Newcastle United’s January business to date has been impressively pragmatic.
Bringing in Kieran Trippier is a shrewd move, especially at a fee believed to be in the region of £12m. The England international was recently a La Liga winner with Atletico Madrid and his nous and calibre are desperately needed to upgrade a defence that has shipped in over two goals per game this season.
Taking advantage of a £25m release clause to recruit Burnley’s Chris Wood meanwhile makes sense across the board. Not only have the Magpies sourced a striker who has reached double figures in each of his previous four Premier League campaigns for the Clarets, but they have significantly weakened a direct relegation rival. With Callum Wilson out for a good while, Newcastle needed a centre-forward and they’ve bought a proven one at this level for a sum far less than most number nines of his stature typically go for.
So far then, so sensible, with not a twinkle-toed South American gamble or a costly household name nudging past his sell-by date to be seen.
If that is to the club’s credit, however, it comes with an important caveat, one that some people will think is right and fair, and others not.
Frankly, Newcastle have been relatively prudent to this point and this despite being furnished with incalculable wealth following their takeover last October by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. But maybe they have no choice other than to be prudent?
With Financial Fair Play restrictions in place it was revealed at the time of the takeover that the wealthiest football club on the planet – with owners said to be worth £320 billion – are permitted to spend up to £200m across this transfer window and next summer. Should they do so incidentally, that figure dwindles quite dramatically for subsequent windows.
🗣 Eddie Howe on the signing of Chris Wood:
"Chris is an important signing for us at a crucial time. He is a very dangerous attacking threat, has a physicality and character that I really like, and he has vast experience in the Premier League. He will be a great fit for us." pic.twitter.com/eejW4wHqy1
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) January 13, 2022
It is a figure that at first glance appears to be substantial, that is of course until it is acknowledged that the average outlay of top-flight clubs last summer was £55m with £150m alone splurged on deadline day. The going rate for a top-class player these days is well over a quarter of Newcastle’s total budget for the next financial year and beyond. The going rate for a top-class striker and play-maker is pretty much what they’ve got left to invest after frugally purchasing a right-back and forward, both of whom are in their 30s.
All of which is a direct consequence of FFP, a construct that was introduced primarily to protect clubs for over-extending but also – an accusation granted, but one that is hard to deny – by design of the established elite, to ensure there will never again be a club swiftly transformed into a peer of theirs via heavy investment.
Or, to put it another way, that the remarkable metamorphosis at Manchester City would not be repeated.
When City won the proverbial lottery in 2008 they were immediately blessed with unprecedented funds and, aware of a watered-down version of Financial Fair Play in the breeze, embarked on an accelerated shopping spree to dramatically enhance their squad before the regulations came into effect. This they did in spectacular fashion, immediately luring the Brazilian superstar Robinho from Real Madrid with Wayne Bridge, Nigel De Jong and Craig Bellamy arriving soon after.
In their first full transfer window – across the summer of 2009 – City significantly upgraded every facet of their side, signing eight new players at a cost of £120m. This included two frees and to put that into proper context, Manchester United spent £24.6m that particular summer.
Is out-spending others to such a degree somewhat unsavoury? Many found it distasteful then and still do now. And yet there is a counter-argument to be made, concerning FFP going against the most basic tenets of business law. Would it be fair, or legal, to impose a limit on what Tesco spend on advertising? Would construction industry regulators be allowed to impose spending restrictions on a builder who had won the Euromillions and decided to supercharge his business, buying a fleet of vans and employing highly skilled tradesmen? They absolutely would not.
In football, however, this tyrannical accountability exists and more so, is considered the norm, and more so, is considered necessary.
This brings us back to Newcastle, a proverbial lottery winner that is only allowed to buy a nice second-hand car and take their family to Tenerife rather than the Bahamas.
When the takeover was confirmed, supporters celebrated wildly at their good fortune. Finally, they were free of Mike Ashley and finally they could seriously compete in the market, translating to possible success on the pitch in the not-too-distant future.
How strange, therefore, that they have to be frugal presently, immersed in a relegation fight, with a squad in dire need of improvement. How strange they must be sensible and shrewd going forward while attempting to live out a dream.