Newcastle United transfer news: Why Howe signed Targett and club’s Botman hope

Advertisements

It was far from inevitable that Newcastle United would make Matt Targett’s loan move permanent, but there was always a decent chance they would choose to complete a deal that is seen internally as sensible and logical.

Alternative options were explored – including players with a greater creative threat and whose potential is perhaps higher, but whose immediate adaptation to English football could not be guaranteed and whose asking price proved prohibitive, like Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi. But Eddie Howe, the head coach, was open to retaining to a left-back he pushed to sign initially and who has served him well.

Given the exorbitant fees Newcastle are being quoted for their top targets, spending an additional £ 12 million to acquire a dependable and experienced, if largely defensive-minded, left-back ultimately represents sound and pragmatic business. A total outlay of £ 15 million for Targett, when the £ 3 million loan fee paid to Aston Villa is considered, is less than half Lodi’s valuation.

In theory, bringing the Englishman back frees up funds for the other areas that require strengthening. Targett has become the first signing of the summer, having undergone a medical on Wednesday and signed a four-year deal, but between three and five further additions could follow. At least one forward, a center-back, a winger, a midfielder and possibly a goalkeeper could still arrive and, with financial restrictions and no fresh commercial deals affecting Newcastle’s ability to spend freely, a budget of between £ 60 million and £ 80 million must be maximized.

While a deal has been agreed in principle with Reims for Hugo Ekitike, the 19-year-old striker who Newcastle came close to signing five months ago, complications with agent fees and add-ons mean progress has been gradual. The expectation is that Ekitike will become a Newcastle player though, and the club remain hopeful that Sven Botman, the Lille center-back, will choose Tyneside despite Serie A champions AC Milan pushing for his signature. Botman was another top January target and dialogue has continued.

But Howe also rates Manchester City’s Nathan Ake and AFC Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly highly. He took the center-backs to Dean Court and Newcastle have informally inquired about them both, as they did in January, and are said to have been staggered by the prices quoted.

Moussa Diaby, the Bayer Leverkusen wide forward, meanwhile, is of keen interest, but the Bundesliga club want north of £ 50 million – as do Brentford for Ivan Toney, the former Newcastle center-forward. Everton, too, have attempted to rebuff Newcastle’s flirtations with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the England striker. As for Darwin Nunez, there was an acceptance all along that their top center-forward target was highly unlikely to move to Tyneside, but even the Uruguayan’s price-tag has been a source of surprise.

Newcastle are willing to be flexible in their approach – some talks have seen them propose creative deal structures, including loans with obligations to buy further down the line, or installations and significant add-ons – but there is also an acceptance that they can not dramatically upgrade every position in one summer, which has been reinforced by their feedback from clubs and recruitment officials.

Quality is preferred over quantity, but Howe is also looking for specific characteristics in his signings and, even if Targett does not possess the same creative output as Kieran Trippier does on the other flank, he is reliable and well-liked.

Although it is no coincidence that business has ramped up since Dan Ashworth officially began his role as technical director on Monday – with Isaac Hayden departing for Norwich City on an initial loan and other fringe players understood to be in discussion regarding potential exits – the decision to proceed with Targett was taken last week. Howe, who is on holiday but has been in dialogue with Ashworth, communicated his desire to keep the 26-year-old.

Fulham, where Targett spent six months on loan in 2018, and at least one other Premier League club expressed an interest in the defender. Newcastle held first option on Targett, though sources suggest the clause was time-dependent, which is why it needed to be exercised soon.

After just a fortnight’s deliberation, Howe opted to keep Targett, with the club keen to make a transfer breakthrough early. The window only officially opens on Friday but, given the importance of this summer to Newcastle’s project, and the mild frustration at being unable to complete alternative business quickly, being able to settle the left-back situation before the middle of June is a positive.


Botman is wanted by Milan but Newcastle retain a hope of signing him (Getty Images)

Targett will compete for a starting spot with Paul Dummett, who has been plagued by long-term injury problems and can also play center-half, and Jamal Lewis. The latter was left out of the 25-man squad in January and has undergone surgery on a persistent groin problem. Howe is yet to see the Northern Ireland international at full fitness and is set to hand Lewis an opportunity during pre-season, having admired his athleticism and endurance from afar previously.

But Targett returns as the left-back incumbent, having excelled during his four-month loan spell. He played a significant role in transforming a defense that conceded a Premier League record of 80 goals in a calendar year in 2021, to one which let in just 19 in his 16 appearances.

Targett played every minute he was eligible for – only missing the 1-0 victory over Villa, his parent club, in February – and brought a calmness to the back line, displaying excellent decision-making and defensive positioning.

He formed an excellent understanding with Dan Burn, the left-sided center-half who also joined in January, and proved to be a refreshingly reassuring presence in what has long been a problem position for Newcastle. Before Targett joined, Matt Ritchie, a converted winger, had sometimes been forced to fill in at left-back and, defensively, it was seen as the weakest area in the team. But Targett has drastically altered that perception.

Significantly, Targett also provided balance behind Allan Saint-Maximin, who is reluctant to track back, in Howe’s 4-3-3 formation. Fielding a more offensive option behind Saint-Maximin would have risked leaving Newcastle exposed at the back, but Targett is accustomed to covering for a talented attacker, having played with Jack Grealish for two years at Villa. With Saint-Maximin also set to stay and remain crucial to Newcastle’s attacking output, having someone disciplined like Targett to protect the left flank is important and contributed to re-signing him.

Yet, throughout Howe’s coaching career, full-backs have been crucial to the way his sides operate and, at Bournemouth, they regularly enjoyed the most touches in the team as attacks were built down the flanks. The same is true at Newcastle; Trippier averages the most touches under Howe, with Targett third.

However, Targett does not quite possess the all-round game that Trippier does. Targett is competent going forward – he averages the fourth-most crosses per game under Howe though failed to provide an assist, despite taking corners, even if his expected assists (xA) stood at 1.5 – but is not quite a marauding modern-day full -back.

Targett for Newcastle

Metric Stat

Appearances (sub)

16 (0)

Minutes played

1,440

Clean sheets

5

Tackles won per 90

1.6

Interceptions p90

1.6

Duels won p90

5.1

Crosses p90

4.8

Successful crosses p90

1.6

Chances created p90

1.3

Assists

0

Expected assists

1.5

In January, Newcastle made approaches for Robin Gosens and Lucas Digne – ironically, it was the latter’s arrival at Villa that facilitated Targett’s loan – while Lodi was among the more offensive-minded options considered this summer.

Yet insiders stress that, while Ekitike represents somewhat of a risk given his age and the fact he has yet to play in England, Targett is as safe an acquisition as Newcastle could make. He does not provide match-defining moments, but he does provide much-needed stability.

As Newcastle continue to evolve, having trustworthy players who will deliver consistently like Targett is just as important as bringing in top-quality additions. Howe wants to enhance his Newcastle squad while also maintaining the unity that has been crucial to their substantial improvement so far in 2022.

Targett not only made a significant impression among the fanbase but is also very popular within the dressing room, with Bruno Guimaraes even interrupting an on-pitch interview to implore the club to keep the left-back.

Long term, Targett still has to demonstrate that he can develop further and establish himself as a left-back in a team with ambitions to challenge for European football. But, given the obstacles Newcastle face this summer, and the additional signings they require to kick on, Targett represents prudent and cost-effective business.

Put simply, Howe knows exactly what he is going to get from Targett – and that is sometimes as desirable a characteristic as any other.

(Top photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images)

Advertisements

.

Advertisements

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*