No longer the laughing stock of the league?
What a difference a year makes. After just missing out on a Top 10 finish at the end of last season, there were positive signs for the club going into the 2011/12 campaign. Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye were brought in to bolster the squad, as well as a host of other signings, but then everything seemed to spiral out of control.
Two established first-team players took to Twitter to voice their discontent at the board and the club as a whole, following the departures of Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan. Left-back Jose Enrique believed that the club would never compete for European places with such a policy: “This club will never again fight to be among the top six again”, he tweeted.
Joey Barton, Newcastle United’s captain during the pre-season tour of America, also tweeted his concerns: “If only we as players could tell the fans exactly how it is, without them above fining us lots of money. There will be a time and a place.
If it wouldn’t effect team morale and cause unrest within the dressing room, am [sic] certain Jose’s comments would be the tip of the iceberg…”. The player then announced that he was going to make an announcement regarding his future. But the board beat him to the punch and placed him on the transfer list, for free.
Newcastle then started the season in incredible fashion, becoming one of only six teams in Europe with an unbeaten record after 12 games. The signing of Demba Ba on a free turned into one of the signings of the season and has, so far, come up with 16 goals.
Despite failing to sign a striker to go alongside Ba in the summer transfer window, Newcastle had put themselves amongst the big boys at the top of the league and Alan Pardew followed this up with the most expensive signing of the January window. Papiss Cisse was brought in from Bundesliga side Freiberg for £10 million and the striker has immediately lived up to the expectations of a striker wearing the number nine shirt at Newcastle.
Pardew himself stressed that Cisse was the player he wanted as soon as Carroll had left and the player also revealed that everything was in place for a summer move – only for his team to cancel the deal at the last minute.
With five wins on the bounce – the first time any Newcastle team has achieved this in the Premier League, Pardew’s men are on the road to Europe with a Champion’s League place still up for grabs. If you had told any Newcastle fan that they would be competing with the Top 4 in April you would have been laughed at.
It can also be said that Mike Ashley is growing on a number of fans. I have to be honest and say I was disappointed that the club had sold a number of key players, while I was also concerned about the direction the team was heading in. However, full credit has to be given to Ashley, Pardew and chief scout Graham Carr.
Once famed for frivolous spending and high wages, Newcastle have implemented a transfer system that is already paying off, and the days of splashing out on undeserving players looks to be over. With the prospect of Europe, the club is looking at the prospect of attracting players who are desperate to pit their wits against Europe’s finest and prove themselves at the highest level both in European competition and in the Premier League.
United have shaken off the stigma of the team that was relegated/had a terrible defence/made terrible signings/had players rebel on twitter/had Dennis Wise as director of football, and have turned in to a force to be reckoned with.
After an unfavourable start to life as club owner, Ashley has turned things around and appears to have the backing of the fans for the first time in his five years at the club. All of this has come from positive results on the pitch and the fantastic work done by Pardew and his backroom staff.
A journalist told me at the start of the season that it was somewhat easier to write about Newcastle when they were making headlines for the wrong reasons. Perhaps now the task is just as easy writing about the club for the right ones.