Outside the north east of England, the plight of our two Premier League clubs is being overshadowed by the Leicester title victory. Much comment focused on the difference a year makes, from relegation favourites at the end of 2014 to table toppers in early 2016.
That Leicester are champions show that money is not enough to be successful in modern football, Premier League minnows pulling off victory against the billions stacked against them by Qatari & Russian oligarchs and American sports tycoons.
But the way that the Big 4 clubs stuttered and imploded to leave the race wide open between two other clubs, reminds us that honesty remains a prerequisite to today’s success.
That might seem a far-fetched claim given the growing blight of diving, but the fact remains that that’s as far as cheating to win goes in today’s football, and Leicester are honest champions on the pitch.
Compare that with athletics, tennis or cycling; in all three, you can buy yourself an unassailable and almost undetectable pharmacological advantage.
Cycling has even been dogged by rumours of tiny engines in bikes, rumours confirmed with this week’s six year ban for a Flemish cyclist caught red-handed motoring at the world cycling championships.
It’s a different cheating that curses football, cheating to deliberately lose games and concede victories. Declan Hills’ scientific expose of match-fixing revealed losers can’t bribe their way to victory (too obvious), but outsiders can cash in by taking bungs from dodgy overseas gamblers to seal the most likely result.
The moral of the Leicester success is you can’t buy success: success comes from your players personally profiting individually through collective success.
And that’s where honesty comes in, being able to motivate players: not just persuading players that they can win but to believe that their best interests are served by the club winning the games.
Recent high court revelations suggest that that honesty has long been absent from the DNA of Newcastle United Football Club.
Together with the Keegan revelations, a few snidey digs from Alan Pardew and Joey Barton’s sideline commentary, it paints a picture of a club where winning games seems almost incidental to a spivvy wheeling-and-dealing to serve much bigger interests.
It’s not fair to expect any more of our top players that they want to play the best football they can and make a tidy living out from that before physical frailty catches up with them. When the 90 minutes on the pitch aren’t letting you advertise your skills to the widest market and to bid up your price, why take a risk of putting your body on the line and killing your golden goose?
If you’re on £60k+ a week, then you know that a relegated club will do everything possible to offload you and maybe even bid up your wages.
If the club escapes relegation without you trying, then the gravy train rolls on, and they can’t even threaten you with the bench or the reserves because no one is breathing down your neck to fill your place.
That’s what we’ve seen this season at SJP with our supposed top talents experiencing seemingly inexplicable collapses in form. It’s not just that they’re not motivated to win, it’s that they’ve lost a belief in the honesty of the Newcastle game, a belief that everything about the club is squeezing 110% out of everyone around them to get the win after 90 minutes, and a desire to be part of that.
With that attitude seemingly coming down from the top, it’s hard to understand how that can change. Certainly, McClaren was doomed before he even started, trying to coach his players to put in a shift whilst literally everything else about the club, from the directors to the shirt sponsor, was telling them it wasn’t worth it.
So maybe that’s the ‘Rafa Effect’ that we’ve seen to give us a last few thrilling weeks.
The man’s integrity and competence is legendary, bolstered by the deep-seated affection he built with Liverpool FC for his efforts on behalf of the belatedly vindicated Hillsborough truth campaign. He’s brought a much needed moral compass back to the Newcastle dressing room, and the results have been there for all to see.
Sadly, the Rafa effect points up how far NUFC have sunk as a club, plumbing wretched depths to chisel a few quid whilst fundamentally neglecting the footballing heart of the city.
Wherever we are playing next season, without a figure with the moral stature of Rafa taking over the reins of our beloved club, we are seemingly condemned to yet more of this shabby and dishonest brand of football.
You can follow Paul on Twitter @heravalue