An Inside Look at Aleksandar Mitrovic and Why It Was Always Him OR Charlie Austin

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47. Written for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates.

Alan Shearer tweeted out “Welcome to NUFC Aleksandar Mitrovi?. If you score goals at this club, the fans will adore you. I hope you have as much fun as I did”. No firmer words have ever been spoken; one simple tweet speaking a millions words. When Steve McClaren was first appointed manager of Newcastle United, a change of culture was in order. The Geordie nation had doubts regarding Mike Ashley’s spending promises, but he has thus far pulled through. Although I do not think it will turn over fans emotions and sentiments towards the Newcastle United owner, it is a step in the right direction. First Georginio Wijnaldum, now Aleksandar Mitrovic; two of the top four most expensive signings in club history, that speaks volume. NUFC are finally spending, I wonder how Alan Pardew feels (that’s another conversation for another day). With Mitrovic’s ex-Anderlecht teammate Chancel Mbemba due for a medical on Tyneside, which will cost NUFC approximately £8.5million, that would bring the total sum up to more than £30million spent on 3 players this summer. Only Man City (£67M), Man United (£65.4M) and Liverpool (£48M) have spent more than Newcastle thus far through the summer window. Now back to the main topic, “Mitrogoals”.

Newcastle United had shown interest in Aleksandar Mitrovic for quite some time now. As a matter of fact, there’s an article from the Daily Mail that was published on May 5th saying Anderlecht had agreed to terms with NUFC on a £15m fee for Mitrovic. It ultimately cost Newcastle United £13m to sign the 20-year Serbian striker sensation, the 4th most expensive signing in club history (after Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Wijnaldum). Mitrovic joined Anderlecht from Serbian club Partizan for a club record fee of €5m at 18 years old and made 90 consecutive appearances at Anderlecht. In the 2014-15 season, the Serbian international scored 20 goals (which happens to be more than Papiss Cissé, Ayoze Perez and Rivière combined this past season, by the way). Expecting to wear the #9 jersey, like his childhood hero Alan Shearer, Newcastle United are also expecting big things from Mitrovic. Continue reading An Inside Look at Aleksandar Mitrovic and Why It Was Always Him OR Charlie Austin

Newcastle United would be foolish to flog Papiss Cissé

Words by Kevin Doocey – follow me on Twitter @KevinDoocey. Written for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates.

I’ll admit – I’ve always been a fan of Papiss Demba Cissé. When he arrived from Freiburg in January 2012 it didn’t take us long to see what a goalscorer he really is. His debut was one to remember as he fired in an absolute beauty to secure all three points against Aston Villa. However, that was only the start as the Senegalese forward went on to score 13 goals in 14 games in his first season in the Premier League – an incredible feat. The decision to hand him the famous #9 jersey looked like a masterstroke from all involved at Newcastle United as the club steamrolled their way to a remarkable 5th place finish thanks to a big goal haul from both Papiss and Demba Ba throughout the season. The following campaign saw European football return to St. James’ Park and as per usual, domestic form suffered, almost ending in another relegation. Although Papiss hit another 13 goals that term, it marked a disappointing return for both the forward and supporters as a whole.

The 2013/14 season saw the arrival of Loic Rémy from QPR on a season-long loan and the Frenchman enjoyed a fine spell on Tyneside firing in 14 goals in 26 appearances, helping Newcastle United finish in the all-glorious 10th position in the Premier League. Papiss, however, through injury and a lack of playing time managed just four goals in Black and White. His time in the North East looked to be coming to an end.

Fastforward to September 2014 and Cissé is about to make his first appearance since April. Trailing 0-2 at home to Hull City Cissé arrived off the bench and quickly found his goalscoring form by scoring twice in 15 minutes to salvage a point for a struggling Newcastle United. He then carried on with another brace away at Swansea City, a crucial effort at Burnley, another two goals at home to Chelsea, one against Continue reading Newcastle United would be foolish to flog Papiss Cissé

New defenders will be key to changing Newcastle United

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47. Written for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates.

Fabricio Coloccini, Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Paul Dummett, Sol Campbell and James Perch. The names of every single player to play at CB for Newcastle United since the 2010-2011 season, the year after their relegation from the Premier League. As a matter of fact, Coloccini, Williamson and Taylor make the same group of center backs since the Championship relegation season in 2009-2010. This past season (2014-15) Coloccini started in 32 PL matches, Williamson started in 27 and Taylor started in 7. In the Championship season (2009-10), Coloccini started in 37 matches, Williamson in 16 and Steven Taylor in 21. A span of 5+ seasons yet the number of games played are very similar; that is simply inexcusable. Those 3 have been mainstays for NUFC even before the 2009-2010 season, and the team has unjustifiably failed to address their CB need in the past several transfer windows.

