The dust has now settled on the summer transfer window, and the international break gives time to reflect on the club positioning for the season.
After last season’s deserving if unrelenting negativity, there’s definitely more optimism around St James Park, following Ashley splashing over £50m in the summer season, and appointing a recognised top coach setting out a medium term growth plan.
With one of the toughest starts to the Premier League on record, two points from 12 is certainly unreflective of how the new squad will perform this season. It’s almost unthinkable that we’ll find ourselves locked again into a relegation battle, but that’s no guarantee that the club’s problems are behind us.
We are passionate fans, from the ecstatic highs of the nearly season in 1996 or under Sir Bobby, to the furious campaigning of last season’s Pardew Out, the boycotts and the Newcastle Fans Brand launch. But our passion must not blind us to the reality of the modern Premier League, where you must continually splash the cash and move forward ever faster just to stand still.
So we mustn’t get carried away with one positive transfer window. The club’s problems certainly pre-date last season, and Ashley would probably argue partly pre-date his ownership, with Shepherd and Hall leaving the balance sheet desperately thin. The more important question is whether the summer marks a changing mindset, away from the last 8 years’ sign-‘em-young-and-flog-‘em-quick mentality towards really building for growth.
There’s clearly some positive signs with neither Tim Krul nor Moussa Sissoko moving on.
The Mag have reported that the club received and rejected offers for Sissoko over the summer, and last week came the rumour that the club were about to offer him a new, extended contract.
Fabricio Coloccini started his eighth season at the club, having extended his contract to 2017 over the summer, suggesting that the club appreciate the need to build a core squad of essential and non-disposable players.
Newcastle is strengthening its reputation as a good place for players to develop themselves.
Last week Johan Dercksen on Voetbal Inside argued that part of the Dutch national team’s weakness was in picking players who’d been good in the Netherlands but who were now sitting on top club’s benches, specifically singling Daryl Janmaat out for praise.
With football’s rising overseas stars now willing to sign for a Championship team as a springboard to the Premier League, Newcastle’s enhanced reputation may play to a core squad strategy.
The summer also hints that the club know that they need the fans on-side, and that protest power works. With so much income now dependent on Premier League contracts, and the PL’s global televisual charm dependent on full stadiums and hearty cheering, the banners and boos clearly touched a nerve. So perhaps a lesson here is to the more militant fans not to immediately quieten their criticisms.
But there’s also a few signs of the club’s bumbling dictatorial streaks that saw it stagger from fiasco to fiasco, from Xisco, to Joe Kinnear, to John Carver.
What on earth the Mirror think they are doing signing up to be part of the Pyongyang-esque media partnership is completely beyond me. Announcing Steve McClaren’s arrival to hand-picked media had tones of presenting a cold war Defector rather than heralding a new era of openness.
Shutting out local media suggests that perhaps the club haven’t quite yet grasped the essence of effective fan communication with the fans, and alienating one of the few friendly national journalists, the Telegraph’s Luke Edwards, seems bizarre.
An inexplicability that we also see echoed with the handling of the Newcastle Fans Brand launch, where NUFC managed to make yet another PR Fiasco out of actually being in the right.
My first shirt had the old Magpie & Keep logo, the Magpie is clearly a club logo, and they need to defend their trademarks to the full extent of the law. But the club here may have been better advised to show a little magnanimity and bank fan credit for common sense, rather than appearing to break the NFB butterfly on a legal wheel.
With this “three good, two bad” over the summer, have we finally left the club’s longer-term malaise behind us? Given the club’s instinctive secrecy it is hard to tell whether there’s been a real change of heart and policy, or merely a panic reaction that we’ve passionately chosen to interpret as improvement.
Ever the optimist, I really want to believe that Steve McClaren has been given the freedom to build up a beating technical heart as the basis for long-term stability and success beyond one successful season.
A regular, settled eleven turning out injury-free until early November would be the clearest indication yet that we’ve turned the corner. If not, then hold onto your hats for what might be our craziest PL season yet!
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