New signings, Rafa Benitez, who should still leave, current Newcastle United squad v 2009/10…

Answering these and a host of other questions about our Championship challenge, we have writer Jamie Smith giving his thoughts on Newcastle United and how ready they are to do the business in the next nine months.

The players that have come in?

Overall pleased although I’d hope to see 2-3 more. Individually I’d say:

Gayle – seemed well thought of by Palace fans and a good buy for Championship level where I’m sure he’ll score goals. Whether it be as the main man or a supporting player remains to be seen.

Hanley – potentially the commanding centre-half we’ve failed to buy for several years now. Seems to have the right attitude and could be the most important signing.

Hayden – again an ideal Championship buy. Will look to prove himself after having the way blocked at Arsenal and judging by pre-season another one that seems to be made of the right stuff.

Selz – bit of a clanger v Doncaster but has a good pedigree. Will he be our number one? It’s definitely competitive in goal.

Ritchie – another that could thrive at this level, although the noises from Bournemouth suggest he could have stayed in the Premier League. Seems a great deal in the circumstances.

Gamez- in a way the most important signing, as his age shows that Rafa has broken the restrictions on transfers that have crippled the club into this mess. Adds experience in a weak area.

As it stands, we are on the verge of completing deals for Diame, who would be very welcome to fill the role in the middle of the park, and probably do it with more application and enthusiasm than either Wijnaldum or Sissoko; and Clark from Villa. This is one that’s raising a few eyebrows but the lad seems quite well thought of, and if we are snatching the better players from the squad of a major promotion rival that has got to be a confidence booster.

The players who have left?

A welcome purge.

The release of Taylor and Coloccini was well overdue. Both had their moments at United but Taylor’s were fleeting and Coloccini’s long past, with the past 3 years or so seeing this duo as liabilities. Obertan and Marveaux, see above, but without the caveat of any previous moments.

Cisse also outstayed his welcome, but his seemingly random goal scoring probably extended our stay in the Premier league in the recent past. Beyond this lot, we’ve seen the kitty swelled considerably by the sales of Wijnaldum and Townsend, with Sissoko surely set to follow.

I’ve made my feelings on Wijnaldum widely known, a ghost player whose contributions were sporadic. Townsend was more of an undisputed success, and I find it deeply disappointing that he baled for the first Premier league club that came calling.

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I could understand a club in Europe, or the need to retain his England place in a major championship year, but to sign up for a likely relegation fight as opposed to showing some faith in Benitez’ long-term project qualifies him for arsehole status in my book. The most disappointing exit by far.

This first team compared to Championship one of 2009/10?

In 2009, several of those complicit in the relegation stood up to be counted, with the likes of Nolan, Carroll, Smith and Gutierrez forging a team spirit that was the driving force behind the runaway success. With no investment in that summer, the board were very lucky that Chris Hughton and these players had the attitude to turn things round.

This time it has required considerable transfer activity to hopefully put us in this position but we are operating more on invention than pure luck.

Current squad v 2009/10 one?

We have suffered horribly in recent years due to inept transfer regulations that has left the squad unbalanced and dangerously thin in certain areas. In 2009 this wasn’t the case so much as it was still early in the Ashley era, although the neglect of the summer left us thin in some positions, if not in talent. Given Rafa Benitez is making the calls now I have more confidence in us getting a good team out, but squad wise I’d feel happier if 3 or 4 more arrived by September.

Mike Ashley turns over new leaf or simply desperately realising he had to agree to Rafa’s demands to prevent total disaster?

I’ll never really trust Ashley and I think if it weren’t for Rafa we’d never be experiencing this.

I want to see

  1. a) how the post-Wonga sponsorship deal is handled, especially regarding the name of the ground and
  2. b) funds being released in the coming transfer windows to allow Rafa to build towards his targets (and ensure he stays at the club).

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Six key players this coming season?

Lascelles and Hanley could both be massive players for the club this season and the long-term. Vital that we learn to defend. A strong goal return is essential so both Gayle and Mitrovic need to have good seasons and Matt Ritchie emerging as a success would go a long way to sending us up.

Finally, I have an inexplicable feeling that Vurnon Anita is set to emerge as the star of the season and begin on a route to cult hero status that seemed impossible a couple of years ago.

Other players you’d still like to see leave?

Sissoko and anyone else who doesn’t want to be here. There is a project being launched, an actual, solid plan and if people don’t feel engaged by that they can f***ing absquatulate quick as you like.

How would you rate your enthusiasm as a Newcastle fan at this moment (compared to recent seasons) and are you planning on going to matches?

Higher than at any time since the false dawn of the Keegan recruitment of 2008.

Despite participating in every boycott or protest arranged, I have kept my season ticket on throughout the whole mess. Me and my mates have young families and developing careers and the matches are a chance to get together for a beer and a laugh. Without that I would have seriously considered walking away.

I have a baby due in September that will see me with three kids under five years old, which for the uninitiated is a bit of a handful. In the early stages of the pregnancy I said to my wife that I would be more choosy about attendance this season, given the challenges she’ll have looking after them for a day. This was partly out of duty and wanting to get a bit more time with my family, but the depressing spectacles at SJP over the past 4 years have been a factor too. The amount of times I’ve had a great weekend but it’s been tainted or downright ruined by a shoddy, unacceptable performance on the pitch is off the scale since the relative upsurge of 11/12.

My decision to be absent more was a part-reflection of this, but the progress since the arrival of Rafa has got me keen to go every week now. Maybe she’ll read this and sympathise with me….

Any positions that Newcastle still definitely need to strengthen in transfer market?

Another striker, left sided midfielder and a left-back. However, I wouldn’t say no to any amount of reinforcements.

Survive in Premier League with McClaren or Championship with Rafa?

Rafa, no contest. I was only just saying recently that the pursuit of Townsend instead of a striker in the transfer window cost us the points that sent us down. However, if we had got someone to add a finishing touch, it could have turned enough results that the clown McClaren stayed in situ.

The fact that we’ve got Rafa in has transformed the club and being in the Championship is doing little to dampen the enthusiasm. It could even be a positive in some ways, as it purges the heartless from the squad and gives a more likely platform to build a winning mentality to hopefully go up with momentum.

Percentage chance of finishing as Champions this season and percentage chance of just getting promotion?

My bookies have us as 4/7 on for promotion and they’re often right. You’ve got to say 75% chance of the title and 90% promotion surely?

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Rafa Benitez?

I realise we’re all in danger of getting carried away, but this club was dying a slow painful soulless death, completely disconnected from its support and lurching from one disaster to the next. Out of nowhere this bloke has arrived and systematically gone about correcting all the wrongs.

The fact that such a major figure in world management has seen the potential here and realised how far this club could go if everything is done properly has been an incredible galvanising factor.

If and when we go up it will be with genuine ambition for the seasons ahead. I have a terrible fear of it all going wrong (this is NUFC after all) but I genuinely believe Rafa could be the most important figure in the club’s recent history.

I am humbled he’s staying here and beyond grateful for the return of hope and belief that he has brought.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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