The Ones That Got Away
Every club has that one player, or even players, who have signed amid great expectations but never really lived up to the hype. They were possibly a young kid who was touted as the next big thing or maybe they were successful in another league and moved abroad with the weight of the hopes of an entire fan base on their shoulders.
Sometimes it works out, they flourish, they do what they were expected and then go on to have a great career. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and everything we hoped they would be is proven to be misguided. However, sometimes it is a combination of both – their career at NUFC is never quite what we would have liked yet, when they leave, the success comes and we see the player we wish we had.
The inspiration behind this article only played for Newcastle United 4 times – twice in the Premier League and twice in the League Cup, despite being on the books from 2015 until 2018. During this time, he was loaned out on 6 occasions to 4 different clubs with spells at Barnsley, Shrewsbury Town, Scunthorpe United and Wigan Athletic. He eventually left us for good when he was sold to Peterborough United for an undisclosed fee. As I’m sure you’re aware, Toney is now at Brentford where he has scored 16 goals in 19 appearances making him the league’s top scorer. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen whether or not he will turn up against his former club in the League Cup but I can tell you now, I'm not looking forward to it.
The story of Adam Armstrong’s career, particularly his time at NUFC, is fairly similar to that of Ivan Toney. Armstrong signed for Newcastle United as a 9-year-old, a local lad with the world at his feet and his whole career ahead of him - this had all the makings of a real life fairy tale. His professional career began in 2014. Sadly, he never seemed to hit the dizzy heights that were hoped for and he went on to make only 17 appearances whilst also being loaned out to Coventry City, Barnsley, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, which is where he remains. He has played 109 times for the club, scoring 36 goals.
Like Toney, the current version of Armstrong would likely provide an instant improvement to Newcastle's forward options. With Andy Carroll yet to score since his return to the club and Joelinton still unable to find his shooting boots, the goals of either of these two players would be a valuable asset to Steve Bruce. Although, obviously, it remains to be seen whether either can do it in the Premier League.
In his 5 years at Newcastle United, James Tavernier made only 2 senior club appearances and spent the majority of his time out on loan with spells at Gateshead, Carlisle United, Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons, Shrewsbury Town and Rotherham United, where he won the League 1 play-off. In 2015, James signed for Rangers and has been captain of the side since 2018. Despite being a right back, Tavernier has scored an incredible 47 goals in 188 games, one of which being the goal that saw Rangers win the Scottish Championship in 2015. Yedlin, Krafth and Manquillo aren't exactly prime Cafu and there is a valid case for suggesting that Tavernier would provide an improvement and attacking balance to that side of Newcastle's defence. As with our ex-forwards playing in The Championship, it remains to be seen whether the SPL player can do it in the Premier league.
For one reason or another, it just never seemed to work out for Florian Thauvin. Throughout his youth and senior career he has played permanently for 7 teams, so it has to be considered that the problem here could lie with the player. He joined the club from Marseille in 2015, playing only 13 times. He was loaned back to Marseille after just 5 months and eventually re-joined them on a permanent basis in 2017. Including the loan spell before he left for good, he has made 128 appearances and scored 58 goals. In fact, in 2017-18, he finished the Ligue 1 season with 22 goals, behind only Edinson Cavani. It’s also worth noting that since leaving NUFC, Florian has also been capped ten times by the French National side. Could he do it on a cold and rainy Tuesday night at Stoke, though?
The hype was never lived up to for Kevin Mbabu at NUFC and he made only 3 league appearances over a 4-year spell. Personally, this is a signing that always sticks in my head. He signed after a successful trial and immediately joined the development squad, however his time on Tyneside was marred with numerous injuries. A decent loan spell at Young Boys saw him leave Newcastle permanently and return to his native Switzerland in 2017. Kevin is now enjoying a career in the Bundesliga, where he has played for VfL Wolfsburg since 2019. Like Tavernier, there is certainly a case to argue that Mbabu would offer an improvement on Yedlin, Manquillo and Krafth and bring pace and attacking to balance to Newcastle's right side.
There is absolutely nothing to say that had these players stayed with us, they would have enjoyed the same level of success that they have since they’ve left. Regular first-team football has undoubtedly led to their development and it seems unlikely that this would have been the case sitting on Newcastle's bench or in the reserve team.
None of them have gone onto play in the Premier League so it might be unfair to make comparisons but given the fact that we’re current a mid-low table side at best, who are shit-housing their way through another mediocre season, you can’t help but wonder if our side would be better for having these lads in it.
As I'm sure you know, tonight we play Brentford and they are currently favourites to progress to the next round. It's impossible to judge a player on just one game but could tonight be the night that we do see a lad who we could consider "a one that got away" do some damage to his former employers?
Under the current coaching staff and regime, would any of them have been able to reach their full potential? Or was leaving Newcastle United the best thing that ever happened to them? Hindsight is a wonderful thing…