Newcastle United health check
We have asked a number of our regular/irregular contributors various question about Newcastle United – the events of last season and moving forward.
Up this time is George Stainsby:
How did the Championship season turn out compared to what you imagined would happen?
Without wanting to sound like the Emperor from ‘Star Wars’, it was as I had foreseen it. Strong players; frantic pace; opposing supporters divided as to whether Newcastle United are big, small, or deluded to the point of bonkers. Most seemed to like our city, which is good.
I thought we would either get promoted and all live happily ever after, or become a mid-table joke. After the first two matches, I was worried; then I remembered we have a manager who knows what to do.
If no signings (other than Atsu) where would this current squad/team finish in the Premier League?
I think we would struggle. I don’t think relegation would be a certainty but we could do with a season of building. We don’t have enough strength in depth, and on an average day, most of the other teams will look at us and know we aren’t there yet. The slog could be demoralising.
With level of signings you anticipate, how high do you think Newcastle can aim next season?
If we buy some replacements and strengthen, mid-table would be great. It’ll take a few years of building to do much more than that, mainly down to the current policies of buying potential and selling it on, and the fact that a lot of teams are established with a stable infrastructure. Instability has been shown to be dangerous.
How does this promotion team compare to the 2009/10 one?
Last time, the decline during the relegation season was staggering. That 2009 team shouldn’t have found themselves in the mess they were in, and it took the strong players to sort it out.
I think we had more momentum in 2010, and looked more likely to hammer teams, rather than this season’s grind. The current team didn’t have an air of invincibility. We had the Rafa factor but not really a wow factor.
I think other teams were slightly more in awe of us this time, though, even the teams who had a good go and beat us. They knew we were supposed to be the Billy Big Boy Pants. In 2010, it was more the way we were playing that influenced the pre-match opposition perceptions.
Somebody who deserves more credit for last season than they maybe have received.
I think we have some players who, while not really earth shattering, were reliable and solid. Clark arrived from a team with very little going for it, and sometimes it takes a while to shake off the defeatist atmosphere that he must have endured at Aston Villa. I was impressed by his performances and attitude, we missed him when he was injured.
Paul Dummet might not be very nippy but he is learning and never hides. I think he sometimes gets the blame for the mess created by others.
Some managers have a knack of seeing something supporters cannot, whether that is something in training, or something they do during the game. It’ll be interesting to see whether that will be nurtured, or moved on.
How would you rate (out of 10) Rafa Benitez last season on:
The higher profile signings intended to get us promoted have worked out, while some may be for the future. While I defended Sels earlier in the year, hoping for some confidence, I’m not convinced he’s good enough. More importantly, he seemed to put the fear of flappiness into his defenders.
We won promotion as champions. The plan worked. While in some games it didn’t work as well, the end justified the means. Every now and then, pragmatism wins through. We knew what we were getting, although…
I think destroying Spurs at the end of the relegation season perhaps tinted the spectacles slightly. Rafa’s teams are hard to beat. Pragmatism is great, but it can be a bit like seeing a band play live and sounding a bit too much like the record. Every now and then I want a blitzing guitar solo.
Odd that none of my numbers are a 9, but with Rafa, the sum is worth more than the individual parts. He’s the first manager since Chris Hughton I’ve liked, and he will be able to attract better players to the club, simply because of who he is.
He plays the press well, he understands the area, and he knows that we can’t be fooled with the drivel spouted by previous managers. He is the first manager we have had since Sir Bobby Robson who had that little bit of ‘oomph.’ He was the reason why a lot of teams thought we would get promoted. That and the money.
If 10 was Mike Ashley totally changing his outlook on running Newcastle and 0 not at all, how far do you think he has moved (if at all) in the 15 months Rafa Benitez has been at St James Park?
4 – Mike Ashley’s business model is based on low overheads and flogging stuff he buys cheaply. He isn’t bothered about public perception. What worries me is the evidence of the January transfer window.
We did some amazing deals last summer but most of them were getting shot of dead wood. So he’ll probably think everything is tickety-boo, and my worry is that Rafa will walk, and we’ll end up with someone like Neil Warnock. Please, no.
How do you rate local media coverage of Newcastle these days?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to say, as since I went digital for news, I don’t usually bother with it. Odd, how habits change.
How do you rate national media coverage of Newcastle these days?
Dreadful. Ex-players like Paul Merson seem to think we live in a haze, with London drowning at our behest (yeah, right. What about Robert Lee? Malcolm Macdonald? Les Ferdinand?), and a team of black and white ham and pease pudding sandwiches playing in a 1955 kit. And the ‘deluded’ tag is just inaccurate. I don’t know anyone who thinks we have a right to win anything.
What would be your ideal first Newcastle Premier League fixture of the season?
A home match against someone to get excited about? A home match against someone we can feel like we can beat? An away match with nothing to lose? We have to play well and put up a fight.
Three words to describe how you feel about Newcastle United at the minute?
Cautious (in huge letters). Hopeful, and Potential (both in slightly smaller letters. The evidence of the past has made me nervy of ‘potential’.)
That’s loads of words.
Mike Ashley is pushing ahead with a development on land opposite the Gallowgate End which almost certainly will make it impossible to ever expand St James Park in the future (This will only profit him and not the football club). What are your thoughts, especially considering Newcastle averaged over fifty one thousand in the Championship.
Mike Ashley? Thinking with his capacious wallet rather than Newcastle United?!
I gave up on being frustrated and fed up with him ages ago. He does not look beyond the next couple of years. He doesn’t need to. The income from match days is a small percentage of the turnover of the club.
It would be excellent if more supporters could get in, especially if we develop the talent we have, and the talent we bring in. But it won’t happen, because he’s done his addies-up and they do not include Newcastle United fans.
How positive do you feel about progress being made underneath first team level at Newcastle?
Football has become an instant gratification and it probably always was. There must be pressure to play someone who cost £10 million rather than someone who cost nothing, but has had a possibly unquantifiable amount invested in them.
I don’t think it’s down to coaching; I think it’s also down to marketing and agents. I would love to see more players make it through, but there is more to it than simply being ‘good enough.’
What are your hopes/expectations for the atmosphere at St James Park next season and what could be done to improve it?
The Gallowgate Flags are fantastic. And injustice from refereeing decisions usually works.
I’m nervous about bringing back standing sessions but it could work. I went to a rugby sevens thing a couple of years ago and had a cracking night, and the young ‘un now loves a bit of ACDC, but I would hate it if we piped the atmosphere through five seconds of the ‘Best Driving Songs’ CD every time there was a goal!
I thought after the 2009 relegation that the atmosphere improved; but disillusionment is a strong sedative.
How we make the atmosphere more constant, I do not know. Sorry.
You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby
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