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It isn’t talent that Newcastle United are desperately missing…

5 years ago

Throughout the season, Newcastle fans have been airing their views on which players should be dropped, who should be picked, what formation they should play, who we should sign, and who should be managing.

Unless something fundamental changes, I don’t think any of that will make a blind bit of difference.

Drop Coloccini. Play Mbabu. Give Aarons a run if he gets fit. Get Armstrong back. Try de Jong. Re-sign Andy Carroll. Replace McClaren. Play any system you like. It doesn’t matter. Our problems have very little to do with the talent at our disposal or the system they play, and everything to do with attitude.

Think about the untalented players we blamed last season.

We wanted Williamson out. He went. The defence has not improved one jot, so he is coming back.

We wanted the likes of Obertan and Gouffran as far from the first team as we could get them. Injuries and suspensions aside, they are.

Our midfield is just as lacking in creativity and commitment.

Pardew had to go. He did. We got worse.

Carver had to follow him through the door. Out he trotted. We are just as bad.

We wanted the owner to spend. He did. It hasn’t improved a damn thing.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, to quote a French philosopher. The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Here’s why…

Groups set standards. If you walked into a new job tomorrow, you’d probably end up working to the standards of those around you. If everyone grafted their bits off, you’d probably end up doing the same. If no one appeared to give a monkey’s, chances are you’d end up wondering why you should bother.

It doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just the way we are. In a typical group of people, you have a small number of people trying to do things to the best of their abilities, and a similar number who don’t care. Then there is a much bigger number who just look for someone to follow.

If the good guys have the loudest voice, the most charisma, the better life, the rest will follow them. If the tosspots look the most appealing, they’ll follow them. And – let’s be honest – it’s much easier to follow the cynics and take the mickey out of the good boys.

At Newcastle, the losers have won.

The likes of Wijnaldum and Mbemba – who started brightly – seem to have lost the spark of desire that they arrived with. I get the impression that Thauvin and Mitrovic took less persuading to lose theirs.

Even Perez – who has shone brighter than anyone over the last 2 seasons – looks lost and unhappy. When your third choice goalkeeper is voted best player by the fans for 2 games on the bounce, he must have some absolute rubbish in front of him.

Put these players in any other team and in 99% of cases they’d improve from the moment they put the shirt on.  Think about the Leicester game. Danny Simpson looked like a right back. Janmaat – clearly a superior player – looked tentative and confused. How did that happen? None of us would want Simpson back as a replacement for Janmaat, so why does he look better? It has to be environment.

I was doing a bit of work on my laptop the other night with some Ligue 1 highlights playing on TV in the background. I looked up to see a player go past a couple of defenders and play a sweet ball into the path of an onrushing colleague. The player had balance, speed and skills. He did it again a couple of times, and would have caught the eye of anyone watching.

Who was this talent? Remy Cabella playing for Marseille against St Étienne. The same Remy Cabella who looked scared, confused and lonely in a Newcastle shirt. I know it was only 10 minutes of highlights and I know the league is not of the quality of ours, but he looked full of desire and full of ideas.

Now we have every right to demand that Cabella – and everyone else – shows those qualities for every minute they are wearing the black and white stripes. But footballers are the same as the rest of us. Most of them will follow the crowd. I’d bet that Olympique de Marseille have a better crowd that Newcastle United. We have been outplayed so many times by so many teams with less talent at their disposal this season that it can only be their attitudes that are better. Miles better.

I played football at a level so far below the Premier League that you’d need to don underwater breathing apparatus to find it. We got £25 a game, and for that, we ran through walls for each other. Anyone watching non-league football now sees the same thing every week. It’s a well-worn plea, but why people who have nothing else to do but play football, can’t manage the same effort, is beyond me.

The talk is that we’ll be making more signings in January. We’ll no doubt hear about their skills, achievements and physical attributes. All well and good, but what we need is leaders. A few of them.

When was the last time we had players who would fire up teammates, fight to the last whistle, or even demand the ball when no one else wanted it?

Jonas? Barton? Nolan? Shearer? Who do we have now that wants to take on that role, and – crucially – has the personality that would persuade others to follow him?

I am scratching my head to think of one. If we only ever hire under 25’s (and often much younger than that), where do we find them? By the time they are old enough, the dye has been cast. They have adopted the standard of the group.

Come to think of it, when was the last time we had a manager that the players would be embarrassed to let down? Hughton? It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we haven’t got one now.

Newcastle fans urgently need players and coaches who will grab this team by their lapels, haul them out of their collective torpor and face them in the opposite direction.

I don’t care if the players are 35 and have no add-on value. Talent can wait. It’s not talent we lack.

We need attitude – and fast – because that is what will keep us in this league.

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