With Newcastle United having their usual FA Cup ‘rest’, we thought it an ideal time to ask some of the regular writers on The Mag, the important questions of the day.
Premier League survival, Manchester United the turning point(?), Rafa Benitez, Mike Ashley, players Newcastle must keep, the plight of the Mackems, the Winter Olympics…it’s all there.
Comments at the end always welcome.
Next up is Ben Cooper:
Do you think Newcastle will be a Premier League club next season?
It is a very close call but yes. If we had more than one goal in us per game I would be much more optimistic. As it is, I can see us scraping to 40 points.
In a straight race I think we can match the teams below, us like Huddersfield and Southampton, and definitely not give up an eight point lead over WBA. We have to play all three of those teams at home and the three results will be crucial.
Pardew being at West Brom and not being here is a big help, he always lost those ‘must-win’ games at SJP so I have no reason to fear his imploding rabble. In that respect, Benitez’ team ethic will be just as important to our inexperienced team as Pardew’s inability to build any team spirit in his squad.
Benitez always sends his team out with a “win or lose together” mentality, Pardew has already changed “we” to “I” when they win and “we” to “they” when Albion lose.
How big was that win over Man Utd in giving Newcastle a decent chance of survival?
Before the Manchester United game I might have said “no” to that previous question, that is how much those three points mean. As a number of people have also said, I just couldn’t see us beating any of the top 8 teams, getting that surprise result. That meant that we would have to beat all of the bottom teams we had to play and historically we are not great at that. The confidence beating Manyoo should give the team and supporters will hopefully make a big difference all round.
Does the Man Utd match make you believe that we do have a decent number of players who can play much better on a regular basis in the Premier League, or was it more of a classic case of everybody lifting themselves for a one-off match?
A bit of both.
I think we do have a decent number of players who can play much better on a regular basis in the Premier League and the performance against Manyoo hasn’t changed that view. We don’t have enough of those players though and we don’t have any up front.
Everyone did raise their game against Manyoo but maybe that was also because we started the game on the front foot, which lifted the crowd and knocked a bit of the strut out of a couple of key players in red. Momentum is vital in football and we had it against Manchester United, even when they forced us back into our own penalty area near the end.
Too often in games we have been ahead in this season we have handed that momentum over to poor opposition who had not been in the game until that point. I hope this gives the team the belief to start on the front foot and remain there for 90 minutes.
How many points do you guess will be needed to stay up and how many do you reckon Newcastle will get?
40 is always the point mark which officially guarantees Premier League status (copyright Sky Sports) and I think we will get them. I think it will be very tight at the bottom but there are about 11 teams who still need a handful of wins to get to 40 points and I can’t see them all getting them. It is likely that 36 or 37 will be enough.
I’ll be much happier when we hit 40 points though, when we have 37 I don’t think I’ll be relaxing with a bottle of San Miguel thinking we are safe unless it is mathematically certain. Also, I will still have one eye on that HMRC issue which hasn’t been resolved yet. NUFC will get trouble over that, how much, what and when isn’t clear yet, but their hands are dirty and they won’t escape the consequences. Hopefully our points total will remain a separate issue.
Does the Winter Olympics make up for Newcastle United not playing for two weeks?
I pay as much attention to the Winter Olympics as I do to the latter rounds of the FA Cup. NUFC have probably got more chance of winning something at the Winter Olympics.
Everybody fit and a game Newcastle have to win to stay up, which 11 players would you pick from current squad?
Presuming the new keeper doesn’t turn out to be the Slovak Mike Hooper then:
Him, Yedlin, Dummett, Lascelles, Clark, Shelvey, Diame, Merino, Kenedy, Ritchie, Gayle.
Picking Clark would be dependent on whether he was in one of his ‘4 game stupid’ patches or not and Zenadine Diame on whether he was in one of his ’12 month lazy’ patches or not. Gayle also scores goals in patches, so if he’d scored in the past few weeks then him.
I haven’t seen Slimani play since he was at Sporting Lisbon so I’d struggle to pick him. Maybe Slimani could do that old ‘half-time challenge’ thing where he had to pass the ball into the bullseye in the centre circle. If he hit it cleanly and with enough force to reach the grid, he’d get the nod above Joselu.
What do you think of Mike Ashley’s behaviour towards Rafa Benitez and his ‘support’ for him in doing the job of being NUFC Manager?
The pair of them were on a collision course 6 months ago but they seem to be being more professional about it now, both of them.
I look at the way Conte and Chelsea are behaving and at least NUFC are looking more stable than them. Chelsea look like they have brought it all on themselves and that was NUFC for a while. One of them will go in the summer, either Ashley will sell the club or Benitez will walk away now that his contract clause is up. Benitez wants money to spend, Ashley doesn’t want to give it to him.
