Many Newcastle United fans have come to terms with the daunting prospect of relegation after the recent defeats to Southampton and, most notably, Norwich.
Even with six games left to play, the vast majority have accepted that the six point gap will be too much to make up – and considering last week’s horror show on the south coast, you can’t be surprised at the lack of faith in the current squad.
The blame game has been going strong for a while now, but since our inevitable fate has all but been sealed (and even as an optimist, yeah, we’re going down) the finger has been pointed at a number of people…
Mike Ashley’s running of the club, Lee Charnley’s decision making, Graham Carr’s transfer recommendations, the persistence with Steve McClaren, the list goes on.
Top of the list has been the performance of the players; an accusation I could not agree more with. On top of it all we’ve had to listen to Georginio Wijnaldum question the determination of the squad. I don’t need to tell any of you how ironically infuriating his comments were.
We’re all well aware of the lack of quality, lack of heart, or both, that has been our downfall on various occasions this season. But one thing that I’ve been desperate to work out for a number of months now, is why almost every one of our players fails to develop, and not only that, but they seem to get worse.
A quick ask around a few of my Newcastle-supporting colleagues of ‘who is the worst first team player at the club?’ and there were two stand out responses; Yoan Gouffran and Manu Riviere.
Both of these two on arrival looked like fine acquisitions. Gouffran broke Alan Shearer’s record of scoring in consecutive home games during the 2013/14 season, his poacher’s instinct and high workrate made his £500,000 price tag look like an absolute steal. In his defence he hasn’t been helped by being drafted into a defensive midfield position in his last few outings, but he still looks pathetic compared to the player we originally thought we’d brought in from Bordeaux.
Riviere’s competitive debut against Manchester City showed great promise. The Frenchman looked strong, quick, skilful, and to have all the attributes needed to become a great asset for the club. The less said about the state he looks in now, the better.
Then you look at the supposed ‘stars’ of the side.
Moussa Sissoko’s form this year has been appalling, and he looks a million miles away from the player we know can breeze past opposition without breaking a sweat.
Daryl Janmaat has went from looking like one of the league’s top full backs to another incompetent mercenary.
Gini Wijnaldum’s decline has taken considerably shorter. In January we watched scintillating performances against Manchester United and West Ham, now most fans struggle to even notice he’s on the pitch.
The list goes on.
Remember the Cheick Tiote of 2011/12? He was absolutely sensational. Nowadays? He throws in the odd good performance but looks a shadow of his former self.
Of course it could be argued that the philosophy around the club is the reason for the players’ decline. The club being sold as a stepping stone to these types of players would hardly fill you with ambition. But then consider Jack Colback. Last summer he got himself a move to his boyhood club, to play for Newcastle United would have been his dream for years, and he’s got it. Newcastle United, to him, would never be a stepping stone to greater things.
And as much as he has his critics, last year, for me, Colback was fantastic. Throughout the season he really, really impressed me. This season? Not so much. Even the players like Colback who are living the dream by playing for Newcastle, fail to develop and get considerably worse as time goes by.
Then look at the youngsters. We’ve had a fair few players come through the ranks to make first team appearances in the last few years. Could you name any who have progressed? Ayoze Perez looks like he’s getting worse as each game goes by.
Yeah, the likes of Rolando Aarons and Kevin Mbabu have had their (what we hope will be) progress halted by injuries, but the majority have been left out in the cold and have either already moved on or are very close to doing so. Gael Bigirimana, Haris Vuckic, Medhi Abeid, James Tavernier, even Sammy Ameobi broke onto the scene with a bang and looked like becoming an exciting player.
The players that are still technically our players haven’t developed at all from the promise they looked to have, and those that move on, funnily enough, have gone on to flourish in a different environment. Tavernier has been fantastic for Rangers during their route back to the SPL and Abeid has again become a mainstay for Panathanaikos.
How about other players that have been let go by the club and have gone on to impress elsewhere? I hardly need to mention a certain French playmaker lighting up Ligue 1 at the moment.
Is there a problem with our training methods? Well you could argue that, but the decline of quality has occurred for years, under several different coaching teams. Maybe our facilities don’t cut it. I don’t know, but it’s worrying.
The club has been going backwards for such a long time, but individually the players at the club all seem to decline as well.
I can only hope that the relegation which seems highly probable can see Newcastle rebuild from a year in the Championship.
Last time we went down we saw the likes of the underperforming Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Fabricio Coloccini restore their confidence and return to the Premier League as much better players.
If we can remove the deadwood and get the players that actually want to be here playing with confidence again, we might just have a chance.
If not, the next few years could be pretty torrid.
You can follow the author on Twitter @RhysMelhuish22