It’s hard enough being Newcastle fans at the best of times…but when the team have been relegated, you’re living in a foreign country (Netherlands), and the club has made it clear that its players from that country are surplus to requirement, then it’s an absolute nightmare.
At least last time (2009/10) we had the Championship Show on the BBC, even if you had to stay up till the wee hours to catch a few minutes of NUFC in action. That’s gone, and this time around, with no marque Dutch players featuring for Newcastle, they’ve completely disappeared from the local TV.
Ziggo Sports has the rights to the Championship but they’ve got so many leagues and so few football channels they’re not even showing all the Sky Sports games. And when they did finally find a gap in their schedule over Christmas, we got the delights of the Blackburn and Sheffield Wednesday defeats, replete with much cooing and aahing when one-time Feyenoord Wunderkind Glenn Loovens scored the Owls’ winner.
So it has been fairly thin pickings this season and I have been forced to fall back on social media as a way of finding out what’s going on. It’s definitely a mixed bunch, and a question of sorting the wheat from the chaff, blocking out the heed-the-balls seeking their fifteen minutes of fame by shouting nonsense from the sidelines.
But needs must and in the last four months that social media has been my only consistent source of club information. There’s plenty of good accounts around that have opinions and ideas over what’s going on and offering good food for my own thoughts as I try to puzzle out this rollercoaster season.
So in no particular order and with full credit to the numerous accounts I follow, here’s my analysis of where the sager voices of the NUFC Twittermind thinks things are currently going.
There’s hidden value in the squad.
We’ve heard plenty about our past failings down being to our players getting “Pardew-ed” – quality players whose flair was ground down by the former manager’s dour approach. Carver offered little positive player development and the less said about McClaren the better.
But it wasn’t just us emotional Newcastle fans abusing underappreciated managers – AP’s departure from Crystal Palace after one of the worst records in Europe, highlighted that NUFC was systematically failing to get the most out of its players.
And this season it’s been a delight to see several players who seemed to be sliding to the exit stepping up and establishing themselves as squad regulars. It’s great to see local lads Paul Dummett & Jack Colback finding some reasonable form, and Yoan Gouffran’s positive spell could foreshadow the team finally gelling into a competitive top-flight club.
Without Rafa, we’re screwed.
With every week that passes, more details come out from the club on what it was like before Rafael Benitez came in. And for all our suspicions that it was a chaotic mess, the steady drip-drip of new information demonstrates compellingly that we were almost broken beyond repair.
The owner lucked out in recruiting Benitez, a passionate manager with experience and prizes at the highest European level, and with his time at Liverpool, a real affection for well-organised English fans. His famous eye for detail has been ruthlessly cast over the Newcastle set-up and he’s made changes at every level that are taking us back to where we should be.
But we needn’t forget that he’s engaged in a long-term building job, building back a club that’s gone through death of a thousand cuts against the backdrop of a capricious recruitment policy. If Rafa leaves, the reality is of a decade struggling under journeymen English managers toward mid-table Championship mediocrity, or worse, the ignominy of a bankruptcy-driven relegation to the old Third Division.
Newcastle fans are extremely febrile and need a reality check
It’s always shocked me as a sometime SJP visitor, just how quickly the fans get on our players’ backs. There’s always been a restless element in the crowd who the moment things aren’t going to their satisfaction in a match, feel taken to start whistling mistakes and booing our own players.
Fan dissatisfaction with the regime was warranted under Pardew and may well have contributed to Mike Ashley’s change of heart in handing the keys to the club over to Rafa. But given just how far we’ve come so quickly under Benitez, it’s maybe time for realism in the fight in the season ahead.
We’ve got pretensions to be a ‘big club’ because of the size of the gate we get and the passion of the fans. But all too often at the moment, that passion seems to boil over into an impetuousness that’s undermining any ‘twelfth man’ factor we could be enjoying at the moment.
Newcastle are getting promoted – probably
I only write that last word out of a fear of jinxing what looks like the extremely unlikely feat of a second direct bounce-back after seven wasted years. The club have put all the right ingredients in place to mount a sustained challenge for promotion in what is one of the most intense leagues in the world.
Barring some kind of deus ex machina (unexpected power or event) disaster, we’ve got depth in the squad that is going to pay dividends in February just as the smaller squads are hitting the wall. With the quality of coaching that Rafa’s put in place, players are going to be learning and improving both individually and as a unit, eliminating the problems and the jitters that have seen points frittered in recent games.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park, but every misstep will feel harder because we all know what’s at stake if we don’t go straight back up.
But hopefully, we’ll weather the storm and six months from now, we’ll all be a lot calmer, wiser, and looking forward to being able to enjoy watching classy top-flight football at SJP courtesy of Rafa.
You can follow Paul on Twitter @heravalue