Being in the premier league affords little room for error and little opportunity to give players a chance when the stakes are so high, week in week out teams are coming up against quality opponents who are often international footballers.
Managers have a short life span in the top tier and are understandably often reluctant to put their faith in players who are unproven at that level. After Newcastle’s relegation to the championship, as heartbreaking as that is for supporters, it does give the manager and the club some opportunities that may have been missed if safety had been achieved.
Would Andy Carroll have played as often as he did in the Championship when Newcastle United were last relegated, if they had managed to stay up? Or would the club have spent millions on either keeping the strikers they had at the club or going out and finding replacements for the soon to depart Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka?
Newcastle United now have a clear opportunity to try and pick out the positives that can be had from relegation to the Championship. The opportunity to wipe the slate clean and completely change the transfer policy and the team building structure that has got them into this mess in the first place.
The club has this excellent opportunity to now build a team and a squad, not just for next season or the one after but for the next five years and beyond if they give players opportunities who deserve them and recruit and sell in a sensible progressive manner, that doesn’t mean selling your best players as soon as a decent offer comes in.
This squad building can be achieved by bringing in some players from the lower leagues with potential Premier League ability. Developing them into the first team along with giving players already at the club an extended opportunity in the first team to make their mark, that may not necessarily have come along if the club remained in the premier league.
In my opinion there are three players already on the books that the club need to have a good look at and base this team around. Opportunities need to be given before going out and spending money on replacements or offering new contracts/blocking transfers for players who may act as an obstacle to these three players claiming a first team place for next season and beyond.
If they turn out to not have what it takes then fair enough but now is the time to find this out and this can only happen if they are given an opportunity to start regularly.
The first player is Jamaal Lascelles, who towards the end of the season was one of the standout performers for the team. Lascelles is a young centre-back who has recent experience of the Championship and has all the potential attributes to be the commanding centre-half that the club has been crying out for in recent seasons. He also seems to have a knack of scoring the odd goal and the club hasn’t had a goal scoring centre-half for numerous years.
Towards the end of the season he showed passion, desire and leadership qualities beyond his years when many others went hiding. Maybe not next season but certainly in the future if he progresses, then the lad has captain material associated with his name and presence within the club.
Newcastle United should therefore look at getting rid of Coloccini and Steven Taylor ahead of next season. People may argue they can offer decent back up in that league but the fact is they are both finished and have been for some time, now is the time for them both to go. No contract offer for Taylor and a free transfer/loan deal for Coloccini.
Then look to build a partnership between Lascelles and one other, Mbemba if he stays and is committed, or somebody else needs to be signed with the money received if he goes. When they do look at centre-backs in the summer transfer window, I would prefer to see them bring players in who can either partner Lascelles if Mbemba goes, or more experienced campaigners and premier league loans that can act as cover to Lascelles and not replace him in the first team as this would be a backward step in my opinion.
The second player I would put in the must keep category is Adam Armstrong.
By all reports he is a highly talented youngster and is a local boy who has come through the ranks at the club. I believe many underestimate the importance of having players who come through the ranks that are from the area and can form an affiliation with fans even when they are maybe struggling for form.
Armstrong has progressed a lot last season (20 goals) on loan and deserves his opportunity at Newcastle to be in contention for the number 9 shirt after impressing for Coventry in League one. The third tier was obviously below his level last season and with an extra year of development and hopefully some progressive coaching, you would expect Armstrong to score goals in the championship.
To not give him the opportunity would be a big mistake in my opinion, if he is good enough then he will prove it with goals and performances in a similar way to how Harry Kane has at Tottenham. Many Spurs fans believed he was nothing more than a Championship striker and were screaming out for the club to go out and pay millions for a proven striker. Natural goal scorers are the hardest thing to find at a football club and often make all the difference to final places in a season, as we have found out recently.
The club may have potentially the best young Englishman going around currently on their books and the Championship is the perfect opportunity to give the lad his chance and see what he is made of. This means of course Cisse and Riviere are definitely out the door, even if it is on free transfers/loan deals.
I would also sell Mitrovic if an offer anywhere close to the cost Newcastle paid for him came in. If not keep him and he will certainly be a huge asset in the championship and will score goals at that level. After initially being impressed by the player, he just has too much mental baggage and ill discipline to form an integral part of any successful team in my opinion so I personally would cut my losses.
This then leaves Armstrong leading the line with Perez if he stays, who can also play as a wide man or anywhere along the forward line. He is therefore an ideal player to play alongside Armstrong, not instead of him, and therefore preventing his development, he can also offer an option up top if required. I would suggest then buying one other striker if Mitrovic leaves, who can come in and offer support to Armstrong and Perez and maybe use Ivan Toney as the fourth striker at the club, if he shows enough in pre-season.
The third player is a bit more contentious and because of a confused contract situation and a poor injury record the decision to hold and play him may not even be possible.
However, for me Rolando Aarons should be kept hold of and given an extended run in the first team (not at left back) if fit and available. I believe after what I have seen in his appearances for the club, the player has a lot of talent and this season could be the making of him as an attacking threat out wide for Newcastle United.
Depending on formation that is played by the manager, my two choices out wide would certainly be Aarons and Townsend if he stays. Cabella seems as if he is gone, Thauvin should be gone – even if on loan, while you would expect either Sissoko or Wijnaldum to go, if not both of them, rather than playing in the Championship. So opportunities may be there for Aarons to take, if he can manage to stay fit throughout the season.
Base a team around these three players with healthy goalkeeping options, even if one or two of our current keepers move on. Add the likes of Paul Dummett and Jack Colback who you would expect would want to stay and fight for their hometown club and you have the makings of a solid first eleven.
There are always one or two who may come through from the under 21 set up and put pressure on the first team squad and hopefully this will happen this year. Any money made available or brought in from sales can then be used to go and look for quality additions who are either young Championship ready with potential to improve into premier league players, or mid to late twenties players who know the league and can adequately replace the so-called star players that ultimately move on.
Rafa has agreed to stay and I believe this is a positive period for Newcastle United. Handled properly (which admittedly has been not very often in Mike Ashley’s time at the club) the club could set themselves up for a swift return to the Premier League, with a talented squad of players who will not only stay there, but progress in a way that we have all been dreaming of for years.