Updated: Nov 9, 2021
A lot has been written about Newcastle since October 7th when they were bought for £300m by a Saudi-led consortium – reportedly making them the richest club in the world in the process. Thanks to the wonders of social media, much of it has been rubbish. See, for example, anything to do with Kylian Mbappe moving there. It’s going to take a while before that kind of signing can happen and before Newcastle become a club competing for honours – even a Football Manager simulation of the scenario run by the Newcastle Chronicle failed to win a trophy after five seasons! (Great work by The Chronicle though – gotta love it).
But there’s (almost) no doubt that big things will happen at St James Park. Which makes the January transfer window an intriguing time for football fans around the world…and for fantasy managers. What signings will be made? Which of the current crop will survive a seemingly inevitable cull? Will there be a managerial change (and what will that mean for formation and style)? (Editor's note: There was a managerial change) And most importantly, what do the answers to those questions mean for our fantasy teams? Before we get to that, though, we’re going to take a quick-ish look back at the examples of Chelsea, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain, whose takeovers in 2003, 2008, and 2011, respectively, may serve as the closest precedent for what to expect.
A Look Back at the Past
Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in July 2003 and the club have not looked back since. Jose Mourinho (back in his elite days) led them to the title in the third season of the new era and they have gone on to win a further four Premier League crowns, five F.A. Cups, three league cups, and two Champions Leagues. Not a bad haul. But their starting point was already high. Much, much higher than Newcastle’s. Their five league finishes prior to Abramovich were 4th, 6th, 6th, 5th, and 3rd. They had won six trophies in the late 1990s and their average net spend was £14.4 million – not a huge figure but by no means minor.
By contrast, Newcastle United’s last four seasons have included finishes of 12th, 13th, 13th, and 10th. The season before that, they were in the second tier of English football. They haven’t won a major trophy in over 65 years. Credit Mike Ashley where it’s due, though, they have gone fairly big in the transfer market of late. For the past five full seasons, their net spend has been £13.2 million – and that includes the season in the Championship when sales of Sissoko, Wijnaldum, and Townsend led to a £33 million profit. If you limit this to just the four Premier League seasons, their average net spend is £24.8 million. Still, it’s safe to say that the leap Chelsea needed to make was much smaller than the one Newcastle are trying to make.
Chelsea spent a staggering £153 million in the first window after their takeover. A figure that sounds big now but is absolutely astronomical when you consider the rise in transfer fees that have occurred in the 18 years since. They paid sizeable fees for nine players – pretty much overhauling the first 11 (or hoping to). Two fullbacks were bought (Wayne Bridge and Glen Johnson), five midfielders (Damien Duff, Juan Sebastian Veron, Claude Makelele, Geremi, and Joe Cole), and two forwards (Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu). And on top of that, they sold zero players, with only bit-part player Mikael Forssell leaving the club, doing so on loan to Birmingham City.
Despite the extravagant outlay, it was an existing core of players that led the club in terms of Premier League minutes played. Of the nine that amassed over 1,800 minutes during the season, only two – Bridge and Makelele – were new signings. In fairness, six of the other seven did contribute their fair share, with only Veron failing to break the 1,000 minute mark. And if you’re wondering about the two at the top of that list…yep, Frank Lampard and John Terry. Future club legends.
Aside from an elusive Champions League triumph, Manchester City’s takeover has been equally successful. A title at the fourth time of asking has been followed up by four more, whilst two F.A. Cups and what seems like endless league cups (actually 6) have also been added. There have been a few records broken (most points in a season, most goals in a season) and some half-decent football played along the way as well. But unlike Chelsea, City were not close to the promised land before it all started. Their 5-year average league finish prior to the takeover was 12th. That Newcastle average? Also 12th.
