While Jeremy is our resident NUFC supporter, he is out of pocket this week so I'm going to take over with my thoughts on the transfer of Demba Ba from WHU to St. James' Park. Taken as a move by itself, there is little to do other than like it a lot. NUFC is desperate for strikers and Ba was very effective over the second half of last season at Upton Park. If he can stay healthy, I don't have any trouble seeing him match the goal total of the man he is, in essence, replacing - Andy Carroll.
What could go wrong with this move? A couple of things:
Both of Ba's recent moves (to WHU and now to NUFC) have had the cloud of injury issues surrounding them. Clearly both teams felt it was worth taking the risk but you have to figure that where there's smoke there's fire. If I were either a NUFC supporter or a fantasy manager I'd be concerned that there is an injury time bomb waiting to explode that will take this from being a good move to a big fat waste of money. If Ba were fully healthy, I'd expect that there would have been more of a tug-of-war over his services among the mid-tier clubs like Everton, and Sunderland who both need players who can put the ball in the net about as desperately as the Magpies.
Moving beyond the Ba move as an isolated incident, you have to wonder what the hell is going on at St. James Park. Depending on what lens you put on you can tell two different stories. If you want to think that NUFC are a bit of a management disaster then it is easy to categorize the departures of Carroll and Barton and the presumed departures of Enrique, Barton, and Gutierriez as the losses of very important cogs in a machine that managed to finish comfortable out of relegation in their first year back up in the big leagues.
If you want to put on some rosier colored glasses, you can also view the turnover as rather brilliant. Here's the case for a potentially brilliant summer for the Magpies:
Carroll out: OK, this didn't happen over the summer but it was the first domino in the realization that last season's team was too volatile and that such volatility is what doomed them last time around. So, they sell Carroll who is a bit of a head case with lots of potential at the height of his value. Bringing in Ba is a strong replacement strategy.
Nolan out: By all reports, Nolan is a solid citizen who we know had a great rebound performance in the Prem after reviving himself in the Championship the season before. Why sell? Well, he's getting older, had a huge offer on the table from WHU, and has shown that he can lose it as fast as he re-found it two seasons ago. Why not cash out now before you find yourself paying an over-the-hill player huge wages? We will have to see what the replacement strategy is - Cabaye isn't a like-for-like if that's what you're wondering.
Barton likely out: Call Barton the midpoint between Carroll. While he should still be in his prime he has, like Carroll, shown that his personality/temperament are likely to get in the way at any moment. Like Nolan, he has shown that he is capable of wild turns in form. If there's an offer out there, why not take it with options like Bentley, Faddy, and N'Zogbia potentially available as replacements? None of them are perfect but neither are any of them as petulant.
Gutierriez likely out: Jonas is a harder one to justify but here's my theory. He is likely being paid like the starter he was before Ben Arfa was purchased. With Ben Arfa coming back to health and likely to take over the left side of midfield, it doesn't make sense to overpay a squad player. There is also the chance that he's none too happy about being demoted and this is an opportunity to ship him out before he gets too disgruntled.
Enrique likely out: This one is more about inevitability than anything else. He is playing above his current team. Among left backs I can only think of 3 - Evra, ACole, and Baines - who are definitely better players than he is. Throw in the likelihood that if he's going to be no better than mid-table he'd probably rather do that in Spain (or somewhere else with better weather than Newcastle) and that he probably has those options now then there is probably little a club with fiscal limits like NUFC can do to keep a player like Enrique. Might as well get some money for him before he leaves for free after the 2011-12 season.
So, it total, NUFC are likely to lose a potential star who could just as easily become an overpaid, under-performing distraction, two midfielders who are on the downsides of careers marked by volatile shifts in form, a reserve left-sided midfielder, and a player they have little-to-no hope of keeping beyond the coming season. In return, they presumably free up the investment funds and future wages to bring in more solid players who (hopefully) have some upside and definitely don't have the propensity to a) go freakin' nuts or b) lose their form.
If they can come up with a couple more solid acquisitions like Ba to replace Nolan (Hitzlspreger?) and Barton (McFadden?) then they might have the sort of stable team that starts to change our perception of how business is done Tyneside. Either that or Ba will turn out to be crocked and they'll continue to bring in players with severe personality disorders and keep the drama coming. Could go either way.