Why Lessons Aren’t Being Learnt At Newcastle United?
The close season always gives football fans a chance to regroup and analyse where things went wrong, or right, and to get excited about the new season.
Well, there was plenty that could be argued went wrong with the Toon last season: failing to replace our in-form striker who left in January, baffling team selection, players out of position and many failing to play to their undoubted potential.
This though could all be put to bed with a positive pre-season set-up, a few inspired and much needed signings and words of encouragement from the manager to get us all salivating at the prospect of the first ball being kicked.
However, as of today, there is not a huge amount of evidence that any lessons have been learnt from the disaster that was last season. Ba has still not been replaced and many of the top strikers we were supposedly in for have gone elsewhere.
Bent is a name readily bandied about but he relies on service, as does Cisse: if Cisse was a forward starved of any decent service, what is Bent supposed to feed on? Both of them offer little else and only become animated when they have a chance at goal.
Two seasons ago, there was huge excitement as we battled away at the top end of the league, punching above our weight to secure fifth place. Throughout the campaign, excited voices spoke about getting into Europe. Lo and behold, we make the Europa league and all of a sudden it becomes a poisoned chalice!
Even though we often fielded an almost completely different team to our premiership 1st XI, all the players were tired from their European jaunt. Throw in yet another embarrassing loss in the FA cup, a battle with relegation that was out of our hands in the end, and you have a pretty miserable year.
Pardew is still the manager, rightly or wrongly: he must have some credit for the 5th place finish, but also therefore take the flak for last season. But it is some of his tactics and selection that really worry me; Jonas as an automatic selection, regardless of how badly he is playing or how well others are that don’t get a look in.
Sissoko, bought as a defensive midfielder/midfielder, a box-to-box powerhouse who gets a few goals in his first few appearances and all of a sudden he’s played as a No 10 or on the wing! Tiote, woefully off the pace and out of touch, playing whenever he’s fit. Same for Cabaye. Give some of these players the proverbial kick up the behind and drop them for a game or two until they get their bite back.
I’ve coached football for many years at school level and my current 1st XI have lost once in two years. But the way it is played even at that level is ‘control, look up, pass, move’. Repeat. It requires fitness, awareness, vision and touch. The occasional long ball or ball through the middle to run onto, but that is it. We see other ‘lesser’ teams starting to run us ragged by using this approach (Swansea, Brighton, Wigan etc) but even though we are blessed with some incredibly skilful international players, capable of implementing this style of football, we resort to ‘panic’ football, reactionary ‘hoof ball’ that is both ugly to the eye and wholly ineffective.
If we were winning games with this method, I would at least respect the result, but not the approach, but it is getting us nowhere. We can all see that and the table doesn’t lie but Pardew appears oblivious. Is it his fault or the coaches? Somebody must be responsible. A team capable of fielding Ben Arfa, Marveux, Cabaye, Anita, Gouffran, Coloccini and Sissoko should be more than capable of matching the technical ability that a Wigan or Swansea show. So who is to blame and what is being done to address this?
The appointment of Kinnear can make sense as long as he keeps away from the press and does his job, both of which he’s shown a reluctance to do so far. Time will judge him but it is not an inspired appointment, with the quality of person that Ashley could have got in instead.
It all leaves me desperately scanning the newsnow pages, websites etc looking for anything to give me a lift before the season starts but so far, no joy.
If we kept all our squad together, added a forward, winger and defender, played people in their best position and on merit, then I could see an improvement. But I can’t see this happening.
What’s more, many times recently we’ve looked like a team setting itself up for an absolute pasting the way we have defended and a few times last season it finally happened. Our luck won’t hold forever and nor will the fans’ patience. But does of any of this matter to Ashley? He is the owner and no matter what the lifeblood of the club feel, we have no real say. We are fans, loyal subjects of the club and we have no choice: it is in our blood.
The players, the manager and owner are different: it is a job to them, a means of living, of earning a buck. If any of the players could earn significantly more at another club, who could actually argue with them for going? We can state that with a little more footballing ambition, Ashley could launch this sleeping giant of a club onto the next level: a few inspired signings here, a couple of forward-thinking coaches there, and we would be absolutely flying with the passion and fan base we provide.
However, does this really matter to Ashley? He has already made his money, and very successful he is at it too. As long as Newcastle stay in the premiership and reap the rewards that go with it, why should he plough his own stash into the project? He is not a fan and never will be. He didn’t buy the club as a fan, but as a business. And although he spent a bit getting it to this stage, it is now a sleek financial model, the envy, at least financially, of other clubs who are heavily in debt.
I’m going to stick my neck out here: I don’t believe the average Newcastle fan expects us to challenge for top 4 places – regardless of stadium size, gate receipts or self-sustainability, it won’t happen as long as the other clubs are prepared to throw 20 or 30 million at a player they want. But what we do want is a team to be proud of, a team that plays attractive football, a team with skill that sets out to score goals, especially at St James’ Park. But with the current management and coaches, I cannot see that happening.
So I find myself envious of the players other teams are signing but the most annoying thought of all is this: if our players actually played in their best positions and a style/system that suited them, be it 4-3-3, 4-5-1, or even 4-1-4-1, we would have a team to be proud of.
To an extent, I do not blame Ashley. He has bankrolled the players and sold others. Carr has been an astute judge of ability and potential but his job is done when the players arrive. Then it is up to the coaches and manager, and this is where we are falling short. With our team, how do you think Laudrup would fare? Or Benitez? Or Moyes? Or even Redknapp? But under the stewardship of Pardew and Kinnear, our evolution as a football team is severely stunted.
Let’s see what the season holds: after all, we have no choice. We will still turn up, follow, cheer, cry and hope. It can’t be measured in pounds and pennies, but it is something far more important, for without soul, a football club doesn’t exist. Mr Ashley, please take note.
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