City’s net spend was also in a different ballpark to Chelsea’s before the money arrived. Between 2003-04 and 2006-07, the club’s net spend was negative £3.8 million. In Manchester City’s first window under the Abu Dhabi United Group they spent marginally less than Chelsea (“just” the £141.6 million) and did so on ten players as opposed to nine. Outside of Robinho (probably one of football histories strangest transfers), this probably reflects the fact that whilst the money was there, the ability to attract big name talent wasn’t. Slightly less quality, slightly more quantity. Given that the current Newcastle team is much more like the pre-takeover Manchester City one than the pre-takeover Chelsea one, perhaps we should expect something similar over the next 12 months on Tyneside.
The £141.6 million spent in the summer of 2008 managed to bring in a goalkeeper (Shay Given), four defenders (Tal Ben Haim, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, and that man again, Wayne Bridge), two midfielders (Nigel de Jong and Shaun Wright-Phillips), and three forwards (Jo, Craig Bellamy, and as mentioned, Robinho). The sale of four forgettable players (Vedran Corluka, Rolando Bianchi, Andreas Isaksson, and Georgios Samaras) did recoup £23.9 million, but a marker had nevertheless been set down.
Again, however, financial power did not translate to team importance. Of the 10 players who managed 1,800 or more Premier League minutes, only four – Kompany, Robinho, Wright-Phillips, and Zabaleta – were from the new arrivals list. Jo, Ben Haim, and Bellamy all failed to reach 800 minutes, though it should be noted that the latter did bounce back in 2009/10 with an impressive 10 goal/8 assist season.
Whilst the Qatari investment into Paris Saint-Germain may be less applicable to Newcastle’s future in one respect (Ligue 1 is, it’s safe to say, a completely different beast to the current Premier League), the scale of the money involved does still offer up some potential insights. The club had been a relatively successful cup side in the mid-to-late noughties, reaching the final of the Coupe de France (equivalent of the F.A. Cup) six times between 2003 and 2011 and winning it on three of those occasions. But despite some 2nd place finishes, the league title had eluded them since 1993-94. The 5-year period preceding the takeover had yielded an average league finish of 11th – basically Manchester City/Newcastle United territory. Fast-forward five years and Paris Saint-Germain have such a stranglehold on French football that it’s more surprising when they don’t win one of the competitions. Between 2015 and 2020, they did the domestic treble four times. Still, like City though, no success in Europe…
In their first transfer window under new ownership, the club spent the comparatively small figure of £96.4 million (the season after it rose to £135.9 million). Like with Manchester City, the club may have struggled to attract big names, despite having the financial clout available to them. Overall net spend by Paris Saint-Germain in the five years post-takeover did, however, outstrip both Chelsea and Manchester City, but this was largely down to an inability to sell surplus players for large fees as the two English sides had. Eight big names (or rather, names with big fees) came through the door in the form of one goalkeeper (Salvatore Sirigu), one defender (Alex), five midfielders (Mohamed Sissoko, Jeremy Menez, Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta, and Javier Pastore), and one forward (Kevin Gameiro).
The arrivals in Paris fared better than those in England, at least in terms of game time. Of the eight players with more than 1,800 league minutes, five (Sirigu, Menez, Pastore, Gameiro, and Matuidi) were new signings, and none failed to surpass 1,250 minutes. Matuidi, Sirigu, Pastore, Alex, and Menez would achieve the same feat in 2012-13.
The revolution at Newcastle will not be of the same magnitude as that of Chelsea, Manchester City, or Paris Saint-Germain, in part because unlike these takeovers, theirs has come mid-season, making the January transfer window the opening salvo as opposed to the summer one. Historically, fewer transfers occur in January – there is less time to get deals done for starters, but also there are numerous obstacles that exist when trying to buy/sell during the season. Between the 2016-17 and 2020-21 seasons, there were 305 incoming summer transfers to the Premier League with fees of over £5 million. The combined transfer fee of these equalled £6.1 billion. During the same time, there were just 62 incoming winter transfers to the league with fees of over £5 million (combined transfer fee of £1.1 billion).
