MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Danny Simpson of Newcastle United slides in to tackle Wayne Rooney of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on November 26, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Our position-by-position preview of the 2012-13 Newcastle United season continues with a look at right back.
Well, this could get awkward.
The right back position for Newcastle has been a source of much discussion this offseason, but at the moment, 9 days before the season officially opens, absolutely nothing has changed. It started with Danny Simpson's refusal to sign an undoubtedly team-friendly contract to replace the one that will expire next June. The club, understandably wanting to move on, has since courted several players, most notably friend of Yohan Cabaye and French-capped Mathieu Debuchy. The Debuchy saga has been one to follow, with Lille manager Rudi Garcia refusing to let him go before finding a replacement, and then squabbling with the club over what seems to be just a few pounds. Like any transfer, I remain skeptical that business will be done until the club releases photos of the player holding a black and white striped shirt, but it's nice to dream. If the two clubs can come to an agreement, Debuchy will be the automatic choice at right back, so naturally Simpson has his own set of suitors. The loudest appear to be Reading and Aston Villa (though not since Alex McLeish got the boot). Curiously, nothing has been said publicly about a Simpson sale in almost a month. Are Newcastle waiting for a replacement to complete a deal? Has Danny returned to the negotiating table? Is the market for a 25 year-old English player with a history of success in the Premier League really that dry?
I believe it's important to remember that even if nothing happens between now and August 18 (or even August 31) that Danny Simpson is a capable player. He has maddening tendencies (the willingness to join the attack must be equaled by the willingness to hustle back if possession is lost), but for the most part he's a player you don't have to worry about. He played 35 league matches last season and didn't make a whole lot of mistakes. All of those goal-line clearances were a nice bonus as well. It's easy to see why supporters of a team who finished fifth last season and have aspirations for more (if Hatem Ben Arfa is to be believed) would wish for an upgrade from a "mostly solid" player, but to be truthful, there are bigger deficiencies in the squad. Mathieu would of course be welcome. He possesses a ton of pace and the ability to lock down strong wingers that Danny Simpson simply doesn't have.
There's also the scenario where Simpson is sold and nobody else is brought in, or where Simpson gets hurt. If we can set aside the extra variable of a left back purchase, forcing Davide Santon to the other side of the formation, James Perch becomes the obvious internal replacement. Perchinho won over fans with his frenetic work rate and excellent marking last season, but he's still got a slight frame that could get pushed around over the course of 38+ matches. I'm not in love with the idea of Perch as a starter simply because he's absolutely going to need a platoon partner of sorts.
One thing's for certain: Whether it's Simpson or Debuchy or Perch, the right back for Newcastle will be an integral part of the attack. Simpson, who is actually one of the more consistent crossers in the Starting XI, attempted 85 such passes in 2010-11. If Debuchy takes his place, we can expect that number to climb even higher if his history with Lille or the French national team are any indication.