On 22 January 2013, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa completed a transfer to Newcastle United for £8.5 million from Montpellier, and appeared in 37 matches over the 2 seasons for the Magpies. Having been called up to the France national team multiple times, this was a big coup for Newcastle. Unfortunately, he did not turn out to be the player they envisioned. Mapou was later loaned out to Roma, who eventually bought him permanently. Mbiwa never fit into the physical style of the PL, he never seemed comfortable, despite the contingent of French players at NUFC at the time. Last summer, Jamaal Lascelles signed with Newcastle from Nottingham Forest (read my piece on Lascelles here) and was then loaned back for the season. He will get a crack at playing some first team matches this upcoming season; still a very raw talent but will not be an every week starter. That leaves us with the same 3 players that keep coming back up: Coloccini, Williamson and Steven Taylor. There is a lack of depth and talent at the centerback position and it has been that way for several years now. It is indefensible to keep trotting out and rotating those 3 guys on a weekly basis. It is time NUFC address the glaring hole at CB, immediately and move on from Coloccini, Steven Taylor and Mike Williamson.

Newcastle United was ranked 2nd worst in the PL last season in goals against (63), only QPR (73) conceded more. Tim Krul had one of his worst seasons as a professional, due in large part to the constant change of players and shortage of talent in front of him. Mike Williamson, who was originally signed for £1.5 million from Portsmouth back in January 2010, is known around St. James Park and in the Geordie community for his “hoofball” methods. With no sense of awareness or creativity, he always reverts to passing it back to Tim Krul or hoofing it up towards a striker (hopefully). Always getting caught out of position because of his lack of pace and speed, Williamson was originally signed to play for the Championship season in 09-10, but only as a stopgap one-year experience. Unfortunately that experience trotted out for the next 5 seasons. He is a Championship center back starting for a PL club and it is time to move on with teams like Continue reading New defenders will be key to changing Newcastle United

Meet NUFC new-boy Georginio “Gini” Wijnaldum

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47. Written for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates.

Newcastle United are no longer the only EPL team without a signing in the summer transfer window. Steve McClaren urged fans to be patient because the board and coaching staff wanted to ensure they were bringing in the right type of players, with character and top work ethic. The sort of players who do not see Newcastle as a stepping stone to build their name and move onto bigger clubs; they want to bring consistency and a culture change to the club. As most players have learnt, the grass isn’t always greener; ask Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Débuchy, Loic Rémy, Demba Ba and Andy Carroll, for example. How do you change the culture of a team? Well, for starters, you sign the captain of the Eredivisie league champion in back to back seasons. Last summer it was Siem De Jong from Ajax, and yesterday it was Georginio Wijnaldum from PSV Eindhoven.

The 3rd most expensive NUFC signing of all-time, Georginio Wijnaldum (pronounced Why-Nahl-Dum) was officially introduced on July 11th at a rumored fee of £14.5m. The 24 year-old midfielder was also on the Netherlands World Cup team last summer, scoring 1 goal and appeared in all 7 matches. Last season, Wijnaldum appeared in 33 matches for PSV, scoring 14 goals with 3 assists and was named Dutch Footballer of the Year. Born in Rotterdam, he came through the Feyenoord youth club and was with their senior team from 2007-2011. In the summer of 2011, PSV came knocking at the door of Feyenoord, who were having financial troubles and sold Wijnaldum for €5M. Eventually was named captain of PSV before the 2013-2014 season and a year later led them to their first championship since 2008.

Wijnaldum mentioned in his interview after being unveiled at St James Park, that fellow countryman Tim Krul has been pleading for Georginio to join Newcastle United for the past 8 years. Other Netherlands internationals on NUFC include Siem De Jong, Daryl Janmaat, Vurnon Anita and the aforementioned Krul; who will all hopefully make it an easy transition for Wijnaldum in the North-East. I went back and watched tape of the Netherlands matches in the World Cup and a certain #20 (Wijnaldum) kept standing out (for good purposes). Strong on the ball, great pace and always anticipates the play two steps ahead. Scored a beautiful goal vs Brazil in the 3rd place match, set up by our very own Daryl Janmaat!

It’s easy to watch YouTube clips and highlights of an individual player because they show nothing but the positives. I wanted to find out more, to do more research on the pros and cons of Wijnaldum’s game. I reached out to two PSV and Eredivisie watchers to help me assess his play and both had similar thoughts on Wijnaldum. SjorsvanVeen (@Sjors_vanVeen on Twitter) told me:

“Wijnaldum is a huge signing for NUFC, has power, pace and is a very complete midfielder. Favourite position is the number ten but can also play on the wing. The youngest debutant for Feyenoord at the age of 16, great prospect and plays box to box. Played the number 10 position at PSV for 4 years and was going to sign at PSG in January but had an agreement with Depay that they would win the Eredivisie league and both move in the summer. His weaknesses are that he’s got a low conversion rate, has a hard time finishing and a wild shot. Needs to work on that”.

