Thanks to James Brown for his first contribution to The Mag, to feature on the website and in the magazine send in your letters/articles to [email protected]
During the disappointing defeat down at Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames, I became so frustrated with certain Newcastle players, that I almost grabbed a pen and paper to tally how many times they needlessly gave the ball away.
Shamefully, I must admit, I was watching the game on the telly at home in Sheffield, however this did provide the perfect view to witness our team’s complete lack of ability to retain possession of a football. In amongst the atmosphere of a live game, particularly away matches, it is easy to get swept along with the emotion and heap loud praise on those players who appear to give 100% for the cause. Watching from home on the other hand, whilst not being preferable, does allow for a certain level of detachment and a cold analysis of the players running around in Black and White/Burgundy/neon green.
The target of my frustrations was not no nonsense Mike Williamson, it is not his job to play possession football. Williamson is in the team to defend (something he doesn’t always do to a Premier League standard, granted) so he can be forgiven for a few aimless punts upfield. Cheik Tiote often seems to possess the midfield generalship of an overweight Sunday League has-been; but again in a fully fit team, he is not in the team to dictate play and find passes. Tiote is our enforcer, and very good at it too, the likes of whom teams such as Manure, and Benitez’s (or whoever else is in charge at Stamford Bridge come time of publication) men in Blue, are lacking. So he too, is forgiven.
If you listen to the television commentators and pundits, the chants from the fans, and countless articles in newspapers and in this fine publication, you could be led to believe that Jonas Gutierrez is an integral part of our team that we desperately miss when he is not available. This is a team that has been beaten by Stoke, Southampton, West Ham and Fulham this season and failed to win against the likes of Reading and Aston Villa with Gutierrez in the starting eleven.
This season, and for many periods in the previous season, we seem incapable of stringing more than four or five passes together which inevitably has led to our attacking players being starved of any service worth noting. This isn’t a naive cry for a brand of fiesta football in the style of Barcelona or Brazil; we simply don’t, and probably never will, possess that calibre of player. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect Premiership footballers, that earn more money than any of us can contemplate, to be able to pick out a teammate from 10 yards under no serious amount of pressure.
Nor am I ignoring the astonishing workrate that Jonas delivers on the pitch. I recall one moment in the 80th minute or so last night when following a desperate attempt to chase back and aid his defence, Jonas was left blowing, bent over, with his hands on his knees. The man is committed to the cause, there is no doubt about that, and has been a refreshing relief from the hordes of work shy mercenaries we have had to endure over recent years.
Unfortunately, for our Argentinian greyhound, another passage of play sticks in my mind equally as vividly, is a promising United attack that was promptly extinguished by Gutierrez finding it impossible to put an easy ball through into space for Ben Arfa to run onto in the first half. This wasn’t an isolated incident, not only during the defeat at Fulham, or even this season, but for the whole time Jonas has worn a Newcastle shirt.
Yes, he provides invaluable cover to our young Italian left back, game after game; but is this really his job? What happened to attack being the best form of defence? Those amongst us who point to the distinct lack of digits in his goals and assists columns are frequently browbeaten into silence on the terraces, in the pre-match pubs, post-match phone ins, by evangelists using his defensive capabilities as their preaching point.
Would Davide Santon need so much help if the man in front of him gave the opposition full back something to worry about over the course of 90 minutes? When was the last time you saw Jonas break behind the opposition defence and reach the line? Whether Jonas is being instructed to play this way, or whether he is simply limited by his ability, is this the approach you want the team you love to be taking towards the game?
The facts are inescapable. Jonas offers very little attacking menace, frequently running (not always taking the ball with him) down blind alleys, and often is the cause for a United move – breaking down through loose passes and bad decisions, forcing us onto the back foot yet again. There is an argument to be made that Jonas is the unwitting architect of the conditions that allow him to shine in his rearguard heroism.
Perhaps I have been spoilt. I began life as a Newcastle fan as a six year old watching wide players such as Ginola and Gillespie tearing teams apart with their running and endeavour. My hazy memories of those days don’t enable me to acknowledge any tactical deficiencies that Keith Gillespie may have had, but the images I have of him are of countless balls being speared into the penalty area for Shearer and Ferdinand to attack. We were dangerous. Teams knew that whether at St James or away from home, they had to hamper our wide players before they had any chance of success.
The Keegan team of the nineties couldn’t defend, and this swashbuckling approach to the game cost us at least one Premier League title, but we did ALMOST win the league by invariably scoring more goals than the other team. Something we seem to find increasingly difficult these days.
Following another dismal England performance in a major international tournament, Alan Shearer dismissed the fact that the team showed application and responsibility and at least ‘tried’, saying that if working hard is the only criteria, then he could easily find 11 men willing to do this in Newcastle city centre on any Saturday afternoon.
Jonas will never be forgotten for staying with us to help us out of the Championship and being part of the team that miraculously saw us return to European football, but he will never give us the attacking presence to consistently be a top six team.
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