Now that the season is over for Newcastle United…
In the cold light of day, I feel more relief than anything else.
Although The Championship was a bit of a rollercoaster ride, it was more Metroland than Disneyland and celebrating an expected promotion was more muted in the Cooper household than the previous three I have seen, mainly because I never really doubted this one.
However, the season was a personal triumph for Rafa Benitez, who deserves every bit of praise he gets. I have been a critic of his in the past and I will continue to be so when my team plays cagey and uninspiring football but that does not mean that I don’t appreciate the success, don’t admire the way he has united the club in a way that only a couple of people have done in my lifetime.
He knew at the start of the season that some of his young players would struggle, some would grow into it, others wouldn’t and he has shown his experience and brought a calm to Newcastle United at almost every hurdle we have faced, albeit a few more hurdles than I expected.
‘A Man For All Seasons. Well hopefully next season anyway.’
In the end, the league wasn’t any tougher than I thought it would be, it was physically more demanding in that we played more games but most of the other teams substituted strength for skill and good teams can cope with that. True enough, the tackles were more likely to fly in without any interference from the referee but perhaps when the pundits said the Championship was ‘different’, it meant that everything was worse: the teams, the tackling, the referees, the entertainment.
One thing I will say is that we had probably the fittest and strongest team in the division. Not strongest as in if there was an eleven man proper Blazing Saddles punch-up that those in black and white would have been the last men standing, but certainly over 90 plus minutes of football we rarely looked as tired as the opposition. That we lost so many games was down to the occasional below par performance, the odd bit of bad luck, one or two incomprehensible refereeing decisions and a couple of games where we just couldn’t score despite having 80% possession and 30 shots. Nothing out of the ordinary though, just that everyone was up for playing against us and sometimes we didn’t win.
In the end we were promoted comfortably. Then again, if the opposition could score goals they would be in the Premier League and not us and that has been the biggest difference between NUFC and the other teams in the Championship, we’ve generally taken our chances. That was typified by our second last game of the season against Cardiff when a decent football man liked Benitez was pitted against rat-faced spoilsport Neil Warnock.
Benitez has spoken about ‘game management’ during a season when unexpected losses threatened to overturn our promotion cart, he rarely blamed referees, missed chances or individual players, talking more of a team mentality. After the Cardiff game Neil Warnock blamed the referee for the defeat but the referee was equally hopeless for both teams, we probably had more of a beef with him, but the reality was that we scored two great goals and they missed all of their chances. And that was typical of our year in the Championship. What especially amuses me about Warnock and his ilk is that they are so obsessed with passing the blame onto someone else that they inevitably hang themselves with their own tongue.
A team missing loads of chances isn’t an excuse for losing, it is a cause of losing, scoring goals is half of the game. For a manager to use that as an explanation for defeat seems like an admission that they can’t do anything about it, even though it is their job to do something about it. Rafa’s message to Championship managers must be that you are in control, you are the manager. If your team can’t finish, try coaching them to do it, it’s your job after all. I’m happy to be saying goodbye to idiots like Warnock.
When Rafa and Charnley squeezed into the helicopter last week to go and see Fat Mike at Trotter Towers, Rafa did so in a position of power. With JFK and Pardew still unemployed, that’s not to say that we can be completely certain of the Fatman’s intentions but our hope must be that even he has realised that he has someone in charge of the football side of the club who knows what he is doing.
As many articles on The Mag over the last week or so have said, many conclusions can be drawn from the statement released after the meeting of minds but I found it to be positive. Benitez didn’t walk out, first hurdle overcome. While we have been linked with many players since the end of the season a casual look at a very amusing PL table will show us that the three teams who scored the least goals got relegated and while there are many positions we could strengthen, getting the team to score 45 goals next season will see us stay up and that should be Rafa’s biggest priority.
I agreed with Ian Rush when he said that our squad at the moment was probably good enough to stay up without investment but that a few key players would see us finish more comfortably mid-table:
“With the manager, yes Benitez does need players, but I think looking at it there are worse teams in that Premier League than Newcastle now. Newcastle are better than I would say about four or five of those teams in the Premier League now, so if you can add players to that I’m sure Rafa will be saying: ‘Let’s finish mid-table going up.”
Hopefully Ashley didn’t read it or that cheque book will go straight back in the pocket.
So far only Christian Atsu seems to have come in, though there has still been no official confirmation from the club, signing him after a certain date will probably give Ashley some tax break to save himself £8million or save the club 30p in Co-op vouchers somewhere along the line. Opinion was divided on Atsu but he certainly got better over the season and has all of the attributes needed to be a quality wide player, he just needs to show them a lot more often. Overall I was pleased we signed him, a reported £6.2million isn’t a huge amount, the lad seemed to like it here and we will need three or four good wide men next season, with Ritchie, Atsu and Aarons we only need one more, but probably one more who goes straight into the first team.
‘Matt Ritchie and his Magic Atsu.’
BREXIT (for the sake of completeness):
Brazil forward Neymar, 25, believes Manchester United are prepared to activate the 200 million euro (£170m) release clause in his Barcelona contract. Poor Manyoo, that would have only been £132million at the exchange rate last June. I never really liked Nigel Farage, but if he costs Manyoo £38million……..
The only other news this week was that old Fat Neck Sam Allardyce had his say on the new FA diving regulations that anyone found ‘guilty’ of diving by some numpty panel of over-paid has-beens would receive some kind of a ban, unless you play for Manyoo, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City who will be exempt from this due to their popularity in the ‘dive friendly’ markets abroad.
Hopefully NUFC can negotiate a Dwight Gayle exemption on similar grounds or he’ll be suspended for most of next season. Fat Sam said that the new rules were:
“Rubbish. It’s utter rubbish. What about the lad that gets booked that didn’t dive? What are they going to do with that? They’re going to say ‘That’s unlucky, next time we’ll try and get that right. So the lad that dives gets punished but the lad that didn’t dive…you’ll then have to reverse that somehow.”
‘Fat Sam The Toad King: Utter Rubbish? He would know.’
As usual I have no idea what the Toad King is trying to say, I don’t speak jibberish, or ribbitish, but heaven forbid that anyone might suggest something which might make the game fairer or more entertaining. Presumably once the cameras were off, the Palace manager offered to give some advice on how to get around the new regulations for a couple of hundred thousand pounds.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])