Newcastle fans have finally got what they asked for…
Football fans the world over, media outlets, former pros and commentators alike, are currently eschewing the value of character in Leicester City’s Premier League title win, and rightly so.
All are at pains to point out that the squad of players at Leicester may lack the apparent talent of some more lauded Premier League squads, they were certainly not so expensively assembled and, as Jamie Carragher correctly stated, none of them were ‘born on the red carpet’.
Character, resolve and no sense of entitlement have undoubtedly played a huge part in guiding Leicester to the title, whilst up in the north these same qualities have been found to resurrect Newcastle United from almost certain doom, to the possibility of a highly unlikely miracle survival.
Now I am in no way saying that the achievements of Newcastle United should bear any comparison to those of Leicester in terms of scale, Newcastle’s season has been horrific. An abject failure and something which should live long in the memory of every supporter the next time our chubby owner decides to get drunk and make some promises in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
However, there has been a new-found spirit within the club recently which has been achieved in much the same way as the Foxes, with the discovery of some good old British backbone by a foreign coach.
Both Ranieri and Benitez subscribe to the same philosophy, take each game on its own merits and for that given week concentrate on the game in front of you only, forget the bigger picture.
What this approach serves to do is to focus all the players on the task at hand, it removes distraction and ensures that every player on the pitch sticks squarely to their assigned task. The other side of this being that, both through necessity and choice, both managers have picked teams of players who fit the way that they want to play, regardless of reputation or transfer fee.
At Leicester they have…
Jamie Vardy, a bloke who I saw playing for Fleetwood Vs Mansfield Town only three years ago.
Danny Simpson who most of us thought was ok, but not good enough if you want to progress.
Robert Huth and Wes Morgan have both always been seen solid but very limited defenders.
Whilst nobody knew a thing about PFA player of the year Rihad Mahrez until he pulled on a blue shirt.
Back to Newcastle and Benitez has done similar things recently, picking players who most supporters would have gladly thrown in the Tyne, putting faith in others who nobody else would have, and by trial and error (Steven Taylor) it has taken shape and begun to pay off.
The main success stories in this resurgence have been January signing Andros Townsend, who looks like he could be something quite special, and former Nottingham Forest pair Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow who have both performed much better than anyone, including me, could have hoped.
As I have said before many times on The Mag, I watched both Darlow and Lascelles for Forest on a number of occasions and what I saw was a pair of players who were capable, but always seem to be seconds away from a match ruining error, particularly Lascelles, but so far they both deserve credit for how well they have responded to the relegation struggle.
More resurgence has come in the diminutive shape of Vernon Anita, match winner and arguably a better performer at right back than Daryl Janmaat, along with forgotten midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote who has rolled back the years with a series of vintage displays, giving lessons on how to break up opposition attacks. These are players who were considered as finished just a few short weeks ago.
What we have found in the closing stages of the season, probably a little too late for it to matter, is that most intangible of qualities, character.
Just as Leicester found it last season to drag themselves from the bottom of the league to a respectable fourteenth place finish, we finally have a team who look capable, look interested and most importantly look like they will relish the fight.
Whether that will be good enough, whether it will prove to be too little too late and whether the woeful goal difference will be our undoing is yet to be seen, but for now Newcastle fans finally have what was asked for, a team that tries.
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