For the first time in a number of years Newcastle United fans weren’t left watching the transfer deadline day circus hoping that a helicopter was being sent for a centre half or a last-minute dash would yield a replacement striker. United managed to tie up their business relatively early in the window, bringing in a quintet of players from their Ligue 1 hypermarket. Mathieu Debuchy arrived early in the window (although perhaps five months too late), and was followed in to St James’ Park by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko and Massadio Haidara. The Toon were still active on deadline day, bringing in Swiss teenage centre back Kevin Mbabu from Servette.
Mbabu is definitely one for the future rather than one for the present, but shows that the club are once again looking to identify the best young talent from around the globe. Curtis Good is another youngster who United have picked up through their scouting network, and the Newcastle management will hope that Mbabu adapts as well as the young Aussie who if all goes to plan will be turning out at Wembley in a cup final before he returns to Tyneside.
This approach of identifying promising youngsters is nothing new, both to Newcastle and beyond, with Arsene Wenger perhaps being the architect of this strategy. When Mike Ashley first arrived on Tyneside it was often said that he planned to adopt the ‘Arsenal approach’ of signing promising youngsters from around the globe, with the ones that made the grade progressing to the first team and those that didn’t being sold on for a marginal profit. This served Wenger well in his early days, picking up top players such as Fabregas and Anelka for minimal amounts. In addition to this, the likes of Seb Larsson, Jeremie Aliadiere and Moritz Voltz all generated reasonable revenue for the Gunners without making the grade in North London.
Ashley did attempt to emulate Arsenal when he first arrived at Newcastle, not so ably aided by the likes of Jeff Vetere, Tony Jiminez and Dennis Wise. This approach seen the arrival of youngsters both from within the United Kingdom and also further afield. Ben Tozer was signed from Swindon Town, Aaron Spear, described as the next Wayne Rooney, was plucked from the youth ranks at Plymouth and they were joined by the likes of Wesley Ngo Baheng, Samuel Adjei, Ole Soderberg and Tamas Kadar, brining a continental feel to the youth ranks at Little Benton. Out of Ashley, Wise, Vetere, Jiminez and this bunch of youngsters, only the owner remains at the club. Vetere works as Technical Director at Championship outfit Charlton Athletic, who have links to Jiminez through Dubai based Zabeel Investments. But what became of the players they brought to the club?
The first arrival under the Ashley regime was Ben Tozer, signed from Swindon Town for a reputed £1m, although this figure was rumoured to be weighted towards appearances made for the club. If that was the case then United won’t have shelled out too much for the young Devonian, as it only made two appearances for The Toon, starting as Chris Hughton fielded a team of youngsters at Peterborough in the League Cup and coming on for a three-minute stint as a substitute in the Championship against Doncaster. United were promoted to the Premier League after one season in the Championship, and his chances of first team football were further diminished as Hughton brought in Mike Williamson to strengthen his backline. Tozer was loaned out to NorthamptonTown, lining up in a famous League Cup win over Liverpool, and signed The Cobblers on a permanent deal after being released by Newcastle.
Next through the door was Wesley Ngo Baheng, further agitating Le Havre who still held a grudge after Newcastle signed a 17-year-old Charles N’Zogbia for a minimal fee in 2004 after a court battle that threatened to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport before Newcastle settled out of court. Baheng was unlucky to suffer from a number of injuries whilst on Tyneside, most notably damaging his anterior cruciate ligament less than six weeks after signing for the club. Whilst he featured occasionally for the reserves on his return, he never made an appearance for the first team and was released at the end of the 2009/10 season. He remained in the UK, signing short term deals firstly with Aldershot Town and then Hereford United, but only made a handful of appearances and returned to France, firstly with Le Blanc-Mesnil before moving on to FC Dieppe in the fourth tier where he has been a regular starter this season. At least he has been successful in his alternative career, releasing several rap tracks under the alias F-ikass!
As the cliché goes, Newcastle fans love their strikers, and although Italian club Atalanta kicked up a stink when young forward Fabio Zamblera signed for the Magpies, it would appear their indignation was more to do with the principle of the matter than the loss of the player. Zamblera was tall but poor in the air, well-built yet weak on the ball, and his pace was deceptive; he was slower than he looked. His most impressive feature was his facial hair, and even that wasn’t great. Another who didn’t get anywhere near the first team, Fabio was loaned back to Sampdoria where he played for their youth side, but at the end of the loan deal the Italians politely declined to make the deal permanent. Zamblera returned to Newcastle and popped up every now and then for the reserve and youth sides, featuring in the Coppa Carnavale in February 2011, before being released and returning to Italy. Zamblera hasn’t had a club since leaving Newcastle, and judging by his twitter feed, seems to spend his days watching football, going swimming and flirting with young ladies.
Tamas Kadar was a player lined up under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce but by the time he put pen to paper Big Sam has been replaced by Kevin Keegan, with the young Hungarian being announced as a Newcastle player the same day KK met the press for the first time during his second spell as manager. Kadar was signed from Zalaegerszegi in his homeland and was an under 21 international when he came to the UK. Within a few months he was called up to the senior national squad. Kadar was without doubt the most successful of the acquisitions made in January 2008, featuring 18 times for United, mainly in the Championship season, but also twice in the League Cup the following season. Kadar was utilised at left-back rather than his preferred role of centre-back, and was competent at best, with suspect positioning and being susceptible to pace. Kadar was loaned out to Huddersfield Town but only made two appearances before injury brought a premature end to his time in Yorkshire. Kadar didn’t feature at all as United charged to fifth place in the Premier League, and no eyebrows were raised when he signed for Roda JC in Holland on a free transfer. Kadar continued his up and down form, with some confident, adept performances being coupled with two shockers that saw him dropped from the first team before returning to Hungary to join DVTK on loan in the recent January transfer window.
The final player signed in Ashley’s January 2008 came from Sweden, with goalkeeper Ole Söderberg joining from Swedish outfit BK Häcken. Söderberg was called up to first team bench following an injury to Steve Harper, and was named as a substitute on 19 occasions in the Magpies promotion campaign, but once Harper returned to fitness, Söderberg returned to reserve team football. Ole was loaned out to Darlington, but didn’t settle, making six appearances but struggling with the rigors of Conference football, returning to Newcastle before again being loaned out to Chesterfield, again not setting the world on fire. In March 2012, Söderberg became the last of the January 2008 signings to leave the club, announcing on twitter that he has signed a contract with Norwegian Champions Molde, where he has gone on to make a handful of appearances, mainly in cup games.
Samuel Adjei and Haris Vučkić joined the club later on. Adjei, signed from his native Sweden, again didn’t threaten the first team and left the club, whilst Vučkić remains but has seen his progress hampered by regular injuries.
Within four seasons the five players signed in January 2008 had all left the club, with only two of them featuring for the first team and none of them recouping a penny in revenue when leaving the club. Since then the owner has invested heavily in a thorough scouting system, headed up by Graham Carr, and he will hope to see the new system benefit the future of the club the same way it has developed the senior squad.