We have asked a number of our regular/irregular contributors various question about Newcastle United – the events of last season and moving forward.
Up this time is Neil Sybenga:
Mike Ashley is pushing ahead with a development on land opposite the Gallowgate End which almost certainly will make it impossible to ever expand St James Park in the future (This will only profit him and not the football club). What are your thoughts, especially considering Newcastle averaged over fifty one thousand in the Championship.
I don’t really see much of an issue with the development of land behind the Gallowgate End. If this goes ahead and prevents us extending that area of the ground then so be it.
We are not really in a position to be extending our ground given that we have been perennial Premier league strugglers for the majority of the past 10 years. Should we ever make a sustained effort to be a top 6 side challenging for and winning honours every year then surely that would be the time to redevelop. If that time ever comes and we can’t redevelop then building a new stadium has to be the most beneficial solution.
St James Park is our spiritual home but sentiment cannot be a preventative force if looking to progress. Arsenal, Spurs and Man City have all built or are building new homes, Everton are planning to, even our fierce local rivals took the plunge many moons ago and I’ve not heard any of my Mackem or Smoggy mates saying they regret it. If we need a bigger stadium to accommodate our fans because we are being successful then build a new one, Leazes Park anyone?
How does this promotion team compare to the 2009/10 one?
I think the team that has achieved promotion this season has performed equally as well as the team that achieved promotion in 2009/10, in what is undoubtedly becoming a more difficult league to get out of season upon season.
The backbone of the side that won promotion under Chris Hughton remained intact following relegation and contained lots of experienced players, both domestically and internationally. Hughton, and some of the senior players, did a great job ridding the club of the deadwood and the team spirit created is mirrored by that of Benitez’s team this season.
I feel the Rafa team had to be restructured following relegation and that he had to inject the experience and team spirit that was slightly lacking in comparison to the 09/10 team. Both teams throughout the season were hard to beat, went on some really good unbeaten runs and got the job done without really ever excelling in any department.
Somebody who deserves more credit for last season than they maybe have received?
The groundsman and his staff. Never have I seen the pitch looking as good as it did on the last game of the season and this is despite the fact that far more games had been played on it compared to premier league seasons. I see it has now been ripped up to start again and I can only hope it handles the rigours of professional football as well as it did last season.
How would you rate Rafa Benitez last season on:
I think Rafa has made some shrewd signings so far and only the odd blip. The likes of Ritchie, Gayle and Clark have excelled and Hayden is developing in to a real player in the middle of the park. He could be a real steal and a pivotal figure in Rafa’s teams in years to come.
Hanley did not really produce any kind of form but was a reliable enough back up when called upon. Murphy was worth the money and chipped in with some important goals. I was left a little disappointed with Lazaar, Gamez and Diame, none of whom really left me feeling they would be missed should they depart this summer.
Yedlin definitely has potential and could yet be excellent value for the fee paid, while Atsu showed flashes of his undoubted ability and under Rafa will hopefully improve under his guidance.
All in all I am happy with our transfer dealings so far under Rafa and should he be given full backing, I believe he could address issues with playing style and formations with better quality players who offer more options in all areas. Benitez has a really good track record in transfers, no manager has a perfect one, and I trust him to get it right for us.
As previously mentioned I was a little bit disappointed with the home tactics in particular. St James Park should have been a fortress last season but rarely did we strike fear into the opposition and were often far too easy to defend against. I’m not saying moving forward we need to play two up front but with the right purchases the one up front that Benitez played last season could be far more effective.
For me, it’s all about giving the opposition more to think about; more pace, more width, more flair, more creativity and more goal threats. Defensively I don’t see too much wrong. We are a hard working team with a good team ethic. The basis is there but can we take the next step?
There were some really good games last season and some excellent goals both from individuals and team goals. I’m not one of these fans who expects to be treated to the footballing entertainment of the Keegan era at every home game but yes I would like a little more excitement. For me it’s just a really refreshing change to actually be looking forward to going to games regardless of the fixture or result. There is an air of optimism at St James Park these days and long may it continue.
In terms of Rafa Bentitez’ performance last season I would rate it 7 out of 10. Yes we won the league but I feel there is plenty of room for improvement.
Some of his team selections had me baffled and the reliance on one up front, especially at home, was a little disappointing and was a significant factor in our rather poor home record in my opinion. I think we will improve as a team, become more expansive and have far more options going forward should Rafa have a successful summer recruitment.
He’s an experienced manager with a fantastic CV but it remains to be seen how he will develop things as manager of Newcastle and how far he can take us in the premier league and beyond. A solid 7 out of 10 for now…….I hope to God he gets to a 10!
How did the Championship season turn out compared to what you imagined would happen?
At the start of the season I would actually have been happy to make the play-offs and that’s probably the innate sense of being let down by my beloved club time after time preventing me being overly optimistic. As the season wore on I would have been left tremendously disappointed had we not secured automatic promotion as it became clear we were ahead of our competitors in a number of areas and was delighted we clinched a well-deserved championship. The Championship is tough, we all know that, so I guess my head was saying “top 6 would be good” while my heart was saying “we will easily get promoted and probably win the league.”
