Newcastle United have made their first significant signing of the summer window with the £14.7m transfer of exciting Dutch talent Georginio Wijnaldum from Eredivise champions PSV Eindhoven.
Following the captures of Rémy Cabella, Emmanuel Rivière and Siem De Jong last year, club owner Mike Ashley is finally providing investment after minimal outlay in recent years and new manager Steve McClaren must now focus his attention on defensive recruitment.
After being sacked by Derby County for failing to achieve promotion from the Championship, ex-England manager McClaren joins the north-east club with the Toon looking to bounce back from a disappointing season.
The 2014/15 campaign saw Alan Pardew move south to Crystal Palace, whilst his replacement John Carver was given the boot at the beginning of May after a disastrous five-month reign.
Former Newcastle youth-team player Carver won his final match in charge but achieved victory in just two other league fixture (3-0 v Hull City and 1-0 v Aston Villa) in his 20 games as boss. The Magpies ended the season in 15th place, conceding 63 goals in the process, the second most in the division, second only to bottom of the table QPR.
The Wijnaldum signing will appease the infamously vocal and passionate St. James’ Park supporters but McClaren must address the club’s defensive frailties if they are to not repeat another nerve-wracking final-day escape this time around.
Newcastle are worryingly limited at the heart of their defence with first-choice pairing Fabricio Coloccini, 33, and Mike Williamson, 31, nearing the tail-end of their careers. Copa Libertadores holders San Lorenzo are long-term admirers of Coloccini and the former Argentine international is becoming increasingly tempted with a move back to his homeland.
Williamson, meanwhile, who joined from Portsmouth for under £1m back in 2010, has formed a decent partnership with his fellow centre-half but is unlikely to extend his stay at the club past his contract expiring in June 2016. He suffered the indignation of being forced to deny he purposely got himself sent off after Carver accused his centre-half of deliberately picking up a second booking against Leicester City.
The duo are supported by only one other senior player; Steven Taylor. After rupturing his Achilles back in January against Burnley, the former England under-21 international has finally returned to action in pre-season but his fitness remains a concern.
This inadequate defensive cover recoiled on Newcastle in March last year as suspension to Argentinian skipper Coloccini forced full-back Daryl Janmaat to partner Williamson in an unfamiliar central role with midfielder Jack Colback fielded on the left of defence.
Following their return to the Premier League in 2009/10, the club have invested in just one central defender — an alarming statistic. Montpellier’s Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa joined in 2013 for a fee of £6.75 but lasted a solitary season on Tyneside and was eventually sold to Italian side Roma, citing the move to England as “a mistake”.
Once tipped as a future starter, central defender Jamaal Lascelles’ development has stuttered after signing for Newcastle. The 21-year-old Englishman was loaned back to Nottingham Forest for the duration of last season following his move from the City Ground but a number of inconsistent performances has raised question marks over his Premier League potential.
As Derby manager McClaren failed to reach the Championship play-offs with arguably the strongest team in the division, winning just two of their last 13 matches against relegated opposition. The Rams recruited Darren Bent, Tom Ince and Jesse Lingaard in January to add further firepower to following the injury to top-scorer Chris Martin.
With Andre Wisdom and Stephen Warnock on either flank, the former Middlesbrough boss had top-flight experience in his back-line yet his tactical decisions were questioned towards the end of the campaign. McClaren refused to apologise for his side’s attacking approach, insisting their ‘kamikaze’ style was forced due to the breadth of injuries.
McClaren openly admits he wants to his new club to deliver “attacking, passing football” but he must be wary of overlooking the necessity of defensive foundation. He must prioritise his next move in the transfer market, not just for the upcoming campaign but for the foreseeable future.