That said, Newcastle will still aim to make waves in January, and there will be plenty of clubs still feeling the financial effects of COVID that will be tempted to cash in. From the fan’s perspective, they will be looking to find their versions of Makelele, or Kompany, or Zabaleta, and whilst the club no doubt will want the same, you get the sense that they’d also like to create the same Robinho-like stir that City so emphatically created with a marquee signing of their own.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, and factoring in the difficulties of January, I would expect just three to five new faces to arrive at St James Park at the start of 2022. There may be a few additional signings ‘for the future’ but attracting notable names will be difficult at the first time of asking – particularly if they are still in the relegation zone when the time comes. It may be that the club exploit the loan market – a far less risky prospect for the players themselves, but also obviously the club. If this is the case, then perhaps we will see half a dozen or so high profile arrivals donning the black and white stripes.
The next question, then, is who could these names be? For this, we can turn to the bookmakers, but before we do so, it makes sense to narrow down what Newcastle’s priorities are (or at least, should be). When we look at the stats, one thing immediately stands out, and that’s the defence. So far this season, they have conceded 19 goals in the league (Norwich have the second highest with 16), and their XGA is also worst in the league. In attack, they aren’t actually too bad. They’ve scored 10 (only eight teams have scored more), and they have an XG of 9.1 (good for 12th in the league). All of these numbers make sense given their personnel too. Allan Saint-Maximin is a legitimate superstar (this takeover might be the only thing that prevents an imminent departure), and Callum Wilson can score goals. Joe Willock’s age, nationality, and recent arrival for big money all act in his favour, but everyone else? I imagine replacements will be pursued, if not actually bought.
Burnley’s James Tarkowski has the shortest odds to join Newcastle United and this is one that makes a lot of sense. For starters, it’s realistic. With Burnley in a relegation battle themselves, there’s probably little doubt that the player would fancy the move given that Newcastle would presumably offer a significant pay upgrade. Tarkowski ranks in the 76th percentile for tackles, 77th percentile for blocks, 86th percentile for clearances, and 99th percentile for aerials won.
Fantasy Value: Tarkowski is currently on course for his worst fantasy season in five years (though still with a credible FP/G of 8.2) but I do see this number rising to the mid-9s before too long. What I don’t see, however, is a move to Newcastle being beneficial for fantasy managers. Tarkowski thrives on aerial points – something that Sean Dyche’s style of play encourages in abundance. Newcastle – historically – have a reputation for being an attacking, exciting football club, and no doubt the new owners will be aware of this, and likely keen to bring that reputation back. Doing so would probably be at the detriment of Tarkowski. There is, of course, a chance that Newcastle bring in lots of players and go flying up the league – which is usually quite conducive to fantasy value – but if I rostered him, I would probably try and trade him out at Christmas if/when a transfer materialises.
Unfortunately, Tarkowski is where the bookies stop when it comes to providing odds for defenders to join Newcastle. Clearly, the position is not sexy enough to warrant wagers being placed, despite the club’s glaring needs there. As such, I’ve taken to Sky Sports’ rumours page, and after – obviously – ignoring anything that originates from The S*n newspaper, managed to find one more defender.
Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet has found himself on the outside looking in under Ronald Koeman this season. The left-sided centre-back has started just once in the league and, with presumably no great attachment to the club (he only moved there in 2018 and supported PSG as a child), may indeed be tempted to move. According to FBRef, his passing numbers are exceptional for a defender – something that Newcastle currently lack and may well look for in January.
Fantasy Value: My knowledge of the European leagues is not what it once was, so we’re going to take a look at The Draft Society’s very useful European Leagues data to see what the Barcelona man may have in store for us. And it seems the answer to that is very little. A PP90 of 5.2 in 2020-21 was preceded by a 6.7 in 2019-20, and 6.4 in 2018-19. These are in the Angelo Ogbonna range of fantasy worthiness. Let’s not spend any longer on this hypothetical, though if he does arrive, don’t get too excited.
Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard was being linked with a move somewhere, anywhere before the Newcastle takeover, so it was inevitable that he would now be one of the first names on the list – at least according to the bookmakers. As an attacking midfielder he’s not exactly what the club needs, but he is a big name and the new owners are going to want to make a splash.