They may be keeping calm for the sake of the club, their investment, careers or money, who knows what their motivation is, but once our fate has been sealed either way in May, one of them will leave. The blame for that probably lies somewhere between them. Benitez for having ambition, Ashley for employing someone with ability.
Do you believe Mike Ashley is serious about selling the club and do you have faith in it happening?
I have no idea. Do any of us? Ashley is completely random, he doesn’t follow any sense that I can see and he doesn’t seem to care that he is not maximising the club’s potential and his investment. He seems to do everything on his gut feeling with a Jabba The Hutt type relish.
When he says he has lost interest in the club and wants to sell it, I believe that he believes that statement at that particular time. A minute later, who knows what he thinks. If we survive this season, someone will offer him £300million, then we will see how serious he is.
I don’t have any “faith” that it will happen immediately, Ashley will do whatever he feels like doing at the time, but sooner rather than later he will have to sell if the money is offered.
If the club is to be sold, do you think it would be the Amanda Staveley led bidders or more likely to be somebody so far unknown?
The papers are all full of chat that Amanda Staveley doesn’t have the money or backers to buy the club but I don’t know if that is true or not. All I can think of to answer that question is to say that if we stay up, I think Ashley will get his asking price as long as Rafa is there.
If he puts the price up or forces Rafa out then it will be more of a struggle for any bidder to put up with his nonsense.
Seeing as I can’t afford to buy the club, I would hope that the next buyer would be someone who just let the club be itself. I don’t even expect them to put any money into it, just organise it so it is a proper club which can stand on its own and try and challenge the mighty while embodying the spirit of our entertaining city.
With that kind of motto who wouldn’t want to buy it? Business people wouldn’t, they are the tossers who got us into this mess in the first place.
Whatever division Newcastle end up in next season, which six players (in order) would you be most keen to keep?
Lascelles is our best player by a mile. Someone will come in for him with big money if he carries on this progress over the next 12 months.
Merino also has that potential if he can stay fit. Shelvey probably won’t reach his full potential, but when he does play well, he is as good as any mid-table Premier League midfielder. Kenedy already looks better than any of our other attacking players but whether we can keep him or not, I don’t know. The other two I would have in simply because we have no alternative to them. Yedlin and Dummett both get a lot of stick, sometimes off me, but we miss them when they don’t play. Keeping them would allow us to spend money where we most need it, up front.
What circumstances (Ashley staying, Rafa going, back to the Championship, whatever), if any, would make you stop going to matches?
A few years ago we played Spurs at home on a Wednesday night straight after we had lost a home game to the Mackems. The kids wanted to stay in and watch the Madrid derby on the TV but I made them go to SJP. It was minus 5. We lost 4-0. The kids didn’t speak to me for a week, until they had defrosted. I nearly stopped going then.
As a general point, if we had an owner with the interest of the club at heart, a manager who played good attacking football and a team that at least tried to have a go at winning trophies then very little would keep me away. The more we get away from that, the more I am likely to stop going.
So Tony Pulis then. Or the return of I, Pardew.
When I stop enjoying watching the football, lose hope of something better, when I lose belief that my attendance in support of the team is helping Newcastle United, then I will stop.
Reading between the lines of the question a bit, if we are talking specifically about getting Mike Ashley out of SJP then I am happy to play my part to remove his era of mediocrity.
I don’t believe a one-man boycott of SJP will achieve that though, I don’t believe that me stopping going to matches or us stopping going to matches would achieve that, only everyone stopping going to matches for a very long time. That would be very difficult to achieve, even now I know Newcastle United fans who stick up for Ashley, who would never stop going in protest.
There are better, quicker and easier ways to change ownership. Finding someone to buy him out being first on the list, a boycott of the ground very near the bottom of a long list. I would rather see a massive effort by Newcastle fans to find a buyer for the club painlessly, than a hugely demoralising and divisive boycott.
What do you think about what is happening at Sunderland?
I don’t know a lot about it to be honest but having seen that division last season I can’t believe any club relegated from the Premier League would tumble through that league as well, there are so many poor teams in it.
I know it is a different league and you need some different skills but we have shown that what people like to call “a championship team” can get up to 13th in the Premier League so it can’t be that different.
The Mackems presumably kept some players who know how to kick people so I find it hard to believe that they can’t continue to do that a division below, players in the Championship are easier to catch.
I did think that Chris Coleman was a poor manager in his club career and he got lucky with a national team that had two of the best players in world football, so I’m not surprised that he is making a complete hash of it down the road. In their position they needed someone to unite them, not someone to rub his tan and his ego in their faces.
I don’t really follow it but I am quite pleased on a personal note to see them on their backsides. I have (had) friends who support them who aren’t from Sunderland and when we got relegated, they gave me the sort of remorseless stick that went beyond banter.
They don’t talk about football much now, they are too busy at the MetroCentre. Which is nice.