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Five under-21 players to transform Newcastle

The Saudi Arabian takeover of Newcastle has sparked rumours unprecedented transfer rumours, ranging from the impossible to the absurd. Here are five realistic young talent acquisitions that could transform the Magpies next season and beyond.

The £305million takeover of Newcastle by the Saudi owned Public Investment Fund (PIF) –  a group valued at a reported £360billion, has dominated headlines. As well as the far-reaching economic and political impacts, this takeover has also led to intense speculation on the field. 

Newcastle, under the ownership of Mike Ashley, made a profit of roughly £100million in Financial Fair Play (FFP) terms over the last three years, allowing the club to invest up to £200million in the upcoming January window. This has led to speculation linking the club with a host of big-name talents. Toni Kroos and Eden Hazard are just two of a FIFA Ultimate Team squad of rumoured transfers

However, some lessons should be learned from Manchester City’s takeover in 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group. The club made several statement signings, spending a combined £50million on Brazilians Jo and Robinho. These two failed to live up to the hype and gel into the team, as City finished 10th in their first season of the new ownership. Other big-money signings, such as Elano, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz also failed to transform the team into title contenders over the following years.

Newcastle should be wary of deals for players like Phillipe Coutinho, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette and Gareth Bale, and instead invest in younger talents that the club can build around for the next decade. City reaped the rewards of buying the likes of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta when they were all 23 or younger.

With this in mind, who could Newcastle target in the upcoming windows?

Amine Gouiri (21, OGC Nice)

After the disappointments of Andy Carroll and Joelinton up front at St James Park in recent seasons, Newcastle would be sensible to target a striker that can lead the frontline for years to come. Amine Gouiri is fulfilling his immense potential at OGC Nice, and could be a superb investment for the club in the forward role.

Gouiri progressed through the Lyon academy that spawned Karim Benzema and Anthony Martial, but only played eight senior games for the club across three years. During this time, the striker was frequently impressing for Lyon’s B team, as well as scoring 37 in 47 games for various France youth teams. Fellow Ligue 1 side Nice snapped him up for roughly €7million in the summer of 2020. 

Gouiri picked up extensive first-team minutes in his debut season at Nice – scoring 16 and assisting eight in 41 games in all competitions. This was the most in the Nice squad, and included four consecutive goals in the Europa League. Gouiri picked up some minutes on the left wing as well as up front in Nice’s 4-3-3, and was rated the best player in the squad by WhoScored

Teammate Hassane Kamara, who joined Nice at the same time as Gouiri, has praised his maturity and mindset, saying:

He knows where he wants to go, he has ambition … He knows he is young and that he needs to work and improve in several areas. He tries to do his best to achieve goals”. 

Gouiri is a natural finisher and combines pace and physicality with clever movement to find space behind defensive liness. As well as being able to find the net consistently himself, Gouiri also operates as a creative outlet for his teammates – his 4.35 shot-creating actions per 90 rank is in the top 3% for strikers in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues. Also, his 0.20 ‘expected assists’ per 90 is in the top 16%. Gouiri is additionally averaging 1.9 key passes and 2.5 shots per game. 

With 10 goal contributions in 12 games so far this season, the second-most in Ligue 1, and averaging a contribution every 97.2 minutes, Gouiri’s stock continues to grow on the international scene. Gouiri could complement ex-Nice man Allan Saint-Maximin on the left wing, as well as provide a threat through the middle. Linked to Liverpool in recent weeks, Gouiri could be a superb signing for Newcaslte for the £30-40million mark. 

Jurriën Timber (20, Ajax)

Moving into defence, 20-year-old Jurriën Timber has been making a name for himself at Ajax, a club renowned for the production of high-value youngsters from its academy.

Timber could prove to be a worthy candidate. He joined Ajax in 2014 at the age of 13, and flourished in various youth teams alongside the highly-rated Ryan Gravenberch. Timber made his debut for Ajax late on in the 2019/20 season aged 18, before increasing his involvement with the first-team from five league appearances in the squad to 25 in the 2020/21 campaign. 

The defender picked up over 2,500 minutes, mainly at centre-back, whilst also featuring at right-back in Ajax’s 4-3-3, as the club won the Eredivisie title by 18 points. Timber’s form was recognized with inclusion in the Netherlands EURO 2020 squad, picking up 142 minutes across three games, as well as being nominated for the Golden Ball final ten-man shortlist, and being named September Eredivisie Player of the Month recently.

Timber is very much a ‘modern-day’ centre-back. Confident and industrious with the ball – a trait embedded into Ajax graduates from Clarence Seedorf to Frenkie de Jong. His ‘medium length’ passes completed per 90 (42.88) ranks is in the top 1% for defenders in Europe’s top five leagues, whilst his passes into the final third per 90 (5.63) is in the top 4%. With Daley Blind providing seniority and experience in defence, Timber is able to focus on ball progression and linking play with the offensive players. The defender is more than comfortable in a system that plays out from the back and dominates the ball, and could be a central defensive mainstay in a new Newcastle tactical setup, still not 21 until next June. 

With Timber’s contract running until 2024, and his reputation enhancing match on match, Newcastle may have to invest over £30million to bring the defender to Tyneside. This could be a worthwhile gamble – with Amsterdam-based journalist Valentijn Driessen claimin Timber is “better centrally than de Ligt”. 

Charles De Ketelaere (20, Club Brugge)

Moving across the lowlands to the Belgian league, 20-year-old Charles De Ketelaere could be an excellent fit; an extremely versatile player with over 70 senior appearances to his name already.

