Well, isn’t it great to see Newcastle United in the Champions League?
Well, at least we are in the (very early) qualifying places for now, that is. Whilst the positivity bandwagon is rolling on, I feel the urgent need to jump on it while it lasts.
We may only be five games in, but it’s been a pleasure to watch the side, guided by Rafa (and his staff) to turn what was a worrying start into a position where we can be rightly proud whenever we look at the Premier League table.
We may have to wait until we’ve played a dozen games before we can accurately gauge where we can finish this season but the signs are positive that we should make 40 points without sweating on the last few games of the season.
At the start of his reign in 2015, Steve McClaren asked people to judge him after 10 games, then when results didn’t come, he kept moving the goalposts and asked for 12 games to be the benchmark, then finally asking for the whole season to be taken into account.
Rafa Benitez won’t need to be ‘judged’, he hasn’t had the money that McClaren had at the start of the season to build a side that could compete in the upper half of the league, yet he has (so far) got them there on a net spend of £11m. Not bad going and if we finish in the lower half of the table, nobody would look at Rafa and say that he was to blame for such a low finish. £11m normally gets you nowhere, so for that net amount to be spent on a newly promoted side, it would be quite remarkable if the side finished anywhere in the top half.
For all the money spent in the past, the things that was never brought into the club were endeavour, graft and determination from those who put the shirt on.
If you cast your minds back to 2015/16, when the mainstays of the side built by Alan Pardew and then McClaren, were the likes of Janmaat, Coloccini, Sissoko, Wijnaldum and Cisse, players with hearts the size of peas who had absolutely no desire to see Newcastle climb out of the mess they had got themselves in. There were a few incidents during that season that can be highlighted, in direct contrast to where we find ourselves now.
I remember when Jamaal Lascelles left the field at Goodison Park that season after getting himself sent off, uttering to a waiting tv camera that ‘Nobody gives a (insert expletive)!’
The same player that had led a dressing room inquest after the side got smashed 5-1 off Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace. He came out after the defeat at Southampton a few months later stating “We have lacked it (character) this season and no matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger and desire, it doesn’t matter.”
Now there’s no denying that the manager, team and club is restricted by the lack of finance from the owner, and in my opinion the incompetence of the Managing Director, but the one thing that I’m certain of is, we won’t see the blatant downing of tools that we saw game after game under the likes of Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren. Rafa will demand professionalism and effort and that is the minimum that supporters expect.
It’s this sort of team building and attitude that has the team performing above expectation and it’s all down to the manager. I’m sure it was in his mind when he appointed Lascelles as Captain. As many have pointed out, he isn’t the best defender at the club but what he does he does well enough and holds the team together.
Jonjo Shelvey had the captain’s armband against Spurs as Lascelles wasn’t on the field from the start but he let his manager down and despite being available for the last two game, he hasn’t been picked to start despite being one of our so-called ‘better players’. Good, it’s called man management.
For too long players walked into the side purely on reputation and partly due to the fact that there was nobody good enough to replace them. Well in place of Shelvey we have Merino and hasn’t he stepped up and rewarded his manager. Sorry Jonjo, you can sit back and kick your heels and if you’re not happy about it, tough.
We go to Brighton on Sunday afternoon full of heart and hope. How long was it since we could go away to a Premier League side and think we could win the match? Rafa makes his sides hard to beat first and foremost, then with the game under control, he looks to see what he can nick later on. This is exactly what is required away from home and I expect more of the same on the south coast.
Back on the subject of managing expectations and where we could actually finish this season, I must say that we need to be cautious. Around these parts a couple of wins and there’s an overreaction, a couple of defeats and it’s the end of the world.
Take a look at the fixtures and let’s see where we are on Bonfire Night after we have played Bournemouth at St James Park and before the trip to Old Trafford, if we are still high up in the table after that then we can really think about how well the season could go.
Since Rafa came through the door he has always gone with the ‘next game is all that matters’ sort of attitude and his players have responded in kind. We will continue to do well or we will get found out, that’s fact. In the meantime lets enjoy it and continue to get behind Rafa and the lads.
What was that word again, Positivity? You never know it might catch on.