Bargain bin squad pushing for Premier League glory
Chelsea's Florent Malouda, left, and John Mikel Obi, right, vie for the ball with Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Manchester may be the centre of the footballing universe as the Premier League season reaches its climax, but Newcastle United continues to provide an intriguing sub-plot to the battle at the top.
From relegation from the premier league in 2008/09 under the leadership of the idol of the terraces, Alan Shearer, to Champions League contenders under a man the majority of football pundits thought was a terrible choice in Alan Pardew, in 2011/12.
The way in which owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias have turned the club around in such a short space of time has been nothing short of remarkable.
The sale of local hero Andy Carroll to Liverpool almost sent the supporters into meltdown. It was seen as a sign of the clubs outlook. The seemingly sell first and think later approach was a far cry from the ambition fans had been calling for.
But while Carroll left a giant hole in the squad the £35m pounds Llambias extracted from the hands of the Reds recently sacked director of football Damien Comolli was more than fair compensation.
Whether the club would spend any of that money was doubtful and with a dubious recruitment record behind them some thought that wasn’t a bad thing.
Instead of overpriced and overpaid flops came five of the biggest bargains seen in the premier league for some time.
Deals were done that were meant to be dead in modern football.
Demba Ba was taken on a free transfer from West Ham, Yohan Cabaye (£4.8m) and Hatem Ben Arfa (£2m) were signed from Lille and Marseille in France, Papiss Cissé (£9m) from Freiburg in Germany and Cheik Tiote (£3.5m) from FC Twente in the Netherlands, capped off a scouting masterclass.
Observers have been waiting for the fall of the frugally assembled squad since Christmas.
Pardew has exceeded even the wildest expectations to be in with a genuine chance of playing against Europe’s elite next season.
To put this into perspective Liverpool blew close to a combined total of £75m on Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson.
While Carroll is only just starting to find his feet in a red shirt, Downing and Henderson have been far from impressive.
The Merseysiders are sandwiched between Fulham and Everton in eighth place on the table. Their new found financial power irrelevant. Another post-transfer window period filled with regret.
Buying British is always a costly task, but the signings made by Llambias prove the whole football transfer market isn’t an over-inflated waste of time.
The argument that clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City are unable to do cut-price deals because they have wealthy owners has some merit.
They’re all forced to pay above the odds, but what Newcastle has managed to achieve with its cheque book since emerging from the second tier of English football should be an example to others.
Mutually acceptable deals are clearly not a thing of the past. The biggest challenge is still to come for the Magpies though.
The hidden diamonds they uncovered have shone so brightly that others have taken notice.
Cissé, Ben Arfa and Cabaye in particular could all be sold during the off-season for significantly more than they were bought for.
Whether Llambias and Ashley will consolidate and build or cash in remains to be seen.
Regardless, they’ve proven a lot can be done with what football considers a modest transfer budget.
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.
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