After progressing through the Club Brugge academy whilst working part-time as a ball-boy, De Ketelaere made his breakthrough into the senior team in the 2019/20 season aged 18. He played 25 games in all competitions, including in the Champions League against PSG and Real Madrid. 

Club Brugge won the league by 15 points, and De Ketelaere became a more central figure in the squad the following season as Blauw-Zwart defended their league title, winning the league by six more points. De Ketelaere played in 46 games in all competitions, turning 20 in March this year, scoring five and assisting eight, including two goals and two assists in the Champions League against Zenit.

De Ketelaere made his full Belgian debut in November last year, and was unlucky to miss out on the EURO 2020 squad – scoring his first senior goal in his second appearance against Italy in the Nations League third place playoff. He has carried his superb form into this season, playing in every league game for Club Brugge so far, scoring four and assisting three. In the September home draw against PSG, the midfielder played the most key passes in the game with five. This was three more than Neymar, and two more than Lionel Messi.

De Ketelaere is considered a ‘complete midfielder’ – evidenced by his extreme positional adaptability. Throughout his career, he has played 23 games in midfield roles, 14 games on the left, 10 on the right, and 30 in a second striker role, allowing him to capitalize off his attacking instincts. The Belgian is renowned for his hardwork and energetic pressing in midfield . Both his pressures per 90 (24.92) and tackles won per 90 (1.17) rank in the top 1% for European attackers. Combined with a high volume of passes into the penalty area per 90 (1.32), he has drawn comparisons to Chelsea’s Mason Mount. 

De Ketelaere has been linked to AC Milan and West Ham as his fine form has continued, and the Belgian could be tempted with a move to Newcastle, who could attract him to their project by offering to build their side for the future around him and his vast potential.

Morten Frendrup (20, Brøndby)

After the stagnation of the Longstaff brothers in the deeper midfield role in recent years, Newcastle could target a defensive midfielder that can develop and feature for the side for several years to come. Brøndby’s Morten Frendrup could be an ideal target in that position. At 5’11, Frendrup relies on his technical ability and talent more than his physicality, and has racked up over 75 senior games to date, turning 21 in April.

Frendrup made his debut in the backend of the 2017/18 season, aged 16, and his involvement in the senior team has been steadily growing since. He was in the senior squad eight times in the 18/19 league campaign, followed by 22 times in the 19/20 season, before a serious step up last season. Frendrup played in every league game as Brøndby won their first Danish SuperLiga since 2005, edging over FC Midtjylland by two points, playing the full 90 in 15 of 22 games.

With the Danish side deploying a 3-5-2 setup, Frendrup operates as the deepest ‘anchor’ in the midfield three, tasked with breaking up opposition attacks and splaying passes to the wing-backs and attacking duo. Frendrup is also comfortable in a 4-3-3 approach, where he plays as the deepest midfielder for Denmark u21s, alongside Ajax’s Victor Jensen and Salzburg’s Maurits Kjaergaard. With a combined age of 59 across this midfield, Denmark are well stocked in this area for the future.

This season, Frendrup has missed two of Brøndby’s opening 14 games as the side sit sixth, 13 points off the top. The club have been competing in the Europa League group stage for the first time since 2005/06, in which Frendrup has only missed 17 minutes in the first three games. Frendrup has been trusted by coach Niels Frederiksen as a mainstay in the Brøndby team, impressing with his natural defensive instincts to win the ball back in key areas and keep things ticking in midfield through a series of neat passes, in the mould of Nemanja Matic, Declan Rice and Denis Zakaria.

With Scandinavia producing an immense amount of talent in recent years – such as Alexander Isak and Mohamed Daramy, Frendrup has been simmering under the radar for the last few years. However, a league title and European experience at Brøndby could be the perfect platform for him to export his skills to the Premier League in a young, forward-thinking Newcastle side.

Liberato Cacace (21, Sint-Truiden) 

Kiwi-born Liberato Cacace, who turned 20 in September, could have represented Italy through his father’s side of the family. However he chose to represent the country of his birth – and has played five senior games for the country to date. He is considered one of New Zealand’s brightest talents since the generation of Lucas Neill and Simon Elliott. 

Cacace, who operates as a left-back, progressed as a youngster at Wellington Phoenix, who play in the Australian A-League, in a similar way to certain Canadian teams playing in the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. After the majority of minutes in his debut campaign in 2018/19 came in the left-wing role, winning the club’s Young Player of the Year, Cacace was rejigged into a left-back the following season under Ufuk Talay. To amazing effect too.

Wellington Phoenix finished third in the league, an improvement on 6th from the season before, with Cacace playing in every minute of the final 19 league games. Club captain Steven Taylor named him, “the best left-back in the league without a shadow of a doubt”. Belgian Pro League side Sint-Truiden made a move for €1.2million in the summer of 2020, under the management of Kevin Muscat, who managed Melbourne Victory for six years.

Cacace combined his attacking instincts at left-wing with a resolute defensive aspect to become a well-balanced, modern-day full-back that can contribute in both attack and defence. This was evident with his goal against Honduras in the Olympics last summer: a right-footed rocket from outside the box. Cacace is pacey, confident, forward-thinking and constantly energetic. Attributes that should translate nicely into the Premier League.

Cacace quickly settled in Belgium. He played laying in 26 of 30 available games as Sint-Truiden avoided relegation by seven points, and has featured in 11 of the club’s opening 13 league games this season, also utilizing his innate attacking senses by deputizing on both the left and right wing at times. 

After allegedly attracting interest from Juventus, who want to add Cacace to their reserve squad, the player is sure to secure a move to a side in a top European league sooner rather than later. Newcastle could benefit by operating ahead of the curve with a move, if the club do not place their faith in Jamal Lewis in their long-term thinking.

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