At this week’s interesting Q&A with Pardew and some fortunate NUFC fans, one of the topics raised was transfers. Pardew was quick to stress something that most, more educated, NUFC fans would know already – 90% of the names mentioned in the summer are not transfer targets.
Of the alternative 10%, Ajax Amsterdam’s Vurnon Anita is one that is almost a done deal, with both clubs reportedly agreeing a +-£6.2million. One needs only to point to the fact that Anita recently employed Mino Raiola as his agent to force the move through as a sign of the player’s urgency to get the move done. If you have read Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography you will have an understanding of this guy’s personality (Raiola also manages Mario Balotelli). Raiola will ensure the move is forced through quickly, however the downside of this, inevitably, will be the higher agent’s fee that NUFC will have to agree to.
This signing makes sense in a number of ways:
Ajax Amsterdam’s world-class youth academy has produced an incredible amount of high quality footballers. A few worth mentioning, Cruyff, Bergkamp, the De Boers and Van Baasten, have all had massively influential careers and owe a lot to the club. A more recent generation has seen Sneijder, Van Der Vaart, De Jong and Stekelenburg produced in the academy from young ages before inevitably being picked off by European clubs with less stringent financial structures. Their success in development is built on world-class coaching staff and excellent facilities. But the biggest factor that sets them apart (and has set the benchmark which other clubs have since imitated) is identifying a clear football identity and implementing it at all levels in the club. The philosophy Ajax prides itself on emphasises technique, possession and movement. For Newcastle United, Ajax’s proven record in developing excellent technical players lessens any supposed risk of signing a Dutch player in the Premiership.
Anita joined the Ajax academy at the age of 10 years old and has developed all the way through to the first XI. He has played for the Netherlands national side at all age levels as well. He currently has 3 caps for the senior national side. A record that may change with A). the appointment of the new Netherlands coach, Louis Van Gaal (who will know Anita from his days at Ajax) & B). the retirement of Mark Van Bommel, the first choice defensive midfielder alongside Nigel De Jong.
He has played primarily as a deep, defensive midfielder (No. 6) in a versatile 4-3-3 system for club and country, however he also filled in at left back (and right back) during an injury emergency under Martin Jol at Ajax and is more than capable of covering in that position. However, a few factors point to him being signed as a central midfielder first, fullback second for Newcastle.
The most outstanding points of this transfer:
Newcastle played the second half of last season in a 4-3-3 system, to good success. Anita will have been familiar with the formation having played in it for 13 years (implemented at all levels in the Ajax system as well as the national side). He will most likely either push Cheick Tiote for a starting spot or play alongside him as a No. 8. His technique is excellent, passing accurate with a fantastic first touch (emphasised heavily at Ajax with numerous training drills geared towards creating space from the 1st touch), preferring short, ball retaining passes to 40 yarders.
If NUFC are to continue with this formation, it will be second nature to the new man. The question remains to be answered whether Pardew will continue with the 4-3-3 or change the team tactically in an attempt to accommodate Ba and (presumably) Cisse centrally upfront together, as has been mentioned in pre-season.
I would take a calculated guess that Anita will be signed as a challenge to Tiote’s position for 2 reasons – Cheick Tiote’s disciplinary record (& possible AFCON qualification) and the importance of Jonas Gutierrez to Newcastle United (average of 40 apps over last 3 seasons). Tiote is certain to pick up a few bans this season leaving Newcastle with no alternative natural defensive midfielder (Bigirimana is very young and Abeid still inexperienced). If Ivory Coast do beat Senegal in the AFCON qualifier then Newcastle will also miss Tiote for the month of January. The second factor may change if Pardew decides to shift Jonas back to his old position on the left-wing. I personally would not agree as I see Jonas’s strengths suited to a more central position but it is possible. With the number of Premiership & Europa League games to be played this season there will undoubtedly be rotation. Also taken into account is the fee – a big amount paid for a substitute one could argue.
A few quotes in the media have pointed to Anita’s position being the biggest issue for the player himself.
His father: “The clubs are agreed on a fee, but we’re not sure yet about the move. Vurnon first wants to know what his plans are for him. Does he want Vurnon for right-back, or for left-back? Or in midfield? These are important questions in making his choice. He needs answers to these questions.”
The quotes make it seem like the player has a preference, one would assume it is in midfield where he has played the majority of his football at Ajax. While versatility is important, it can be to a player’s detriment to be moved around continuously and it seems like Anita is seeking assurances on his role at the club.
Style & Value
Anita is not the same combative
animal player that Cheick Tiote is, relying more on interceptions and reading the game from his deep position. However, without the ball, he is used to the intense pressing system Ajax use and an aggressive pressing midfield 2 of Tiote and Anita would be interesting to watch. He is also good value. Anita turned 23 in April and will not be on high wages at Ajax due to being brought through the academy and their strict salary cap. Any wage offer we make will most likely be a good improvement on his current contract. The fee is not overly exceptional either, when compared to prices in the current over-inflated market (see a certain new Liverpool signing). Again, the agent fee will have to be considered.
Most likely won’t be an issue, as English is taught at schools in Holland. Tim Krul is obviously the only other Dutch national in the squad (also played with Anita in the Netherlands youth sides). Cheick Tiote may also have a role in helping Anita settle in, knowing well the move from Holland to the North East.
Record & Discipline
103 appearances in the Ajax first team for a 23 year old is a good consistent record. It also points to him having a relatively good injury record. He has already experienced success with 2 Eredivise titles back to back with Ajax in 2010/2011 & 2011/2012. He has also had a taste of Europe, making 6 Champions League appearances last season. He does not pick up an excessive amount of cards with 10 yellow cards and 1 red over the past 2 seasons (92 appearances) – a yellow card every 9 games. Lastly, his stamina is good, often making 90 minutes in games, averaging 80 minutes over 44 appearances last season.
Frank De Boer after Anita signed contract extension in May 2011: “When I came as interim coach in December, I selected another left back (Anita), but he fought his way back into the team as a midfielder. That’s symbolic of who he is: a fantastic player with a great mentality. He’s been of great value in the last weeks of the season, because he can be played in several positions. I’m definitely happy that he extended his contract.”
De Boer in July 2012: “We’ll do all we can to try and keep Vurnon here. He’s a very valuable player.”
Note how deep he drops to fetch possession, at times between the 2 centre backs in a similar style to FCB/Busquets or Roma/De Rossi.
A very intelligent signing for Newcastle United. The deal represents good value, with the player the right age, good versatility and ability. His role in the team will be interesting to watch.
The player is reportedly in the North East for a medical.
Quotes this morning (Friday 16 August) by Frank De Boer: “Of course he goes to Newcastle United with my best wishes. He is one of the hardest working young players I have ever seen. He deserves a move to a club like Newcastle United. For me he gave everything during his time here. As I say, he gives everything for you. He never complained once to me about having to drop back into another position. In training he works like he is playing a game and that it means everything. In the one and half years I worked with him he did not stop working. That is what has resulted in his transfer to Newcastle. He gives 300% for you. He is always concentrating on his game and he never ever gives up. He has a bright future ahead.”
On Newcastle United: “They are a great club and have a good team. They are one of the biggest clubs in England and Vurnon can be very proud of the move.”