In the latest instalment of Football Transfer Tavern’s Flashback series, we take a look back at a move that failed to deliver at the time, and if a recent addition can finally fill the role.
“A good, young player with international experience who has grown his game in Italy.” Those were the words of former Newcastle United head coach Rafael Benitez when the Magpies announced the signing of Morocco left-back Achraf Lazaar on a five-year contract (via Sky Sports).
The Magpies spent an alleged £2m to purchase the then-24-year-old, who had emerged through the youth ranks of Varese Calcio, before joining SSD Palermo on an initial loan deal which I Rosanero turned permanent the following year.
Two years later and Newcastle were on the scene, showing a keen awareness of the potential Lazaar had to offer after helping Palermo win the Serie B title in his first season at the club, and going on to make a total of 76 appearances, scoring three goals across all competitions.
Lazaar was not an instant success at St. James’ Park, though, and just a year down the line he returned to Italy with Benevento on loan, where he failed to make an impact and left Benitez at a loss as to how he could help a player he felt sorry for (Chronicle).
A further loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday followed at the start of 2019, and Lazaar has now joined Serie B side Cosenza until the end of the season after being omitted from Steve Bruce’s first 25-man Premier League squad at St. James’ Park.
His agent Roberto De Fanti has now gone on record stating to TuttoMercatoWEB that he intends to hold talks with Newcastle at the end of the season to see what the future has in store for his client, with Lazaar still contracted to the Toon for another two seasons.
“[There are] a lot of factors,” De Fanti said, when asked why Lazaar’s Newcastle career has not gone well. “Even if it is useless to look at the past. Making a conspiracy is easy, but let’s look ahead.
“We still have a contract year at Newcastle, it expires in 2021. At the end of the season, we will sit down with them and decide what to do: in this moment, in his and our thoughts, there is only being [a] protagonist in Cosenza.”
Newcastle’s signing of Lazaar three years ago has been nothing short of a failure that has left the Magpies searching for answers time and time again, and even a productive year back in Serie B will probably not be enough for the defender to enter Bruce’s plans upon his return in 2020.
Since the Moroccan joined the Toon, the North East outfit have churned through options at left-back, with Matt Ritchie one of the most recent men to be favoured in the role, despite being a natural wide midfielder (WhoScored).
Before the former Scotland international, honours fell to Paul Dummett and natural right-back Javier Manquillo, but the Toon may have finally stumbled upon their solution in long-term target Jetro Willems.
The Eintracht Frankfurt loanee had been on Newcastle’s radar since before they signed Lazaar, with the Dutchman a player considered by former manager Steve McClaren during the 2015/16 season, however, a knee injury that pre-season meant a deal was not concluded.
“It was close, but the first time they were interested, I was injured,” Willems said after his Newcastle debut against Arsenal, as quoted by The Shields Gazette. “I was eight months injured, and to come to a new club and everything was a little bit difficult.”
Willems has now started his first Premier League game and endured his first full 90 minutes (WhoScored), and is keen to show what he can offer in the absence of Ritchie – potentially showing what Newcastle have been missing for the last three years.
“I can play anywhere down the left-hand side, now Matt Ritchie is injured, so I can show that I can play there,” he said, via quotes by the Chronicle.
Newcastle fans, do you rue missing out on Willems while McClaren was still in charge? Let us know in the comments below…Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more Newcastle notifications!