Meet the kids pushing to join Newcastle's first team
When the clock struck twelve the spell was broken. As the smoke cleared at the deadline-evening dinner dance, Arsenal cavorted away with dream date Mesut Özil, the £42.5m man casually seducing the Gunners with his wide eyes and tantalising promise of a brighter tomorrow. Everton were not short of suitors. Even Manchester United found a willing partner, after an unflattering mad dash across the dancefloor.
Sadly for Newcastle United, however, there was no Prince Charming. No glass slippers, no ball gowns – only the grim spectre of Joe Kinnear and the realisation that the Toon Army’s old rags will have to do, until January at least.
Despite the efforts of Alan Pardew and much-maligned director of football Kinnear, when the window closed all Newcastle had to show for it was a loan signing from the Championship (albeit a very good one in Loic Remy) and an untested French 16-year-old.
Consequently, and with a relatively thin squad at Pardew’s disposal, the Magpies may have to rely on their kids stepping up to offer supplementary options over the coming months. Pardew touched on this ahead of Newcastle’s 2-0 win at Morecambe in the Capital One Cup, wagging his finger paternally and warning his youngsters that the time to assume responsibility has now arrived after a disappointing season.
"We have spent something in the region of £15million on young players at this club and they really need to come to the fore now,” said Pardew. “Last year they didn't do themselves justice in the league or the cups. That's not good enough. If they don't do it this year, we'll draw a line under one or two of them."
But fear not, Newcastle fans! Peter Beardsley, currently in charge of developing the club's youth players, is confident in their ability to make the grade. Speaking to FourFourTwo, Beardsley was forthright in his praise for Newcastle’s prospects at youth and reserve team level, and feels enough talent is coming through for the Toon Army to be optimistic.
"We've spent something in the region of £15million on young players and they really need to come to the fore now. If they don't do it this year, we'll draw a line under one or two of them."
Beardsley has been Football Development Manager at Newcastle since 2011 after previously occupying roles with the academy and reserve team, and it’s a role the former England star is enjoying.
“I love it,” Beardsley told FFT about working with the next generation. “We have a lot of decent youngsters. It’s going really well. We love being on the training field. As always, the priority is the first team but our job is to try and promote players into the first squad.
“Our job is to try and get the likes of Shane Ferguson, who’s come through, Haris Vuckic and James Tavernier into the first team.”
They wouldn't be the first to graduate from Newcastle's youth corps. “Steven Taylor came through the academy while I was there," remembers Beradsley. "When I look at it, Sammy Ameobi has come through the reserves with us too, so it’s all good. The lads work hard and that’s all we expect. It’s a really good atmosphere.”
So which youngsters are best placed to take advantage of the lack of summer activity by challenging for a place in Newcastle’s first team? We’ve picked out five who will be hoping to make the grade sooner rather than later.
(Age: 21 - Position: Left Back)
Having made his debut at Manchester City in Newcastle’s opening game, left-back Paul Dummett is held up by Beardsley as an example of the benefits that come with intelligent use of the loan system.
After impressing on loan at fifth-tier Gateshead, helping them keep six clean sheets in 10 games toward the end of the 2011/12 season, Dummett spent much of last season thriving on loan at Scottish top-flight side St Mirren.
“Players just come from nowhere these days,” says Beardsley. “The ones that you think ‘he’s got a real chance’ for whatever reason take a dip and go backwards but the ones you least expect come from nowhere.
“That’s what’s been good about the loan thing. Players like Dummett... I don’t want to be disrespectful, but a year ago you wouldn’t have given him a chance. But he’s come from nowhere. That’s what being on loan does for you.”
Indeed, Dummett did so well at St Mirren from August to December that Pardew initially refused him permission to rejoin the Buddies, giving the Welshman his full first-team debut in the FA Cup at Brighton. However, at the end of January Pardew relented and returned to St Mirren for the rest of the season, helping them win the League Cup.
“He’s a good lad, Dummett,” Beardsley enthuses. “Very genuine, a good kid - and he’s done well. Last year did him the world of good.”
