‘The best things in life are free’ according to the old saying but the footballing world contradicts this in a lot of ways. In the sense that the best talent isn’t free, you pay a premium for naturally gifted players, who have the ability to turn a game on its head or win a match at any moment.
Therefore, some would argue, the obvious solution to poor performance is to invest heavily- with the target of building a squad with ability and technique far superior to those around you.
Whilst true to an extent, certain foundations need to be in place before superior technical ability, particularly in the often curious case of Newcastle United. Success on the pitch starts a lot higher up the food chain than the players who step out every Saturday.
The employment of key staff (both business focussed and football focussed), agreement of club strategy (both short term and long term), transfer policies and boardroom decision making can determine the fate of a team long before players walk through the door at the start of a season.
During the Mike Ashley era, there has been no consistency in any of these areas; managers, chairmen, directors of football, coaches and boardroom personnel, have been hired and fired.
We have aspired to replicate the ‘Aston Villa model’ (and the Arsenal one…), we have aimed to be in the top 10 each year, we’ve aimed to be a consistent premier league side, we’re a side to challenge the top 8 whilst having a good run in the cups each year and now we’re a team with an owner who won’t leave until we win something or qualify for the Champions League.
Newcastle fans have also seen players leave for record transfer fees, attempts to break record (buying) transfer fees, focus on European players with sell on value, then bring in experienced homegrown players, attempt to get through windows without signings and then develop three window plans.
The key theme here is a lack of consistent approach, a lack of sticking to a plan/strategy, too many changes in personnel.
Newcastle fans are currently a victim of poor decision making and change being the only constant. Amongst all this change, the fundamentals of a club have been lost, nobody knows what Newcastle United is these days and we are a far cry from where we were. Not just in terms of league position, but more importantly, that feeling you get when you walk up the steps to St James Park on a Saturday.
Whilst Mike Ashley has made a lot of bad decisions, which have had catastrophic impacts, he is not alone in making those decisions and has often trusted the wrong individuals. He is a proven business man, adept at making decisions to take forward his interests. Changes in management are often required, but Joe Kinnear was never the right option, nor was John Carver. Directors of Football can be effective, but Dennis Wise was not the right option. Scouting is a key feature of the global game but the jury is still out on Graham Carr and Co.
Efforts to fix Newcastle have been made by Mike Ashley. He has attempted to rectify mistakes, it just feels that trust and now finance, are being given to the wrong people.
The summer of 2015 was clearly seen as a new era by Ashley, Newcastle had survived a relegation scare and allowed a manager we’d courted previously to bring his own (coaching) team in and then backed them with finance.
It was an opportunity to develop and align all of the fundamentals and enhance the squad with shrewd investment. An opportunity broadcast to millions when Ashley gave his pre-West Ham game Sky Sports interview. However, it feels like the decisions made, fell short. McClaren’s appointment was underwhelming and I do wonder if that general feeling amongst fans was also met with the same by the players…‘oh, I was expecting a bit more ambition’.
Supporting Newcastle United is aligned with expecting the unexpected. Often barracked by the media for unrealistic expectations – what Newcastle fans do expect from their team seems to have disappeared.
All the things which come free are minimum expectations; grit, desire, resilience, a determination to win, passion, pride and the odd splash of lunacy.
This is why cult heroes exist; the Alberts and Nolans of this world- even Sibierskis and Kuqis- you knew what you were getting. Throw in some lunacy and you have a Ketsbaia or Asprilla on your hands. Throw in some talent and you have the Shearers, Speeds and Cabayes.
Now clearly you need superior talent too to challenge for the top, but Newcastle aren’t at that level yet. We need to get the fundamentals right, from the top down…a club, a board, a manager and eleven players that we believe in.
There’s an honesty and integrity to some premier league clubs that just seem to ‘get it’- the likes of Southampton, Everton, Leicester, Bournemouth.
Newcastle need to get that back but first the power has to be in the hands of the right people.
The Newcastle fans need and deserve a club which they believe in. They should feel connected and trusting in the ethos, intentions and character of their club and all those connected with it.
The world isn’t overrun with those of the integrity and character of Sir Bobby Robson, but the right person for Newcastle is out there.
The club need a manager who can instil a passion and belief into a group of players, getting the best out of a group of clearly talented individuals who need to work together to become a team.
Players need a club, a board and a manager they look up to and respect, a little fear of losing your place for poor performance wouldn’t go a miss either. Newcastle also can’t afford to carry any players who feel they’re bigger than the club or have ideas above their station, everybody has to buy into the club and ‘get it’.
The fans are lost, the players are lost, everybody is becoming disinterested. Mike Ashley is naturally keen to limit investment but also wants to build success, both completely understandable.
With the right man in charge, with the fundamentals in place, the need for funding will be reduced. Spending to stay up is an unsustainable model, nor is it guaranteed.
There are signs that the board are starting to ‘get it’. Shelvey and Townsend both have the potential to excite and inspire fans, particularly if they can supply Mitrovic who has a world of ability waiting to be shown.
They must stay up this season to kick on and they must look at everything with fresh eyes in the summer. The big question will be whether they see Steve McClaren as the man they trust to lead them again.
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