Newcastle United’s signing of Chris Wood from Burnley is more than just Eddie Howe recruiting a striker.
Newcastle and Burnley find themselves in direct competition as they face off against one another in the battle for Premier League survival. Of course, there are more than just two teams who face the threat of relegation - Norwich, Watford, Leeds and Everton all need to be particularly worried with the Championship looming at the end of the season - but both Howe and Sean Dyche are under pressure to rescue their own teams.
On the surface, the transfer makes some sense for Newcastle. They have an injury to Callum Wilson to deal with and despite flashes from Joelinton of late, he is their own reliable striker. Bringing in Wood gives them a striker who can slot into the Premier League with a consistent scoring record of his own. He is not a desperately sophisticated player, nor is he a carthorse. He should fit in well with his teammates with little difficulty.
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What also helps is that Wood reportedly had a release clause of around £25 million, which is particularly helpful for Newcastle as they scrabble around for reinforcements at a time when clubs are reluctant to sell, and know that they have deep pockets to be exploited. With limited time to negotiate, Wood was an easy purchase.
There are, however, better players on the market. Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is no longer wanted at The Emirates, so a loan deal would have made some sense for both clubs and the player. Eddie Nketiah and Divock Origi might be little better than Wood, but they would have retained their resale value given Wood is already 30. Zenit St Petersburg’s Sardar Azmoun and Marseille’s Bamba Dieng were also reportedly on their shortlist, but they have gone for a far less exotic known quantity.
The transfer that they did complete, however, appears more cynical, and no worse for it. In each of his last four full seasons at Turf Moor, Wood has scored 11 or more goals. Burnley have other forwards, but he was more than a useful presence with goals far from the club’s best quality. While the move gets them an adequate replacement for Wilson, Wood is hardly likely to hold down a place next season once they have a chance to spend their petrodollars. Instead he is that odd kind of signing, when a newly rich club needs to make an ascent to credibility. Some players end up flourishing, others are more plainly there as a stop-gap.
However, there is one obvious benefit. Newcastle had to find a Premier League goalscorer who could move as soon as possible. That is Burnley’s problem now. They have Jay Rodriguez, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes and Matej Vydra, and that has not been enough to keep them safe. They need to find a player willing to join, who can make a difference, who will not cost too much, and who is willing to take the career risk that he will start next season one division lower.
The transfer recalls the biggest advantage Bayern Munich have in the Bundesliga, that they can use their financial dominance to strip their nearest rivals of whomever seems the most promising and threatening, safe in the knowledge they have already settled into the division and country. Wood has proven for almost half a decade that he can handle life in England, and in its top division. By refusing to commit themselves to taking any risk by buying him, they have forced a gamble on competitors who were unwilling to put themselves in a similarly difficult position.
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