Dummett agrees. After featuring in pre-season games, he has been enthused by the possibility of representing his boyhood idols. "It was great for me to get that first-team experience week-in, week-out. It prepares you well for life at Newcastle.
"It's great that the manager is giving local players the opportunity - it gives you something to aim for. Hopefully there will be more coming through the ranks.
"I’ve supported Newcastle all my life, so it’s a dream to be given the chance to play at St James’ Park and pull on a black-and-white shirt for the first team.”
Turning 22 later this month, Dummett could become a genuine challenger for Davide Santon’s left-back spot.
(Age: 21 - Position: Winger/Striker)
Following in his brother Shola’s footsteps, Sammy Ameobi is a player Beardsley and the coaching staff at Newcastle have high hopes for - and based on his first-team performances to date, it’s easy to see why.
Ameobi was superb in the Capital One Cup win at Morecambe, earning praise from his manager. "We have never doubted his talent, but he put it all together this pre-season and that was shown tonight."
Nearly a decade younger than Shola, the younger Ameobi - he turned 21 in May - is a left winger or striker with good technique and near effortless dribbling skills. He also has a lovely lightness of touch for a man who tops 6ft 4in: the way he holds the ball off defenders is vaguely similar to the Nigerian great Kanu, rolling it playfully from one foot to the other, guarding it with his lanky frame and long legs.
An example came during his loan to Middlesbrough during the spring, clipping it round an onrushing Huddersfield defender with a sumptuous first touch and running onto it a la Bergkamp. Impressive earlier showings in Newcastle's Europa League games against Club Brugge and Maritimo also offer hope for the future.
(Age: 19 - Position: Defensive/Central Midfielder)
Bigirimana is a tenacious and hard-working midfielder who clearly has the commitment and sheer desire to make it: his break in professional football came after turning up at Coventry City’s training ground and asking for a trial, having spotted it on a shopping trip to Asda. So far, Pardew has been delighted with his progress. "He is the bright spark of that underbelly which is under the first team. In and around the first team, he has done terrific."
The Burundi-born 19-year-old made 25 appearances for Newcastle last season, snarling and snapping away at heels in midfield, and the England U-20 international should continue to play a part for the first team as he matures and develops.
(Age: 21 - Position: Attacking midfielder/forward)
One of three players Pardew said were pushing for a first-team place this season (along with Dummett and Ameobi), Haris Vuckic is practically a veteran at Newcastle, having made his first-team debut in 2009. Sadly injuries have since curtailed his development, and he could well be a player Pardew had in mind when talking about the last-chance saloon - despite having a contract until 2016.
A Slovenian international of Bosnian extraction, 6ft 1in Vuckic can play in central midfield or out wide but has been dogged by injuries during his time at Newcastle. His first-team Premier League debut, in August 2011, was typical: coming on as sub against Fulham, he lasted seven minutes before going off with a suspected dislocated finger.
Vuckic came to prominence young - he played in the Slovenian top flight aged 15 (earning his club a fine) and moved to Newcastle at 16 - but he can't be tomorrow's man forever: having now turned 21, he needs to start fulfilling his potential. He will undoubtedly have been disappointed with his lacklustre showing in Newcastle’s recent Capital One Cup win at Morecambe. Pardew’s lack of squad depth means Vuckic may get further chances to impress; he needs to capitalise on them.
(Age: 22 - Position: Left winger)
The 22-year-old Northern Ireland international has already been sent on a year's loan to Birmingham City, following a successful spell there last season under former Newcastle hero and Sunderland-botherer Lee Clark.
Ferguson has performed with distinction for both adopted club and country recently. A left winger with a wicked cross, he currently sits joint second in the Championship assists table. Northern Ireland gaffer Michael O'Neill is a big fan of his young charge, who can also play left-back.
"He’s a clever player, a sharp player in possession and has a lot of really good attributes," says O'Neill. "He’s not that big and physically strong; people might hold that against him but he’s got a great manipulation of the ball and really good game intelligence." Under loan rules he can be recalled in January, if needed.
Newcastle’s squad may seem to be made up of old sash and beads, but Peter Beardsley and the youth team coaching staff are working hard on producing some much-needed gems for the ball gown.