It would be an understatement to say that Newcastle need to improve their squad this summer ahead of the new season. With a Covid effected window, many clubs will be looking to improve, but improve on a bargain if they can.
There have been reports from trusted journalist’s that Newcastle’s transfer fund has been cut in half, due to the financial strain the pandemic has put on clubs. Regardless of what is happening in the background with the takeover, Newcastle have seen a need to add to their ranks. First came goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, on a free from Motherwell, the second signing looks to be close, however it is certainly one that has split fans.
The club have been linked to former Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick, who left the Lancashire club after his contract ran out at the end of the season.
Newcastle though are not the first club to be linked to the Republic of Ireland midfielder this summer. Paper reports had linked the player to Italian giants AC Milan and Roma. Some of these same reports suggested the moves broke down due to restriction of travel from the UK, and into Italy, a direct impact of the Covid virus that has stopped travel and day-to-day life.
So what are the pros and cons of the transfer?
Undoubtably Newcastle need more bodies in the centre of the park, with Nabil Bentaleb’s loan from Schalke finishing, and Matty Longstaff no longer contracted to the club. Which only really leaves Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff, as recognised central midfielders in the squad (you would assume Henry Saivet is on his way out!).
In the absence of Hayden, Newcastle need someone in the middle of the park who can break up play, something Hendrick is adept at doing in his time in the North West. A decent passer of the ball, and has a completion rate of 75% during his career, could add an extra dimension to the Toon’s midfield.
Football is a team game, and having a decent squad, not just a decent first 11 is something you need in the modern game, especially during the coming season when games could be closer together. Hendrick adds Premier League experience, and International level experience into that squad should he sign. Being a regular in Sean Dyche’s side over the past few season’s means he will instantly be up to speed when called upon, something that was lacking from Bentaleb in his failed loan move.
A ‘free’ transfer not only makes a modicum of sense in the current climate for an experienced Premier League player, but keeps the much needed funds free’d up to invest in areas that need more attention, namely up-front. He is not a player that will displace the preferred starting two, but could be a good deputy when called upon.
This was never going to be a transfer that excited Newcastle fans, given some of the names we have been ‘linked’ to this summer, with many seeing it as a backward step, or an indication of the level we are at as a club under Mike Ashley.
Although a decent passer of the ball, his assist stats and key passes stats don’t make for good reading. Having played 239 games in his career, Hendricks has only clocked up 18 assist, and averages 0.8 key passes a season. Being able to create chances has been something of a struggle for Newcastle this season, and looking at his stats, Hendricks isn’t going to improve that.
Although also mentioned as a pro, the fact he would be coming in as 3rd or even 4th choice in midfield, being brought in as a squad player shows that a portion of the wage will be used on a player that isn’t likely to be the first name on the team sheet.
Are there better players who are available, undoubtably, but would they fit into the current Newcastle system? Being a free transfer isn’t a massive risk, but if it doesn’t work out, there is another chance to have another Henry Saivet or Jack Colback taking up wages, when the club seem to have a very strict wage structure.
It does come across as a needs must transfer, as opposed to one that will instantly improve the squad.
I also had the privilege to speak briefly to The Athletics Chris Waugh to get his take!
“If it’s a case of spending money on Nabil Bentaleb, who I was rather underwhelmed with during his loan spell from Schalke, or signing Jeff Hendrick on a ‘free transfer’, I’d very much push for the latter. ‘Free transfers’ are never that, and are always more expensive than you might think, but Hendrick has the Premier League experience Steve Bruce desires and has the versatility to play in several positions across the midfield. He is hard-working, can score crucial goals from time to time and brings greater legs to a midfield that, when Isaac Hayden doesn’t play, sorely lacks them. As for whether he’s first-team material, I wouldn’t say he would be an automatic starter by any stretch but, if Hayden isn’t available, then I think he would complement Jonjo Shelvey nicely in midfield. Hendrick is not available on a free because he is a bad player – Burnley wanted to keep him – but he is available because his contract expired. Some fans may be underwhelmed by the prospect of Hendrick signing, but he does, in many way, seem like a very solid addition on a free transfer during what is a very challenging window for the club.”
But what about the fans view, a couple were kind enough to give their thoughts:
I can see the thinking behind this prospective transfer, we do need better backups in midfield. Bentaleb never really impressed me, Saivet seems like he hasn’t been fancied by anyone and has turned into a complete waste of money. At least if Hendrick goes the same way its only wages lost!
I fully understand the call from fans that we need people to improve the first team, but with a distinct lack of money in this window (rumoured at £35-£40m) there are other areas that need looking at with more urgency. The money saved on Hendrick, or Bentaleb for that matter could go towards a decent centre forward and a left back.
Personally I think he could be a decent signing, and could be in a similar mould to Ciaran Clark, in terms of not getting people of their feet, but dependable when needed. And whether you believe the rumours or not, if you are linked to Milan and Roma, you must have something about you!
As Chris said, ‘free transfers’ are never free, but at least it won’t impact what little funds we have to get in what is desperately needed.
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