Three players Newcastle United should scout at 2023 AFCON, Asian Cup | THT Opinions

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup are right around the corner, and The Hard Tackle lists three players Newcastle United scouts should keep a close watch on.

AFCON runs from January 13 to February 11 in Ivory Coast, and the Asian Cup is in Qatar from January 12 to February 10. With so many strong teams competing for the crown of Asia and Africa’s best, there is an additional feeling of competition. In addition, top clubs, including Newcastle United, will have their eyes on the action keeping the market in mind

An exciting thing about Asian and African football right now is how the youth development process has improved over the years, with many players making their name in mainstream Europe in recent times. As a result, there will be a lot of talented players who will showcase their qualities and catch eyeballs.

Like many other Premier League clubs, Newcastle United’s recruitment team will be paying close attention to both competitions running from January to February, with numerous potential transfer targets showcasing their talents at the tournament, although prising them away from their respective clubs would not be easy.

With Eddie Howe’s side suffering a host of injuries all over the pitch this campaign, the Magpies could be forced to dip into the winter transfer market. Newcastle United have started to slip down the Premier League table in recent weeks and have been knocked out of the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Champions League, with their squad stretched to the limit with an injury crisis.

Central midfield is the area Newcastle’s manager will want to address first. Sandro Tonali’s ten-month ban and a host of absentees have left him with very few options. A loan deal for Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips could ease the stress in this department, allowing them to avoid paying a fee for a player like Tonali to eventually return.

A centre-back and a right-sided winger could be the other two positions that Howe and his recruitment team look to reinforce. However, the North East outfit will have to be careful to continue complying with the Premier League financial regulations after heavy spending since the takeover.

So, the St. James’ Park faithful maybe should not expect any superstars to arrive through the door before the winter window slams shut. The next summer window might be the one they push for their primary targets. With that in mind, the Hard Tackle takes a look at three stars who could be genuine transfer targets for Newcastle United either in January, or in the upcoming transfer windows.

Takefusa Kubo, Japan

Newcastle United could be looking to make an upgrade on Miguel Almiron in the near future. Although Almiron has upped his game in a Newcastle shirt in the last few years, he is now 29 years old, and the Magpies might be considering finding a long-term replacement.

The Paraguayan was impressive for the North East club last season, scoring the most goals he has scored in a single campaign since his move to St James’ Park. But he has crashed back down to earth this season, and his inconsistency is costing the Magpies on a near-weekly basis. Particularly in the last few weeks, there have been some serious chances wasted by Almiron, as he often finds himself in promising positions but less often converts.

Some people put it down to Almiron being poor with his weak foot. But in all honesty, he is not a convincing crosser of the ball with his strong foot either. He remains an infectious presser, but he has lost that ability to dribble past defenders using his sheer turn of pace.

Our original pick was Cameroon international Bryan Mbeumo, who has been on Newcastle’s radar for a long time now. He has developed into a key man on Brentford since joining from Troyes in 2019. He has also been Brentford’s standout performer so far this season, filling the void in the absence of star striker Ivan Toney.

Mbeumo is under contract until 2026. But he looks open to leaving the Bees’ in the summer of 2024. However, the 24-year-old will not actually be in action at the AFCON after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle. For that reason, we have gone with fleet-footed Japanese winger Takefusa Kubo, who would be a real coup of a signing if Newcastle United can pull it off next summer.

Dubbed “the Japanese Messi”, Kubo spent time in his youth career with the Barcelona academy before returning to Japan to begin his professional career. However, after impressing in his home country, Kubo chose Real Madrid and not Barcelona, joining on a free transfer in 2019.

Now a permanent member of the Real Sociedad squad after a series of loans, there is arguably no more exciting youngster in La Liga right now than the 22-year-old electrifying winger, who has an impressive 15 goals and 13 assists from 69 appearances for Real Sociedad since making the switch, going from strength to strength in that time.

This season, he already has six goals and four assists from 25 appearances, having also illustrated his qualities in the Champions League. Kubo is under contract with Real Sociedad until the summer of 2027, with a release clause in the region of £52 million inserted into his current deal.

It is said that suitors would need to pay the sum in full to stand any chance of snapping him up, with the Spanish outfit unwilling to entertain the idea of a cut-price move as things stand. But that has not deterred the interested parties, including Manchester United and Real Madrid.

