Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Month Of Saturdays: July 2012

(Image courtesy of Craig Deakin)

July began with a progress report on three of our key transfer targets. By the end of the month, though, the idea of a progress report would have been laughable - in the cases of Twente defender Douglas and Lille right-back Mathieu Debuchy, progress was negligible at best, while the third player, Luuk de Jong, had plumped for Borussia Monchengladbach. The Dutch striker wasn't the only forward we'd missed out on, with Junior Hoilett renewing acquaintance with his former gaffer Mark Hughes at QPR and Fat Sam taking a gamble we weren't prepared to take in signing Modibo Maiga from Sochaux.

Plenty more fish in the sea? Possibly. Marseille's Loic Remy was allegedly on our radar, and we were also reported to be eyeing up a deal to bring Rocky back to St James' Park. But, while the Silver Fox tried out some of the tricks and techniques plucked straight out of Taggart's dog-eared copy of The Mind Games Manual, while we pondered exactly how our former number nine might fit into the currently favoured formation and style of play (much as he might at a poetry workshop for dwarves, you'd imagine), and while assorted Bigg Market hostelries set about doubling levels of door security, Fat Sam stole in with a loan bid that looked set to spirit the pony-tailed powerhouse away from Merseyside in the direction of Upton Park.

What was certain was that we needed reinforcements up front, especially in light of various departures. Leon O'Best, who started his Newcastle career viewed as a bit of a joke and ended it as something approaching a cult figure, bought into Venky's apparent mission to destroy Blackburn Rovers, but left his beleaguered boss Steve Kean tearing out imaginary hair by picking up a six-month injury lay-off in a pre-season friendly. A Championship outfit was also the chosen destination of another fringe forward, Peter Lovenkrands, who became Lee Clark's first signing at Birmingham, while fellow free agent Alan Smith joined MK Dons and, after two seasons on loan to Celtic, Fraser Forster finally inked a permanent deal with the Scottish outfit (giving me the occasion to inadvertently rile a Hoops fan or two).

One player who was lured to Tyneside was Gael Bigirimana, but - despite boasting considerable potential and a host of glowing character references from those who had worked with him at Coventry - even his arrival gave cause for concern. Not only does the Burundi-born midfielder look like Mr T, but he plays in the same position - did it mean we were about to flog off our athletic, tenacious defensive shield and replace him with a teenager whose only experience of first-team football thus far is as part of a side relegated to League One? Like James Tavernier and Michael Richardson, both awarded new contracts in July, he's some way from being the finished article.

Nevertheless, Bigirimana did catch the eye in our initial pre-season fixtures in Germany and Austria - as did fellow new boy Romain Amalfitano. Demba Ba seized the early opportunity to shine, too. Over the second half of last season, he had to get used to playing second fiddle to virtuoso soloist Papiss Cisse, but of the pair - to whom fine tribute was paid by proud Tyneside parents - it was Ba who hit the goals trail early, scoring the winner against Monaco and then finding the net against Braga. That the duo were available to be selected by the Silver Fox was largely due to their surprise omission from Senegal's Olympic squad. No less welcome was the news that Senegal had been paired with Mr T's Ivory Coast in the final qualifying round of the Africa Cup of Nations - a stroke of good fortune, meaning that we won't have to cope without all three come January.

Also among the goals was Saylor, giving us the lead against Olympiakos in a game we eventually won to lift the Trofeu Internacional de Futebol do Guadiana. Injured since December and so absent for the whole of our sensational March/April winning streak, it was no wonder that - according to John Carver - he was "itching" to get back into action and remind the Silver Fox (and Mike Williamson) of his abilities.

The only first teamer not to see any pre-season action in July was HBA, given time to recover from (and cool off after) the Euros. That tournament seemed like eons ago by the end of the month, when Olympics frenzy was in full swing and St James' Park - temporarily referred to in the mainstream media by its proper name, once again - played host to the likes of Switzerland, South Korea and Mexico. The enthusiastic reaction of our international visitors - despite some teething troubles at the turnstiles - suggested that perhaps the Games would serve as a useful promotional tool to kickstart our recruitment drive. Much better to cling to that hope, and celebrate our pre-season silverware, than to dwell on the talk of the Bogeyman (well, Barcelona) stalking Dreamboat, at least...




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