It’s been a strange summer at St James’ Park; a summer without setbacks, a summer without silence.
The panickers of this off-season aren’t to be found at Newcastle United. The club’s top targets are still available, their key players back in training. Steve McClaren is on-board, with talented coaches in tow, and he’s talking to the supporters. This all feels very different.
Of course, until signings are made and matches are won, many fans will remain sceptical. Newcastle, this Newcastle, tend to punish optimism.
One recruit is on board though – Georginio Wijnaldum. A January target for Paris Saint-Germain and the Dutch Footballer of the Year, the versatile midfielder brings pedigree and a sizeable price tag. His isn’t a position that needed particular attention, but with Mike Ashley finally dipping into the club’s coffers, few will point out that the money might have been better invested elsewhere. Not yet, anyway.
Despite a wretched 2014/15, United have power in the market a year before the European Championships. Daryl Janmaat and Moussa Sissoko are happy to sit tight with their places at the tournament all but assured, offering sound bites that might just tempt Charlie Austin and the like.
Those that previously sought a better career, meanwhile, look less certain of their international futures. Injuries have left Mathieu Debuchy a way down the pecking order at Arsenal, while Chelsea’s Loic Remy considers his next move. Yohan Cabaye, frustrated on Tyneside by his manager’s graceless tactics, has joined Alan Pardew again at Crystal Palace.
With these case studies secured and ambition suddenly back on the agenda, the Magpies can focus on further new arrivals rather than fending off bids for their most prized assets.
Newcastle need forwards and defenders, and they’ve less than a month now until the start of the new campaign. The Wijnaldum deal suggests their patient approach is paying off, but it’s crucial that the club negotiate swiftly as the big kick-off approaches. Past mistakes cannot be repeated; there’s more value in slightly overpaying than in going without. Having splashed out an eight-figure fee last week, hopefully United have learnt their lesson.
In spending, however, the pressure Ashley has felt for years on end will surely transfer instead to McClaren and his players.
Premier League status has been retained in NE1 without exercising the bank account, so the owner will expect tangible rewards from this outlay. Wijnaldum and Co must prove their worth.
For supporters, the cited European football and cup finals will fit the bill. For Ashley? Well this might just be the season that we find out.