Fantasy Value: The first thing to make clear is that we would not see the West Ham version of Jesse Lingard were he to move. That version was a mysterious, fleeting anomaly that even the great David Moyes would not be able to recreate. As a bit-part player at Manchester United for most of his career, we would not expect his FP/G numbers to be great (and they aren’t, sitting between 3.4 and 8), but even his PP90 data is disappointing. Only once has this number been in the double-digits and that was way back in the 2017-18 season. If Lingard is the lone attacking signing in January then perhaps he can hover around the 10 mark and provide good fantasy value. But I think that’s unlikely, and so with Saint-Maximin, Wilson, and others taking the limelight, I imagine we’re looking at MID4/5 value at best. Having said all that, he’s currently rostered in just 56% of leagues, so if you have space on your bench for him, I would add him and then trade him on in December when the rumour mill goes into overdrive.
Probably the most star studded name on this list is that of Philippe Coutinho and yet the bookmakers actually have him at the second shortest price to join. The Brazilian started life nicely in Spain, being central to two title winning campaigns, but has since struggled to hold down a place in the starting lineup. In 2019-20 he was loaned out to Bayern Munich and since the start of the 2020-21 season has started just 11 league matches for Barcelona. This, on the surface, looks an unlikely deal, but stranger things have happened. Could he be Newcastle’s Robinho?
Fantasy Value: Long-time players of draft fantasy will have very fond memories of the former Liverpool man. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, he had seasonal PP90s of 14.6, 18.4, and a staggering 22.6. This guy was (“is”?) legitimate – as in 100% of FAAB budget legitimate. Will he still have it four years later? He put up a 17.6 PP90 whilst on loan at Bayern Munich in 2019-20, and at just 29, it’s unlikely that he’s reached a decline yet. It is, of course, more a case of whether he will settle at Newcastle, and whether the team can score enough goals around him (the Liverpool and Bayern sides he was a part of were historically good in that regard). If he does sign, then I would go all out for him. There will likely only be 16 or so gameweeks left (fewer if you use playoffs) so there’s less need to hold on to FAAB, and it’s almost certain that there would be nobody bigger coming to the Premier League. This would be a statement by the Newcastle owners and by whichever fantasy manager lands him.
Another former Premier League star who went overseas is Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh Wizard (or is that confined to just Gareth Bale?) joined Juventus but has never been able to make his mark in Italy. Now in his third season at the Old Lady, Ramsey has started just 24 league games – and only one this season. A move back to England makes sense – it’s just whether he would take the step down. Money talks though.
Fantasy Value: The ex-Arsenal midfielder is probably better in an attacking role but could certainly do a job deeper if required and so his position if he came to Newcastle would likely depend on who joins him there. If the club are able to land a Lingard/Coutinho/Sterling then Ramsey may be forced to take up the role currently being done by Joe Willock. Despite spending £26 million on the player in the summer, Ramsey would probably be an upgrade in that position (check out SofaScore’s comparison tool here. This would not be great for his fantasy value, though, and I think a FAAB bid in the region of 30-40% of total budget would be reasonable. If, however, he plays more advanced, then that could easily change to the ~75% range. Whilst the Welshman wasn’t quite in Coutinho’s league as a fantasy asset; Ramsey still had very good PP90 numbers between 10.2 and 15.0 from 2016-17 to 2018-19. Anything in the 11’s would put him in McNeil/Tielemans category – not bad at all.
Though everyone seems to have forgotten how England star Raheem Sterling actually played the fourth most minutes for Manchester City last season, there’s no denying that he seems to have found himself out of favour this time around. Mostly used as a substitute so far, he’s scored just one goal and has zero assists. He has, however, had a very good run at the club, having been there since 2015 and winning everything possible domestically. Maybe he would be keen on a fresh start, though I think part of this rumour is purely down to his nationality. It seems the media feel a need to link England players with English clubs all the time (James Ward Prowse, Declan Rice, and Fikayo Tomori are other names I’ve seen banded about recently), but if we look back at our Chelsea/Manchester City/PSG data, there is no precedent for this. Three of Chelsea’s first nine major signings were English (33%), two of Manchester City’s ten were English (20%), and four of PSG’s eight were French or had French citizenship. I highly doubt Newcastle’s new owners will be bothered about whether a player is English or not – they will just want the biggest and best names coming in as possible.
