, Titi Camara, Gregory Vignal, Bruno Cheyrou, Anthony Le Tallec and the like.

Our situation seems remarkably similar to me. Moussa Sissoko may be classed as a relative success, but Remy didn’t want to be here and for different reasons, neither did Cabaye or Debuchy. The likes of Varane, Benzema, Matuidi and Pogba are on another level from the Gouffran’s and Obertan’s of this world. People still clamber for it too. Local media polls suggested the fans wanted Clement Grenier to replace Cabaye. Why? How many times, if we’re all honest, have we seen him play? Let me put it a simpler way; Cabaye can’t get into the Paris Saint-Germain team because of Pastore and Motta. In turn, Grenier can’t get into the French team because of Cabaye. So just how far down Europe’s pecking order are we now happy to be? At least pick a replacement from another country! Then, you can live in hope that the player we bring in may be as good, if not better, than the one who left. Picking his understudy is surely just openly admitting we are willing to slide down a level or two.

In stark contrast to all this, I haven’t seen our youth systems in better shape in all the time I’ve been watching Newcastle. Having been made aware of their potential, I turned up almost every week a couple of years ago to see our 2011-12 under-18 side who won their league and were simply fabulous at that level. The entire squad was quality, but in particular you knew then that if Remie Streete and Adam Campbell played we were going to win games. I watched a home derby against Sunderland where Campbell laid on the first three goals before running half the length of the pitch to score the fourth himself.  Brilliant. They won their league but lost Campbell and Streete towards the end of their FA Youth Cup campaign, drawing 2-2 with Blackburn in their absence in the quarter-final before losing on penalties. Blackburn went on to the final. That’s a trophy I was sure this team was about to win. In almost unprecedented fashion, a whole host of players went on to play at various higher levels. Alex Baird, Dennis Knight and Michael Hoganson all got contracts elsewhere. Streete and Campbell made the first team picture at SJP and Marcus Maddison dropped to Gateshead before signing this season for Peterborough United – he’ll move up again before long.  Despite all of that success, that team has arguably been surpassed rather quickly since with Adam Armstrong and Rolando Aarons looking the part in joining Paul Dummett and Sammy Ameobi who had already graduated.  The excellent Callum Roberts, Jak Alnwick, Freddie Woodman and Lubo Satka are next with potential superstar Sean Longstaff not far behind.

With this system, whatever it is the club is doing so right, we clearly have a much brighter future than a lot of fans care to realise. I do hope though that these prospects are not denied a route into the team by us going for second rate Dutch and French players, believing them to be ‘great value’. Nothing is better value than a player who cost you nothing and plays for the badge, not the bank transfer. I live in hope.

By Gary Christie – @GaryChristie –

Posted by Natter Football

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