Willem Vernooji (@WillemVernooij on Twitter) assessed Wijnaldum’s game by saying: “(GW) Often played the CAM but can play the CM, played there for Netherlands. Has a great sense to get in the box”. I asked them both to compare him to a player right now and both had the same exact answer “Simply put, there is no comparison; a player with pace, strong number 10 in very good condition, who can score. He is an extremely unique player and that is in fact a good thing. Let him make his own destiny and have others be compared to Wijnaldum”. The closest comparison I got was Blaise Matuidi or a Jonathan De Guzman without the free kick abilities.

It is interesting that both bloggers say he’s a number 10 and plays the CAM. NUFC already have that type of player with Siem De Jong. Steve McClaren likes to play a 4-3-3 with 2 holding midfielders (4-2-3-1), meaning the top of the triangle is already occupied by De Jong. So, where does Wijnaldum fit? Well, we sort of got a hint from McClaren after last night’s friendly against Gateshead. According to Mark Douglas, Wijnaldum is going to be playing a big part in the “Double 6” formation, and he will occupy one of the holding midfield spots, likely next to Jack Colback. “It’s a position most German sides use and translates into a box-to-box midfielder, prepared to work in the space between two penalty areas”, The Chronicle. “Basically, he’ll be playing the type of role made famous by Yaya Toure, starting from deep but getting forward to support the front men”, WhatCulture. Moussa Sissoko also played on the right hand side of the attacking midfield three in the friendly vs Gateshead, which is another hint that Wijnaldum will be one of the holding midfielders. After all, Wijnaldum (or Gini) does have experience playing that CM position in the World Cup with the Netherlands; it will be familiar for him.

Getting Wijnaldum over the line is a perfect example of what Steve McClaren said to fans in the e-mail on how important it is to get the right players through the door. This is a great first step and a fresh perspective for NUFC and their attempt to change the team identity and get rid of the club stigma. Bringing in a captain of a squad with top class character and international experience is massive. Watch Wijnaldum’s reaction once he enters St. James Park, it really speaks volume on his humbleness, modesty and attitude. Hopefully this is the first of many signings that bring with them a fresh perspective, leadership abilities and willingness to represent Newcastle with pride and honour. Gini wants to be here, he wants to wear the black and white and I think NUFC fans will witness that first hand this upcoming season.

Newcastle United Need a Change of Identity

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47. Written for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates.

Long gone are the days of Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer. The days where Newcastle United was a feared group of players, a team that the opposition would circle on their calendars months in advance. With one of the best stadiums, a loyal and passionate fan base and an elite scouting network, it simply does not make sense that NUFC keeps struggling year after year. I was never in the “Pardew Out” brigade, but having a switch in the managerial position could have been a blessing in disguise. Yes, just merely avoiding relegation could have also been a blessing disguise. Why? Because it meant a major change was in order. Hopefully that dire shift will bring back the Geordie identity that Sir Bobby once brought to St. James on a weekly basis.

Newcastle United have not finished higher in the English Premier League table than 3rd place since the 2002-2003 campaign; the middle of a stretch of 3 consecutive seasons with top 5 finishes (2001-2002: 4th; 2002-2003: 3rd & 2003-2004: 5th). Since then, NUFC finished 5th only once again (2011-2012) and were also relegated in 2009. Under Alan Pardew, Newcastle United finished 12th, 5th, 16th, 10th and 15th (although he left midway through the season).

How does the shift in identity happen? Well Continue reading Newcastle United Need a Change of Identity

An Inside Look at Newcastle United’s Jamaal Lascelles

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47. Written for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates.

Barring any new signings or transfers at center back, Fabricio Coloccini, Steve Taylor, Mike Williamson and Jamaal Lascelles will be battling for first team spots on the pitch this upcoming season. The first 3 names are quite familiar, as a matter of fact, they are the same center backs that Newcastle United has had since their Championship season in 2009-2010. However, the last name is a little bit of an unknown. Jamaal Lascelles is a 21-year-old center back that Newcastle signed in August of 2014 from Nottingham Forest on a 4-year transfer. He was then loaned back to Nottingham Forest for the 2014-2015 campaign, playing a total of 24 matches and had 1 goal.

Most Nottingham Forest fans will claim that Lascelles started the season slow and did not get first team starts, but the second half was a completely different player. His slow start could have been due to the extra curricular activities that were surrounding Jamaal. In December, he appeared in court over an alleged bar assault in Derby. The charges were dropped but you can sense that it impacted his on field performance. However, as the season went on, his play got stronger and stronger. Forest fans will tell you that you were finally able to start seeing his potential and prospective.

The England U-21 international still has a bright future and raw ability with time to round out his game. He also has experience with Steve McClaren while at Continue reading An Inside Look at Newcastle United’s Jamaal Lascelles