The forward is said to be in no rush to leave, although Real Sociedad will find it difficult to keep him if they fail to adjust his salary before next summer, and the fact Newcastle United can offer him a starting spot at right wing from the outset could give them a real edge in the heated transfer battle for his services next summer.

Odilon Kossounou, Ivory Coast

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It is fair to say Newcastle United have thread-bare top-class centre-back options behind their first-choice pairing of Sven Botman and Fabian Schar. Club captain Jamaal Lascelles has been a reliable replacement for the Dutch centre-half in his absence. But Newcastle know they need more strength in depth if they want to become regulars in Europe and challenge for silverware.

As such, a move for Bayer Leverkusen’s Odilon Kossounou could be a solid signing if Howe decides he wants to bring in a more athletic centre-back next summer. He is under contract at Leverkusen until 2026, but could be available for a very reasonable fee in the region of £25–30 million.

The 23-year-old has not missed a game at the heart of Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen’s defence this season prior to his departure to join AFCON hosts Ivory Coast and has really established himself as a regular starter after playing a bit-part adjustment role last campaign.

Kossounou is a towering central defender who is incredibly strong in the air, tenacious in the tackle, and possesses impressive pace. He is also technically brilliant and has all of the attributes needed to succeed in the Premier League. He primarily operates as a centre-back, performing on the right side of the three-man defensive line set up by Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen.

Despite that, he has also adapted, during his Brugge period, to the right-back role, having the characteristics to roam, cover a lot of ground, and foray forward. This is because the Bayer Leverkusen defender is very comfortable driving the ball forward, ranking in the 97th percentile for progressive carries and the 98th percentile for successful take-ons per 90 in the past year.

Given that the youngster also has nine years on Schar and that Howe appears to enjoy working with young players, if Kossounou is recruited, the likelihood is that he could be their go-to centre-back option alongside Sven Botman for years to come at St. James’ Park.

Serhou Guirassy, Guinea

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Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak have both been roaring successes at St. James’ Park. Indeed, Wilson’s record in black and white stands at just shy of a goal every other game, with 46 strikes in 111 appearances.

Isak has quickly justified his lofty £63 million transfer fee by scoring 23 in 49 for the Magpies. The Sweden international has also brought bundles of energy to the frontline and is key to the pressing style Eddie Howe deploys.

However, with both suffering injuries at times this season, there is a fear that they could be without them once again, leaving the Magpies short in attack. In the long run, 24-year-old Isak is going to be the leading starting striker for the Toon unless Howe decides to revert to the two-striker system he used extensively during his Bournemouth days.

The obvious name that pops up is Victor Boniface, who will be representing the Nigerian national team at the AFCON. The 23-year-old joined Xabi Alonso’s high-flying Bayer Leverkusen over the summer from Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise. The striker, who stands at 6 ft 3 in tall, cost Leverkusen a fee in the region of £17.4 million.

Boniface has hit the ground running, notching 16 goals in his 23 appearances across all boards. His goalscoring exploits have helped Leverkusen set the pace in Germany, with the club unbeaten in the league and sitting atop the table at present.

The issue may come when Isak and Wilson are both fit, as there will be two strikers plus a potential new signing fighting for one position. Not only will Boniface cost an absolute fortune, but he is also stylistically very similar to Isak, a modern attacker who likes to drift wide and link up to make things happen with his pace and power.

What Newcastle United need is a third striker who will add greater physicality, an ability to hold the ball up, ball-striking, and poacher’s instincts in front of goal. Our pick for the striker position is 27-year-old Guinea international Serhou Guirassy, who has scored a remarkable 19 goals in 16 games for Stuttgart so far this season, and is already on Newcastle’s winter shortlist.

The Stuttgart goal machine reportedly has a very tasty £15 million release clause in his contract, making him the bargain of the window if he leaves the German outfit. But that has also attracted many bigwigs, including Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Real Madrid.

Guirassy’s goalscoring prowess has primarily been showcased during his stint with Stuttgart, prompting a fair share of scepticism about whether he has what it takes to score goals in the Premier League. or Is it just a purple patch? His performances for Minnows Guinea at AFCON will tell us more about the latter. Even if he flops, it is a very low-risk signing due to the release clause. Newcastle United paid a relatively similar amount to sign Chris Wood, after all.

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