Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Comings and goings

Asset-stripping. We seem to be quite good at it. Leeds had branded James Milner as "not for sale", "one for the future", "Leeds Utd through and through" etc. Or, at least, they had until we waved £5m under their nose. A sound investment for our future, I hope. Along with the likes of Smith and Pennant, the youngster certainly performed very well in a dire team, shouldering a lot of responsibility for creating chances and scoring goals – hopefully at Newcastle, where the demands on him won't be so great, he'll flourish.

Quite where he'll play is anyone's guess, though. As a striker he's unlikely to dislodge Shearer and Bellamy, and Ameobi, fresh from signing a new five year deal, is waiting in the wings. Competition for places in midfield looks equally fierce, at least if Speed and Viana are still on the books come the start of the season - but then of course the competition in both areas of the team will hot up further if, as seems likely, we sign Nicky Butt this week as well as another striker.

Butt is hardly the sort of player to get the pulse racing, but then he is a good solid performer and was unlucky not to make an appearance for England during Euro 2004 in his favoured defensive midfield position. With Speed ageing and Jenas not yet ready for the responsibility, he'd give our beleaguered defence some much-needed protection and support.

It seems that the priority is for a new right back – following Andy Griffin's departure we've only got Aaron Hughes who's comfortable in that position – but Benfica's Miguel looks to be way out of our league after his impressive performances for Portugal and the trail seems to have gone cold as regards Danny Mills. As things stand, Reiziger would have been a decent signing but the Smoggies appear to have won that particular race unchallenged.

As for strikers, I’d love to see Kluivert at the club – but only as long as we could accommodate him within the existing wage structure and find a place for him in the side. A week ago we seemed to have Beattie lined up as a long-term replacement for Shearer, but recent noises coming from Southampton don’t sound promising. Lua Lua is caught in a strange kind of limbo, wanted by Portsmouth and wanting to play for them but unable to leave the club until Pompey stump up an acceptable offer. Whether he’s still at the club in August remains to be seen, but if he is, the reception he’ll be afforded by the majority of Newcastle fans is unlikely to be a welcoming one.

Of course, for every player arriving there’s at least another one leaving. Brian Kerr and Steve Caldwell have both found new clubs (Livingston and the Mackems respectively), as have promising young reserve midfielders Bradley Orr (Bristol City) and Andy Ferrell (Watford). Part of me hopes they make the grade, but not to such an extent that we come to regret the decision to let them go – which is what usually happens when they return to score against us in decisive matches…

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