COMMENT By Matt Farr
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez has already made his intentions clear in the transfer window, but the club have yet to make any significant progress in regards to new additions.
Several players have agreed to leave the club, including academy trio Freddie Woodman, Callum Roberts and Sean Longstaff – who have all joined Kilmarnock on loan until the end of the season.
However, they have not had quite so much luck in pursuit of their reported transfer targets. The Magpies have been after a central midfielder more than any other position, and have been linked with the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tom Cairney and Tom Cleverley.
Unfortunately, Chelsea are not keen on letting Loftus-Cheek leave the club this month – even on loan – while Fulham are believed to want as much as £20million for Cairney.
However, while some Newcastle fans may be concerned that their hunt for a new midfielder did not end with Cleverley, here are three reasons why they can still be cheerful.
Is he really cut out for the top level?
Cleverley has two very reputable English clubs on his CV, but he never really made an impression at either.
The 27-year-old midfielder emerged on the Premier League scene with Manchester United, but he could never really establish himself as a first-team player there, making just 79 appearances across seven seasons.
He had numerous loan spells to aid his development, including at Watford in the 2009-10 campaign, but never really looked like fulfilling his potential at Old Trafford.
As a result, he was shipped off to Everton in 2015, but things didn’t get much better for him there either. Cleverley struggled with injuries during his time with the Toffees, but the club’s interest in Morgan Schneiderlin ultimately ended his first-team hopes.
No disrespect to Watford, but from a player that promised so much at Manchester United, his move to Vicarage Road is a bit of a step down.
But it does raise questions about his ability. He’s had several shots at success now in the Premier League, and he has yet to grasp one of them. The move could see him come out of his shell, but there are doubts that he can perform at the top level.
Newcastle are currently in the Championship but they have ambitions to return to the Premier League, and while Cleverley could have been a handy asset to the Magpies’ cause in the second-tier, he would not have been a long-term solution to their midfield problem.
Jonjo Shelvey is nearing a return
Cleverley’s snub is also not the end of the world, because Jonjo Shelvey is nearing a return to the first-team picture.
The midfielder has just one more game to serve of his five-match suspension for racially abusing Wolves’ Romain Saiss earlier in the campaign.
His absence has hit Rafa Benitez’s side hard, as they have missed his creativity and distribution in the middle of the park. However, they only have to cope without him for one more game, a Championship meeting with Brentford on Saturday.
Even with Shelvey back in the side, Newcastle and Benitez could do with at least one more midfielder. Cheick Tiote could be on the way out, while Mo Diame is on international duty with Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations.
But at least they’ll have one of their best players at their disposal once again.
Benitez is a man with a plan
Keeping hold of Rafa Benitez following their relegation was a major coup for Newcastle. He has done wonders for the side’s confidence, and while you can’t prove such a claim, it can be said that no other manager would have had as positive an impact as Benitez has this season.
The club remain on course for immediate promotion back to the top-flight, and are making a strong case to lift the league title in the process. Benitez is a very experienced manager, and has had spells in charge of Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
Therefore, he will have many other targets up his sleeve. He won’t dwell on missing out on Cleverley, and he’s probably already begun talks with other players about moves to St. James’ Park.
He has a vast knowledge, and Newcastle fans can put their full faith in their boss to identity the perfect midfielder for the club this month.
In other Newcastle news, Magpies youngster Sean Longstaff has revealed what will inspire him to succeed.