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It’s just all about the football

7 years ago

A striking characteristic of the Mike Ashley era at NUFC has been the mind-boggling PR hyperdrive the Toon Army is subjected to, in the build-up to a new season’s football.

Scores of English and international players are thrown at the Geordie faithful, through the ‘preferred’ media partners and the so-called ITKs. Transfer fees are floated around, usually with another NUFC-esque valuation along with it, so that you ponder how unfair the players, their agents, and the other cash-rich clubs who eventually outbid us to that elusive signing, have been.

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For example, how can we compete with the likes of, hold your breath, Swansea breathing down our necks every season with their cash registers, taking away our unearthed gems like Bony, Gomis, Ayew, Mitrovic… Seriously?!

This time they had even more ammunition. Mike Ashley’s final day interview (with a mention of Champions League, dear Lord!), a shortlist of possible candidates vying (or was it dying) for that illustrious Head Coach post, the restructuring of the NUFC board, the promise of a Cup run and aiming at the lofty heights of an 8th place finish, ‘six figure’ bonuses for Cup success.. Phew!

Add all this to the usual transfer rumour mill which featured Austin, Dost, Juanmi, Van Dijk, Matip, Carroll and even Cabaye, you would guess they had a formidable formula of driving those season ticket sales/renewals.

Guess what Mr. Ashley, the fans of today have seen through that elaborate smokescreen of yours. Anyways, another day!

Today, I am not planning to make another futile attempt at directing my anger towards Mike Ashley. I do not want to talk on who may or may not don the Black-n-White come 8th/9th August.

I will also not be calling out the bluffs which have been insultingly going around for the last month regarding club policy, ambition, and what not. But instead, I will be the quintessential NUFC fan who would talk football.

To start with, let me say I am happy we decided on Steve McClaren before anything else this summer. Well, I would have been even happier if he had been appointed without the unnecessary disinformation of ‘probables’ like Vieira, Garde, Gourvennec, Laudrup, even De Boer. It would have displayed some integrity within the NUFC ranks, some responsibility towards the fans after the Carver debacle, but then.

Anyways, so I stand with Steve McClaren. And I want him to have that chance to rebuild the shambles we have been reduced to, to rejuvenate the soul of our beloved club, to reinvigorate the passion and pride in the hearts of the 11 lucky ones who don our shirts week in and week out.

For that, I want to contribute in pointing out the areas where we should focus in 2015-16, in a hope that somebody somewhere is reading….

The Coaching Staff:

Just like a clichéd adage, the Head Coach is only as good as his backroom staff. If there was one thing we got to learn in the misery of 2014-15, it was the sheer lack of depth in that area.

Be it the injuries (and the recoveries), be it the training set-up, be it the tactical nous (or rather, the absence of it), be it player development, we have had an absolutely rubbish bunch of no-gooders there, since Alan Pardew brought in Carver and the others.

So it needs a complete revamp and the work has started with the exits already. It is now about who comes in, and for McClaren to actually turn it around, he better get a good support staff before any signing this summer.

But apart from a good assistant, a fitness guru and a conditioning expert, it is imperative NUFC hire a tactical analyst of some sort. Somebody to run the analytical models, do some scenario analysis, plot weekly training and match-day performance charts, visualize the set-play probabilities with the given squad. As they say, numbers don’t lie. And it only helps you to make informed decisions, so why not?!


I really hope Steve does away with the utter tripe of the lone striker tactics which we have been served for so long here at NUFC. IT IS NOT WORKING!!

At least with the current squad, we have not helped our case with that mentality. We have barely managed goal-a-match averages over the last two seasons courtesy of that. The 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 is not the way to go if we do not plan on bringing quality midfielders and wingers, which I do not see us doing.

So, with the given squad, it is best to go a traditional 4-4-2, a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond or a 4-2-2-2. Siem De Jong and Aarons (like two new signings, eh?) will be crucial in the next season, along with Cabella (who I hope will turn it on) and Perez will be best utilized in such formations with a new strike force in Austin or Dost, whoever it is.

Tiote will be back, hopefully in a better shape and mindset, as Steve told the press, and if we can manage one solid centre-half this summer, we can hope to build and maintain a steady formation throughout the season.

Set Plays:

Need I say anything there. And that is where I go back to my Tactical Analyst pitch.

Let me ask you, when was the last time you saw a SET PLAY sheet being discussed on our bench between AP and JC, or JC and SS? Was there any other strategy at play than hoofing it to Williamson, and being prey to another of those counter-attacks time and again? Hopefully, Steve gets the drawing board out, or even better the laptops, and prints out the charts for discussion during the matches.

That’s one reason I am a big fan of Arsene Wenger. And lastly, there is a month of training and friendlies before the PL kicks off, so please IDENTIFY the dead-ball specialists for the season, one on each leg. Whether in-house or from the recruits, that is one thing we need to sort before August.


NUFC seems to have alienated the concept of substitutions as a tactical ploy over recent seasons. Just take Cisse’s sub appearances and what a difference it made in the end of last season. But apart from Cisse, which I believe to be more fluke than applied tactic, all our substitutions have been for those tired headless chickens and sending in some more.

For crying out loud, chalk out the plan Bs and plan Cs in advance on how to use which player from the bench to impact the game, to change the game, to sustain an advantage. Even without stats, I can say we would not even average 2 subs-a-game for the last four seasons. Mr. McClaren, hope you plan for the entire bunch of 18 who sit in the dug-out, not just the playing 11.

Build around a Core:

Last, but not the least, we need a solid core for this newly-oiled machine to function. It can be a big name no.9 from outside, or can be a revitalized no. 10 Siem De Jong, or the ambitious and glory-seeking no. 7 Sissoko, or even a dependable and consistent performer in Janmaat.

The trick is to take the Core on board, entrust him with the responsibility and empower him to deliver. But he has to be picked early, groomed well in advance, communicated in as many words to the team, and given the time to develop the bond among the fellow players. We cannot afford any more conflict within the group, no two camps please. And for that, it has to be enforced from the top.

Whether the PR-hyped transfers happen, or we are served up endless tirades of “We tried, but they wanted Champion’s League” in September, is something we can’t do anything about.

But it is important we let the new Board and the new Head Coach know that we do understand our football, and we have only one simple demand –

‘We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries’!

Howay the Lads.


(Bangalore branch of the Toon Army)

You can follow Rishiraj on Twitter @rishirajlahiri

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