Every so often, you come across an article so baffling, you feel compelled to respond. This week's piece in the Daily Mail by Jamie Redknapp certainly qualifies. He criticizes the spate of French signings that Newcastle has made this week, claiming that "it needs local players to support, too, quality talent, some of their own for the Toon Army to get behind."
But here's the catch: you'd be hard-pressed to find a Premier League club more reliant on products of its reserve system in the first half of the season than Newcastle. By largely steering clear of the summer transfer window in 2012, players such as Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson, and James Tavernier have been pressed into action for the Europa League, cup matches, and supersub appearances in the Premier League. It was a calculated risk by the ownership and coaching staff that Newcastle's emerging players were ready to contribute. And for the most part, it has failed. Hence the buying spree that's imported five Ligue 1 regulars in January.
In fairness to Redknapp's original point, only Ameobi would qualify as a "local player" of the three I named. But he also lists a slew of English players in his article who neither grew up near the club they play for, nor played for the academy. It would probably come as quite a shock to Everton-supporting Wayne Rooney that he's now being considered a local lad at Manchester United. The same goes for Daniel Sturridge, also approvingly cited, whose last brush with his hometown was at the Aston Villa academy in 2000.
With his case sufficiently undermined by his examples, all he is trying to say is that Newcastle should stop fiddling around in France and buy English players. But as I pointed out at length earlier in the week, the financial situation involved makes that virtually impossible. If you were in Mike Ashley's shoes, would you throw down £15 million for Wilfried Zaha, like Man U just did, or use the same amount to overhaul the entire squad from front to back?
And if Redknapp really thinks that Newcastle fans can't get excited about a mostly foreign team, he must not have talked to very many. How could anyone not light up at the thought of a trademark rollercoaster run from Hatem Ben Arfa, or the composed confidence of Fabricio Coloccini (this month's uncertainty aside)? Over the past couple decades, Geordies have embraced skilled imports, like David Ginola and Laurent Robert, with just as much ardor as they've loved their local legends. Most can't wait to see this week's signings in action - even if they have all come from across the Channel.
Ironically, the influx of French talent may be the best hope that Newcastle's reserves have of actually making an impact for the big club in the future. Because key youngsters have been forced to help flesh out the squad, they've missed the chance to go out on loan and mature as players and professionals. January's moves should allow some of them - certainly Ferguson, who has never been loaned in his tenure at Newcastle - to start every week in the Championship.
Developing academy and reserve products into dependable players takes time. Right now, Newcastle just needs to win.