As often happens, I was looking up something else to do with Newcastle United and happened across something else entirely accidentally.
When Stoke visited last season, can you remember what our team was?
Remember, this was the team that beat Stoke 5-1, rather fortunately it has to be said due to the two sending offs, but that win made it seven Premier Leagues out of nine and an impressive 22 points out of 27.
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It has to be said that Newcastle United looked in rude health heading towards the second half of the season, within breathing distance of the Champions League placings, just what could be possible if Mike Ashley spent some of the tens of millions of extra TV cash in the January window…
I looked down the list of names that played against Stoke on Boxing Day last season;
Hatem Ben Arfa
Incredibly, United have lost half that team, exactly half the outfield players are no longer here and I have to say it is certainly the better half that we have lost.
Newcastle have kept Anita, Coloccini, Gouffran, Williamson and Sissoko.
Whilst Ben Arfa, Santon (loan with view to permanent deal at Inter), Cabaye, Remy and Debuchy are no longer with us.
Some of you may claim differently now but I can’t imagine at that point, Boxing Day 2013, a single Newcastle fan would have chosen to keep the five outfield players we still have, rather than the five who are no longer at St. James’Park.
After Boxing Day last season the top of the Premier League table showed (points then club);
41 Manchester City
For me this is one of those sliding doors moments, a ‘what if’.
What if at that point Mike Ashley had said to his squad,
“Brilliant season so far, joint fourth and I didn’t buy a single player in the summer. Look, what a great opportunity this is, I’m going to back you with new signings, I’ll use the £30m extra TV cash I still have in my pocket to but the striker and central defender we’ve desperately needed for years. This club is going places and together we can do something really special.”
Of course we all know that last January things didn’t quite work out that way…not a penny spent, best player sold and only five Premier League wins in the next ten months.
The five players who aren’t now at the club may have had their idiosyncrasies but they had undeniable talent and were international players.
No doubt some of you will be shouting that players like Janmaat and Perez have been good signings and of course they have, but that level of very decent signings should have been brought in to play with the likes of Cabaye, Remy and the rest, while Williamson, Anita and Gouffran were ushered out the back door. Plus of course the quality striker and centre-half we are still waiting for…
Keep your best players an try to add to that pool, whilst turning over some supporting cash by getting rid of those who are the weakest. This is what any decent club does and how it worked under Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan.
Instead under Mike Ashley everything has been turned upside down and the best players are actively advertised for sale and we end up stuck with mediocre players on long-term contracts who end up sticking around, simply because nobody else is interested in them.
Considering how demoralised everybody is now, it is hard to believe that within the last two and a half years Mike Ashley has passed up two golden chances to push on and very likely get Newcastle United into the Champions League, with the chance to then really realise our potential.
Summer 2012 and winter 2013 are so very recent but to me now feel like they are are forever ago.