Newcastle United – New Season New Hope?
A new season is one that normally brings about optimism and excitement at the prospect of everyone starting equal and new signings with exotic names ready to shine.
For a lot of Newcastle fans this will be the case and come Sunday afternoon I don’t think you’ll find many delaying getting to St James’s for the opener against champions Man City. To cast an outlook on the whole season that lays ahead, I think it’s first worth mentioning the end of the last campaign.
The second half of last season is one that every Newcastle fan wants to forget – in the final 19 league games we lost 13, drew 1 and won only 5. Add to that, the embarrassing 3rd round exit in the FA cup to a weak Cardiff side, the regular writing off of a season came much earlier than usual.
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The end of season animosity towards Alan Pardew stemmed, in my opinion, from that FA cup exit. There have been rumours and cloudy statements surrounding the club’s attitude towards cup competitions ever since the Europa League campaign back in 2012/13 and this time last year it became ever more apparent that the club had no interest in progressing in domestic cup competitions, with premier league survival and finishing position the main priority.
This attitude goes against everything any football fan in the world believes in. Your football club should be there to entertain you, give you something to follow and believe in. I don’t think any Newcastle fan, no matter how optimistic, thinks we could have won the league last year, or will win it this year, and for this reason the cups become huge opportunities to restore some pride to the club and give the fans something to shout about.
We don’t expect to win a cup every year, but a simple statement of intent and willingness to try and win something, is the minimum fans want to see. The worst thing for any football fan, whatever league or financial position their club is in, is to think their club has no ambition. That is the feeling that was cast over the club from January until this summer.
The case of the puppet Alan Pardew is one of the strangest managerial situations I have witnessed at Newcastle. This perhaps stems from following the club under Freddie Shepherd, who would ruthlessly sack managers that either he or the fans didn’t see fit to continue in the role. This wasn’t a healthy way to go about running a football club, but it did give fans a feeling of input in the club.
Mike Ashley has run the club very differently to this and has regularly dumbfounded fans with the decisions he has made. The decision to keep Alan Pardew is another one in my opinion. I cannot think of any other club in England in this day and age that would not have dispensed of Pardew at the end of this season (or after the headbutt incident at Hull). Any football fan that watched any of those last 19 games could clearly see the players in that shirt were not playing for their manager.
They were significantly clear of 11th position, but soon became equally as distant from the European places. The players should take a fair share of the blame for this dreadful slump, but when the manager regularly comes out with pitiful excuses rather than facing up to the fans, he deserves all the stick he gets.
I firmly believe that we could have finished above Man United last season, which should have been our aim at the turn of the year. If you really believe in bonus schemes Mike Ashley, that was the perfect one to execute. Instead we tamely exited the FA cup and the season was over, the 10th place finish all but secured with nearly half a season to play.
Coming into this new season Alan Pardew is under extreme pressure, and I hope he knows that, because if we don’t start well the ill feeling that masked the home win over Cardiff in May will soon return, and this time I think Mr Ashley might just dish out that P45.
Cup form has the potential to save Pardew’s skin, from the fans at least, as it can rekindle that pride and sense of ambition fans have been striving for since the Europa League exit to Benfica. Not replacing Pardew this summer is arguably the biggest mistake with regards to the investment in players that has been made, as I believe that if the club appointed a good manager who man-manages well and builds team spirit, we could compete successfully in the league AND in the cups. Last season’s La Liga and Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid are testament to this; you don’t have to spend vast sums on world-class players to create a highly successful environment, you just need to make sure every piece of the jigsaw fits exactly, and for me Alan Pardew is the bit that’s fallen in from another puzzle that Mike Ashley keeps trying to force into place.
This summer has through brought 9 signings, 8 of which Mike Ashley has dusted the cheque book off for. Colback seems like a solid addition and a much better all-round player than the departed Dan Gosling, and with a decent left foot he adds a bit more variety to the squad and that centre midfield.
Cabella is the one the club is hoping replaces the creative quality we lost when Yohan Cabaye left the club, and from the small glimpses seen of him in pre-season, his style of play seems similar to that of David Silva and if he shows half the quality of him, I think we will all be happy!
De Jong sounds like he has a good pedigree and should give support to whoever takes over the role of centre forward. The early worries with regards to him is his injury record and adjusting to the premier league having come from the Dutch first division. Replacing Debuchy with Janmaat seems like great business, he looks a lot more steady that the often reckless Frenchman.
The biggest problem the squad had last season was scoring goals when Loic Remy didn’t play and for the loss of him and cult hero Shola, we have brought in young Spanish striker Ayoze Perez, Frenchman Emmanuelle Riviere and the on loan Argentinian Facundo Fereyra.
I doubt many Newcastle fans had come across any of these names before they were parading around St James’s with last season’s home kit! Writing these forwards off, or building them up to be world-beaters at this stage, is something I’m going to avoid, but what we all know is that good teams are built upon strong defences and the creation and conversion of goalscoring opportunities.
My concern is that we don’t have that 15-20 goal a season striker in the squad at this moment in time, and I think if we are to really push that top 6, then the club needs to splash out on an out-and-out goalscorer. Although we have been linked with the exciting Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette, I don’t believe he is the type of striker we need.
With the departure of Shola we no longer have anyone we can describe as a ‘target man’ and as much as I don’t want to see the return of Pardew’s awful direct football, there will come times in matches this season where we need to get the ball up the pitch quickly and make it stick. There were rumours linking us with Conor Wickham a few weeks ago, and although he doesn’t have the greatest of goalscoring records, he has that presence about him which could give us something a bit different up front, and at 21 his best years are definitely ahead of him. Lukaku would have been the ideal choice, but at £28 million he was never going to be considered when Ashley put his short arms in his pockets this summer.
Overall, I think the club is in a position to finish in the top 10 again with what should be little fuss, but at Newcastle we never seem to do it the easy way!
If we are going to have a really good season and get one of those European places, we need that top quality striker. To get Champions League as Pardew keeps vaguely mentioning, another top notch centre half to play with Colocinni is desperately required. I think all of us fans would be very surprised to see those 2 additions before the 1st of September, all we can do is hope Ashley doesn’t miss another opportunity to put the club in the right direction.
Prediction for the season: 8/9th and little progression in the cups.
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