If no signings (other than Atsu) where would this current squad/team finish in the Premier League?
If NUFC do not sign another player this summer I still believe we are good enough to stay well clear of safety, 10th to 15th for me. This opinion is due mainly to the fact that:
We have a world class manager who I believe will out think a number of his rivals next season particularly those who are touted as being our relegation rivals, that alone is worth a few points on the board.
We do actually have some players of premier league quality. Gayle has shown he can score goals at that level if given the opportunities, Shelvey and Clark have premier league experience, Ritchie has shown he can be equally as effective as he was last season when stepping up a division. That’s not a bad start!
We have a team who believe in their manager and work hard for each other. We haven’t always had that and it’s worth its weight in gold when your backs are against the wall.
With level of signings you anticipate, how high do you think Newcastle can aim next season?
If Newcastle sign the standard of players I believe they should be targeting and strengthen key areas of weakness, I think top 10 is more than achievable. I think we could be a real surprise package next season but as ever, that will depend on summer recruitment.
If 10 was Mike Ashley totally changing his outlook on running Newcastle and 0 not at all, how far do you think he has moved (if at all) in the 15 months Rafa Benitez has been at St James Park?
I don’t think Mike Ashley has changed his outlook on running Newcastle at all.
I think he has been ill advised, made some awful decisions and with his lack of knowledge in the world of football did not realise the size of the task. As a business we seem to be in a rather healthy position compared to others and that side of things he appears to have got right. Unlike a lot of supporters I don’t for one second believe our owner wants to have a losing team. It just doesn’t make sense for someone who is hugely successful in other areas of business to be happy that one of them is failing!
The only thing that has really changed recently is that we now have a manager we want, the fans are united for the club again and the direction looks a lot more purposeful. Maybe last season was a bit of a wake up call and the passion that has been reignited by Benitez and his team may be rubbing off on our owner. Only time will tell if he is fully on board with the Rafalution.
How do you rate local media coverage of Newcastle these days?
In general I am happy with local media coverage, you can always find the latest updates on transfers, team news etc. However, there are often times when “nothing articles” appear that are basically just written so there is something to read. They offer nothing new, relevant, or of any real value. Most of the coverage is particularly positive and it seems as though regional media have been swept up in the Rafalution just like the fans, rarely have I seen a bad word written about him.
How do you rate national media coverage of Newcastle these days?
In comparison, national media can’t wait to paint a negative picture of us. They, in my opinion, hate any kind of success outside of London and all too often the big three North East teams don’t get the coverage they deserve/merit. Yes! There hasn’t been much to shout about in these parts lately but national media can’t wait to put the boot in and seem to take great pleasure in our woes, particularly the black and white ones.
What would be your ideal first Newcastle Premier League fixture of the season?
My ideal first fixture of the season would obviously be a home one and I’d like any of the top 8 from last season. It’s the best time to play them, before they are in full stride and at least gives us a chance. If I had to pick I’d say Chelsea. I think there may be a real FA cup hangover from them and a bit of complacency against us. If I get my wish then I’d plump for 2-0 home…all depending on what happens this summer of course.
Three words to describe how you feel about Newcastle United at the minute?
Positive – Wary – Enthused.
How positive do you feel about progress being made underneath first team level at Newcastle?
Progress underneath first team level at Newcastle is similar to a lot of clubs……SLOW.
We have the odd few that make the breakthrough and under the current regime there seems to be more emphasis and investment in this area but it will take time. I think the biggest problem is youth coaching and the way academies are run, but maybe that’s for another article as I have plenty to say on that matter.
At the end of the day, if a manager like Rafa Benitez does not think someone is good enough then in all honesty they probably aren’t. I do hope some of the youngsters get an opportunity next year in the likes of the league cup. I don’t think you can ever know how good someone is going to be unless they’ve been given a chance.
I applaud the changes being made to the academy site and to the recruitment drive that is seeing us cast our net further afield in order to catch top young talent, but like I’ve said, it takes time and only time will tell in the end as to whether we have made progress.
What are your hopes/expectations for the atmosphere at St James Park next season and what could be done to improve it?
I hope next season we continue with the Gallowgate flags as it is a real spectacle from where I sit but I would love it to be extended to all areas of the ground. Now wouldn’t that be a sight?
I just hope we have a team that has maybe one or two players to get us on the edge of our seats and who are worth the admission money alone. The Ginolas, Asprillas, Beardsleys and Ben Arfas of this world. That would do it for me: more flags, more flair happy days at St James’.
One other change I would make is to the song we come out to. I like local hero but surely the Blaydon Races is ‘our’ song and that is what we should come out to. A few small changes in addition to an atmosphere that is really building momentum at present, could be a huge difference in this season and seasons to come.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])