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. Follow them @NUFC360

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 Leeds interested in his services.

Fabricio Coloccini has been captain of the club since 2011 and I would not be opposed to keeping him as a depth player, or for occasional starts when there are injuries. However, his production has unquestionably dipped, especially last season, and at 33 years old, it may simply be time for a change. The way that fans and others reacted to Coloccini’s end of season open letter in May, whilst in relegation battle, may have been his last straw. People thought it was nothing but a PR stunt by the football club because the Toon Army were threatening to boycott upcoming matches. He did stick with Newcastle through their Championship campaign but it’s also difficult to forget that he also had a move lined up to San Lorenzo two years ago that was blocked by Newcastle. Lastly, the Geordie boy Steven Taylor, a fan favourite and local lad who has always played with his heart on his sleeve. Not the most talented player but rugged and physical enough to last in the PL. Taylor, like Coloccini, would be perfect for depth but should not be starting for NUFC either.

The lack of center back signings by NUFC in the past 5+ seasons could be due to several explanations. First, it is one of the most vital positions on the football pitch, which means that most CBs will be overvalued and bought for a price well above their worth. Not to mention, Newcastle’s board has a policy of buying players young, building up their reputation and selling at a healthier profit. This is why you never see them buying players over the age of 27. All of these factors combine for pretty decent reason as to why it is complicated for Newcastle to invest in a CB. However, there is no excuse for someone like Mike Williamson or Steven Taylor to start any more games for Newcastle, that time has passed. Perhaps Jamaal Lascelles will get a shot this upcoming season but realistically, the only fix will be via the transfer window with at least 1, if not 2, new center backs.

Fortunately, Newcastle United have been linked with some CBs in this summer’s transfer window. Names like Joel Matip from Schalke, Aymen Abdennour, Marseille’s Nicolas N’Koulou, Joel Veltman of Ajax, Anderlecht’s Chancel Mbemba and of course, James Tomkins from West Ham, are the ones that have come up the most often. With Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic (almost) over the line, it is clear that Mike Ashley is sticking with his promise of spending. Other players see NUFC’s commitment to improving and will want to sign here. Wijnaldum and Mitrovic are top signings and that will peak the interest of others. Players already know the perks of playing in the North East; a faithful fan base, a beautiful and electric stadium and now fresh faces and top class talent.

There is already word that Mbemba might be joining Mitrovic in a double Anderlecht swoop this week, and that would be a great start but it should not end there. This is not a “one player fix” situation, the whole line (outside of Janmaat) needs to be revamped and overhauled. The Mirror also reported that Aymen Abdennour is keen on joining Newcastle, “he really likes the idea of NUFC if they can meet his demands”. How refreshing is that to hear? A player who sensibly wants to come play in the North East.

No doubt Wijnaldum and Mitrovic have something to do with that, and not to mention the new culture and attitude that Steve McClaren is bringing to this club. It is reasonable to be pessimistic as a Newcastle fan but times like these need to be seen in a positive light, with hopefully an even bigger light at the end of the tunnel. This isn’t the end; this is merely the beginning of an altered Newcastle United.

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