IS Ashley Really Baldrick?
As one eagle eyed observer on TOTT spotted, Newcastle squad list appeared, at first sight, to be hastily assembled with the players not even listed in alphabetical order:
Sol Campbell, Steven Taylor, Shola Ameobi, Joey Barton, Danny Guthrie, Peter Lovenkrands, Jose Enrique, Alan Smith, Leon Best, Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez, Steve Harper, Kevin Nolan, Wayne Routledge, Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor, Mike Williamson, Xisco, Fraser Forster, Tim Krul, James Perch, Cheik Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa.
Some clubs listed their players in a more traditional way, starting with goalkeepers, moving through defence, then midfield, to the forward line. Some did follow alphabetical order.
Briefly, Premier League teams have had to nominate squads of up to 25 players. These are to include 8 "home grown" players, with a maximum of 17 overseas players. Home grown is defined as players who have spent 3 years in the English and Welsh systems prior to their 21st birthday. Players under 21 at the start of the year in which the season starts do not have to be nominated. Any number of under 21 players can play without needing to be nominated.
That all sounds convoluted, and whilst there might have been initial alarm that, arguably, our hottest prospect Andy Carroll was not nominated. However, with his 21st birthday being in January 2010, he is still, according to the rules, under 21.
Those of us who looked out for clues to transfer activity will have monitored during the summer how many players we could still bring in. The final Toon list is 23 players, 16 of which are home grown, allowing for 2 more to be registered, regardless of nationality.
Perhaps surprisingly, only 4 clubs have had too many players to register them all. Spurs have left the injured Woodgate on the sidelines. West Brom have Luke Moore, the striker with an abnormally low strike rate, out of their squad. Man City have left a goalkeeper unregistered, whilst Wolves have an apparently idle Michael Kightly and veteran Michael Hill out of their lists.
To have gaps in the ranks, while short of a left back and apparent lack of depth in experienced strikers, would seem negligent, until it is observed that Premier League Champions, Chelsea, have only nominated 19. All of Arsenal`s "home grown" players over 21 are foreign nationals.
Suddenly we are left looking for the coherence in Newcastle United`s strategy.
As for the listing, what did appear random to some can be explained by expiry of contracts. Campbell is on an initial one year deal, with Steven Taylor`s contract due to expire in June 2011. The players are then listed according to date of contract expiry, with alphabetical order then taking over. Steve Harper appears to be out of order, unless he has quietly agreed to a contract extension. Keen observers will note that Enrique also appears out of order until it is realised that his last name is actually Sanchez. The structure of the list suggests forward planning.
To have the option of signing 2 players in January, without having to offload any currently registered players, suggests that some thought might have been given to having a margin to play with, in the event of a need to bolster the squad if early season results give cause for concern. There is certainly cash available, with the wage bill and other costs reduced since the last Premier League campaign, and losing Nicky Butt during the summer.
Parachute payments, season ticket sales, merchandise and transfer installments from sold players, such as Bassong, Milner, Given etc suggest that the club should be, relatively speaking, cash rich.
The clues then lead to a mystery to be solved. Perhaps the contract wranglings with Steven Taylor provide more clues.
If Taylor does not re-sign, Campbell is waiting to have his contract extended, surely some motivation for when he plays this season. Andy Carroll will need to be registered for next season, but none of the other "under 21s" will. If Taylor does not re-sign, then the likes of Kadar, Tavernier and others join Campbell in the queue to take his place.
More worryingly, 6 players in the above list, from Ameobi to Smith, have contracts which are due to expire in June 2012. Arguably, Lovenkrands, Smith and Shola could be expected to be beyond their prime. Barton`s track record may make him unattractive to big clubs, with the promising Guthrie, and now accomplished Enrique potential causes for concern.
Regarding registration, the following Under 21 players will need to be nominated for 2012-13: Gosling, Lua Lua, Kadar, Soderberg, Tozer and Zamblera, all of which will be considered "home grown".
Suddenly, 2+2 seems to potentially equal 4. Newer players, such as Tiote, Ben Arfa and Gosling have the potential to become the nucleus of a decent team, just as more expensively assembled squads become subject to the infamous Platini proposals. Players whose contracts will be up will be challenging younger talent for long term contracts at a cash rich club, capable of challenging for honours.
Instead of the apparent madness in their method, there may really be method in their madness. Does Ashley really have a cunning plan?