Fantasy Value: Sterling’s value is probably at an all time low right now. Given a rare start against Burnley at home in gameweek 8, he mustered just 3.5 points. With Jack Grealish now there, Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva in fine form, and Phil Foden maturing into one of City’s key men, he may not get that many chances in the starting 11 going forwards. So if a move to Newcastle were to materialise, his value can only go up. He’s currently sat at number 50 in our Consensus Ranks, but a January transfer to Newcastle could well see him around the 30 mark for me. The fact that he would be playing in a much poorer team would not concern me – Saint-Maximin is the perfect example of that now, and Jack Grealish’s fantasy decline (albeit still at an excellent level) after leaving Aston Villa likewise. As one of the go-to guys playing probably 90 minutes every week, I think we could see his FP/G go back towards the 12-14 range quite easily.
Who Loses Out?
Only six Newcastle players are rostered in more than 20% of leagues: Saint-Maximin (100%), Wilson (92%), Willock (63%), Ritchie (51%), Almiron (28%), and Joelinton (24%).
The first of these is safe. Saint-Maximin is their star man, a fan favourite, and can play anywhere across the front line. Does his value drop? Perhaps slightly if a couple of the names above arrive (and because he probably can’t get any better after his lights out start to this season), but he’d still be a top 20 asset. Wilson should be safe – he is good enough and Newcastle’s priority should clearly be in defence – but were a big name forward to become available in January, you just know that the owners would go for it, regardless of the priorities or squad balance. I would definitely hold him, knowing that with better support around him his value probably increases, and hoping/expecting that Newcastle focus their transfer efforts on the defence.
Willock is a tricky one. How much value does a 5.8 FP/G player have? Like Lingard at West Ham, many people have put their faith in a small sample size and been burned. I can’t see his value dropping any lower though – unless we do see a mass influx of players in January and he loses game time. I would try to trade out – but that’s irrespective of the takeover.
By contrast, Ritchie is having a decent season. His FP/G of 8.56 is 31st amongst midfielders and has been achieved almost exclusively through ghost points (he has just the one assist). Whilst no left-backs have been linked to the club yet (that I know of), he may suffer if one of the new arrivals takes over set piece duty. Ritchie has taken 118 so far this season – the next highest at the club is Jacob Murphy with 38. Given the importance of set pieces to fantasy value, it is here where current managers should be concerned. This is one to watch. If a Coutinho or Ward-Prowse were to come through the door, then Ritchie should be traded out immediately.
Finally we have Almiron and Joelinton. These two are probably on borrowed time. Their roster numbers aren’t high, but I would be very surprised to see them above even 10% come February 1st. Unfortunately there’s almost no trade value in them either, so if you do have one or both on your roster, just be prepared to drop them to the free agent list sooner rather than later.
The Full-Time Whistle
Newcastle almost certainly won’t be able to bring in all the names mentioned above, but even if they can get just two of them – Tarkowski plus another – then I think that would present solid business. Add another couple from elsewhere and this should be enough to see them safe and give them a platform to build from heading into 2022-23. From a fantasy perspective, the takeover could prove game-changing for any manager astute (or lucky) enough to gamble early and have it pay off. You only need to look at Lingard’s fantasy impact last season to see that (1.19 WAR in just 16 starts). Could the Manchester man do it again, this time up north? Could Sterling return to prominence on Tyneside? Are there other peripheral Premier League figures who fantasy managers can grab now and reap the rewards later – Ross Barkley? Nat Phillips? Matt Doherty? These decisions are often the difference between winning and losing in fantasy.
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