Premier League

Cairney Could Prove £20m Newcastle Mistake

 • by Thomas McIlroy
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There is no smoke without fire and it’s clear Tom Cairney is a Newcastle United transfer target once again.

Linked with the Magpies for the last two transfer windows, the talk is that Rafa Benítez will go back in go the Fulham midfielder once more in January.

The Northern Echo says that after having a £20million bid rejected last summer, they are confident a move could be more likely in January.

The Whites turned down the approach as they believed their captain could become part of a promotion-winning team, but the season hasn’t gone to plan for Slaviša Jokanović’s side, who sit 17th in the Championship after 16 games, 18 points behind league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers.

If Cairney wants to chase his dream of playing in the Premier League, it certainly looks unlikely to happen with Fulham.

While the Scotland international may be tempted for a move away from Craven Cottage, the timing isn’t right for Newcastle to bring him in.

Last season he was brilliant as Fulham won 3-1 at Newcastle and we wrote six months ago how he’d be the perfect fit for Benítez’s side. But half a year can be a long time in football.

Not the player he was last season

Cairney has already missed 12 games through injury this season, compared to just two in 2016/17.

What’s more, he’s only ever really looked fit once – against Ipswich Town at the end of August, when Fulham won 2-0.

And while it’s no coincidence that his best performance of the season coincided with Fulham’s, it also shows how he’s not living up to his levels of last year as the Whites struggle to get going without their talisman on form.

Tom Cairney 2016/17 vs 2017/18

His performances this season don’t compare to the dominant force he was last term, when he was arguably the best midfielder in the Championship. The 26-year-old is without an assist and has scored just once.

It’s still early days, but he was directly involved in 23 Championship goals in 2016/17 – scoring ten himself and assisting 13. He’ll have to really hit form to match that total again.

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Last season, per 90 minutes, he was involved 0.52 goals directly per 90 minutes – around one every two matches. So far in 2017/18, Cairney has been involved in 0.2 per 90 – roughly one every five matches, quite a drop off.

What’s more, his chances created per 90 is also down this season, from 2.72 in 2016/17 to 2.27 in 2017/18.

In terms of passing, it’s also slightly worse this year – dropping from 92 per cent to 91 per cent – although that is still an impressive percentage in terms of accuracy.

And it has to be pointed out that the Scottish midfielder is actually making more passes this season on average so far – 88.56 to 79.13 per 90 minutes – and in 2016/17 no-one completed more than him in the Championship.

But he’s been much less successful in other aspects of his game, with his successful take-ons dropping considerably in 2017/18 – from 1.66 per 90 to 0.41.

And he’s also much less of a threat in front of goal, with only 33 per cent of his shots hitting the target, compared to 52 per cent last year.

Too much of a risk

Given his poor form this season, combined with his injury record, spending £20million – which would be the minimum Fulham would let him go for – seems a massive risk.

What’s more, Cairney isn’t proven in the Premier League.

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He’s played just 11 times at that level, totalling 896 minutes, with his last appearance in England’s top flight coming in the 2009/10 season.

While Benítez is clearly an admirer, it would make sense to bring him in at a time when he can make the most of him.

Cairney had a disrupted pre-season and is struggling this year because of it.

With Fulham also performing below par, the chances of the Whites being tempted into selling is low. They’d need a ridiculous offer to part with him midseason as fans would question the wisdom of selling their best player just six months after he signed a new deal with the aim of getting them to the Premier League.

The best chance for Newcastle to get hold of him will be at the end of the season, should they still be in the top flight – which at the moment looks a distinct possibility given their solid start to life back in the Premier League. Fulham will  still have reservations about selling, but there’s more chance of letting him go in the close season.

Then, they will be getting someone they can make sure is fully fit off the back of a full pre-season and, while he’ll be expected to perform, he’ll have had a bit of time to get used to Newcastle and his team-mates.

Buying Cairney now, when he isn’t 100 per cent fit and is performing at a considerably lower level than last season, is a recipe for disaster.

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