Did Norwich and Newcastle overspend this window?
Of all the outlays that took the watchful eye’s scarce attention on this years’ January transfer window, Newcastle United probably stole the proverbial show. Struggling Roma striker Seydour Doumbia joined on loan from Roma, former wonderkid Henri Saivet signed from Bordeaux, Jonjo Shelvey migrated north from Swansea, and Tottenham reject Andros Townsend moved in a £12m swoop, taking the club’s January outlays up to around £29m.
Without risking another elongated list of inlays, Norwich City were perhaps runners up to Newcastle, with Steven Naismith, Timm Klose, Matt Jarvis and Ivo Pinto all joining for undisclosed fees, along with Patrick Bamford on loan with the club spending an approximate £25m.
Individually, both clubs spent more than all of Serie A combined, as Premier League spending eclipsed £1bn in a season for the first time in its history.
Premier League Spending. Source: The Guardian
On the surface, this influx looks good while offering prospective hope to fans. Signing players for large fees signifies intent and ambition, and the actual process of undergoing a transfer excites, particularly those of clubs who seldom have too much to cheer about.
But, really, is signing a large group of players always the answer? While it’s too early to pass judgements on any of the aforementioned players at either club, do these outlays really correlate with improved performances on the pitch? Perhaps not; at least not yet. Norwich in previous years have followed a sensible policy of exclusively signing British and Irish players, frequently from lower leagues (Leeds United, for example). While that policy was somewhat less glamorous than the likes of Klose from Germany, it attracted players with a point to prove and an overwhelming desire to succeed. If it takes until March for the new signings to click, then it may be too late anyway.
Strip it round the other way, and signing too many players can be of detriment to a team. Andre Villas Boas, having led Tottenham to their highest ever points tally in PL history, unfairly lost his job after the Gareth Bale windfall brought in a range of miss-firing mercenaries. Only Christian Erikson, Nacer Chadli and Eric Lamela remain from that cohort, a sign of the large failure of that £103m window. Tony Fernandes’ unregulated QPR days remains the beacon of mediocrity though, with half the squad ringing up their agents to get them out of a spiritless-sinking-ship by March. While few would call Real Madrid failures, their outrageous Galactico policy has brought just two league titles and two Champions Leagues in around 14 years. Barcelona have far out-done them in the same period by maintaining continuity throughout. Arguably, the likes of Ozil, Di Maria and Robben should all still be playing at the Bernabeu.
In 2013, Stephane Mbia actually asked to leave QPR via tweeting Joey Barton, who was on loan at Marseille at the time.
The other angle is to look at successful teams who curtail their investment to specific, well scouted targets. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have long been advocates of this policy, with lightning bolts of criticism emanating amongst fans for the club’s failure to sign another striker, despite having deep filled pockets. People will ridicule Wenger’s stubborn and passive approach while ruefully pondering what might be, but it is the Frenchman’s unyielding faith in what he has which has brought such wonderful stability to the club over the past 20 years: Chelsea’s nosedive and the rise of Ranieri’s Leicester only emphasise this point further. You can even look further back to the likes of Bobby Robson’s remarkable reign at Ipswich Town. In his 13 years as manager, in which he won the UEFA and FA Cups, he only signed 18 players.
There’s also the additional caveat regarding the financial ramifications of these moves if both clubs are relegated. The Times reported several days ago that Newcastle have taken a ‘huge gamble’ by not instilling relegation clauses into their new players’ contracts, with the likelihood of financial haemorrhaging should they drop. The same article suggested Norwich had not taken such risks. While neither club are likely ‘to do a Portsmouth (or a Bolton)’, one can only think that sticking with what you have may can sometimes be the better way forward.