January Will Show What Mike Ashley Newcastle Intentions Are
I think there is a strong case that our next fixture is Newcastle’s biggest game for a generation and will help us along the path to revealing what the Mike Ashley Newcastle United intentions are.
18 years ago we were right in the fight for Premier League title honours. On March 4 1996 Newcastle were at home to Man U and lost 1-0, a 6 pointer in a season where we were beaten by Man U to the title some 10 fixtures later.
The Arsenal home game is suddenly huge. If we win it, then anything this season becomes possible. Victories against Spurs and Man U (a) and Chelsea and Arsenal (h) would effectively mean that few teams in the EPL can be considered beyond us. Newcastle could be joint 4th in the table alongside Liverpool, with only Arsenal, Chelsea and Man C above us. Below us would be Man U (beaten at home by Newcastle) and Spurs (beaten at home by Newcastle).
So apart from finding ourselves in a lofty and totally unexpected position, as well as (if we win!) having a mind-bending 36 points before the end of the year, why do I say that this is such an epoch-making football match? Well, it is all about what Mike Ashley (and some of our team) decides to do in the January transfer window.
Like never before, the forthcoming January transfer window is going to possibly define NUFC over the next 10 years or more. If, based on our success so far this season, and an Arsenal win, the club decides to hold onto its best players and even bolster the squad, then the club will be making a remarkable statement of our top 6 aspirations.
If we do as well in the second half of the season as we have done in the first half, then surely an extraordinary league placing in the top 5 becomes very possible. It is a chance which we would have to take with both hands, given that it could not be reasonably foreseen and is unlikely to be repeated again for many years, given the strength and investment in the other clubs at the business end of the league. Simply put, if we do not respond positively to the occasion we will have given ourselves, then a golden and unprecedented opportunity will have been missed.
Our star players this year have included Cabaye, Remy and Krul, with Tiote, Ben Arfa, Sissoko and Debuchy (and certainly others too) also boosting their reputations, and no doubt interest from other clubs, from their superb play. What will it take to hold onto these players come the end of January, or even looking forwards in the summer transfer window ahead of next season?
Well, most are under contract beyond the summer which means that if they want to stay, then only a big incoming offer is going to prompt the question of them completing this season as Newcastle players. Maybe (probably) some of those players may have been thinking about looking to move on to bigger and better things and to teams competing in the Champions League, but a win against Arsenal and suddenly, Newcastle may become a more attractive proposition for them and they may be less keen to agitate for a move away, and with the World Cup around the corner, what better way to stake a place for squad inclusion than continuing to play brilliantly in a team gate-crashing the top echelon of the EPL?
Utopian musing is one thing, but what about Mike Ashley? I subscribe to the belief that so far, all Mike Ashley wants from NUFC is free advertising for his sports retailing business, premier league survival, premier league income (largely from broadcasting rights) and to make a profit, sell up and move on, sooner rather than later. I don’t believe his ‘ambitions’ for NUFC go any further than this, since behaviour informs intent.
Therefore, a win vs Arsenal may just possibly also give Mr Ashley pause to reconsider his aspirations for NUFC. I find it hard to believe that anything might persuade Mr Ashley that there is another way, that a successful NUFC may provide him with an alternative to his rather limited ‘ambitions’ for his club, but Newcastle in the Champions League would surely be a much better money-earning prospect for him (and a higher profile billboard for his retail company) than a Newcastle not in the Champions League. The question is the conceivability for NUFC getting into the top 4 of the EPL. We are close now, closer if we beat Arsenal and if January goes right, maybe closer still to doing something quite remarkable.
Getting into the top 4 of the EPL would mean hanging on to the players that have performed so brilliantly for us so far this season. If any are to be sold, then they would need to be replaced with equal or better players. A lot of Newcastle fans have argued that our squad is too thin to sustain a push for top 4-6 glory, and that we are just a few injuries away from our superb run of form coming to an end. If we were to lose Cabaye, Remy or Krul, then we would need Cisse, Elliot and Anita to step up to the plate, lose any of them and we are affectively down to reservists and a top 4-6 finish becomes far less likely.
Teams with top 4 aspirations have the budget and ambition to have senior cover for all important positions, sometimes multiple cover. It is simply the price you pay for being a top 4 team.
If we beat Arsenal, get through January intact on the player side and are lucky with injuries, as we were when we finished 5th 2 seasons ago, then maybe, just maybe a top 4-6 finish could be achieved, but how much more likely if we strengthen the squad in January as well as holding onto our best players?
It would mean a change of philosophy from our owner, real ambition for the club, as without that, I just cannot see NUFC capitalising on this extraordinary opportunity that lies before us. It would be akin to the club’s failure to invest in the squad at the end of the 2002-2003 season, when with Champions League (pre)qualification assured, only Lee Bowyer was brought in and we have never troubled the Champions League since, seeing other (much less-supported) English teams overtake us as contenders for CL qualification and becoming members of the “elite 6” of English football.
So there it is, win vs Arsenal and by the end of January the current generation of Newcastle fans will have conclusive evidence of just where NUFC’s owner wants to take our club.
Cover star Yohan features in the latest issue of The Mag on sale outside St.James’ Park before the Arsenal match and available in all Tyneside newsagents, or buy online now from THE MAG online shop only £3 +p&p. CLICK HERE TO BUY
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