Writer Paul Benneworth has bucked the trend, whilst the United squad now includes five Dutch players, Newcastle fan Paul is in working exile in Holland, from where he brings us his latest monthly column.
We have been enjoying a late summer period here in Enschede, and with the temperature around 18 this Saturday I am glad I chose a barbecue over the Manchester City game.
Any kind of spark of hope I had for this season after the Chelsea draw was extinguished when I saw – on Teletext, the old-fashioned way – that we were 6-1 down, with time left on the clock.
A collapse like that signals that the club is missing the glue that holds a team together on the pitch when the tide starts to turn and stops a gutless defeat turning into an embarrassing rout.
We talk about players’ heart for ninety minutes, and there’s been a clear collective failing there, but for me it’s as much what happens in the rest of the week that gives the team the moral fibre to dig in and avoid a collapse.
Everything in football is about giving yourself the best chance of being at the right place at the right time, and the modern footballer demands a huge amount of care, physically and emotionally, to be able to perform their best. What builds up is a shared sense of belief, trust and openness amongst the players’ group that drives the players forward to victory, and more importantly, gives a survival instinct when things aren’t going as planned.
Manchester United’s long-term success was built on a whole infrastructure that continually gives these positive-reinforcement and negative-punishment signals to their players. David Moyes’ failure in Manchester arguably came because he failed to grasp this, and tried to run everything himself through his own confidantes rather than making use of the Rolls-Royce Man U machine.
My favourite Sir Alex story was on hearing that a couple of younger players were partying near to curfew, he literally went and dragged them home. If stepping an inch out of line leads to total humiliation in front of your friends, then you’re going to make sure that you take everything the coach says seriously. You listen a bit harder, you pay a bit more attention, and that makes you that bit better as a player in the long run.
At Newcastle, we know that there is no player support system – everything’s been economised away.
Advertising’s run to benefit the owner’s interests and a rather unsavoury payday lender, scaring off other sponsors who would otherwise love to benefit from an association with the Magpies. ‘Premium media partners’ with privileged access sees Newcastle drift away from mainstream attention, who save their attention for venting their Schadenfreude when we drop one like on Saturday.
The endlessly delayed plans for investment in youth infrastructure have once more taken a backseat to lucrative but non-sporting commercial plans for the development round Gallowgate. And whilst scouting and transfers seems to have been saved the current general miserliness, this season’s shocking results show a few marque signings can never compensate for failing to invest in the club’s root and branch fabric.
Everything has been pared to the bone, with last season’s debacle as the absolute proof of how far we’ve fallen. There’s no space to think about building for the future when the whole house of cards is tumbling down around you.
No one knows how far we can fall – the Championship, League One, administration – real doom scenarios are now threatening.
If we’re serious about saving the club we all love, then there’s only one thing that we can do, and that’s give the players the support they need but simply aren’t getting from the club.
They have got to feel that we adore their great performances, and let them know when they’ve put in a great turn of work, even when they’ve been let down by the rest of the whole sorry mess. Throw our voice behind the real leaders on the pitch and give them the legitimacy to drag the rest of the team with them.
I honestly feel that the Toon are drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, and we’re past the point of Sack McClaren or Sack the Board.
What we’re fighting for is the right to keep that Sir Bobby feeling, that “feeling of a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time… and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
We’ve got to hope that the penny drops in the boardroom and they realise that without a decent supportive environment for the players’ group then we’re doomed to endlessly fighting a relegation battle.
Until that faraway moment, it’s down to us as fans to provide players with the much-needed positivity and encouragement that the club seem currently utterly unable to provide.
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