What would count as a good summer for Newcastle United?
With the season having drawn to a close, thoughts turn to the summer.
There was a time when the World Cup was a big thing for any football fan – the prospect of seeing South Americans with sumptuous skills and exotic names, used to be a thrill for any British football fan. But now we see them every week.
There are still plenty of patriotic souls who look forward with hope in their hearts to seeing England perform. I’m afraid I’m no longer one of them. Too many pathetic, petrified, constipated displays by players fantastic for their clubs and abysmal for England, have evaporated my enthusiasm.
So the World Cup doesn’t do it for me anymore. My footballing attention this close season will be focused on St James Park.
We’ve experienced some awful close seasons in recent years but at the end of what has been, on the whole, a positive season where most people’s reasonable expectations have been met, what would count as a good close season?
Trying to keep to the limits of what we can reasonably hope for, here’s my summer wish-list.
A new contract for Rafa
The key to everything really.
It seems like Rafa wants to stay, but he is a canny operator, who knows the ropes. With a year left on his contract he has probably the maximum amount of leverage he is going to get to get what he wants out of Mike Ashley. I’m sure Rafa will want to be well paid – why wouldn’t he – but I don’t think his personal terms are likely to be the issue. He will be looking to get assurances that the ownership is going to give him sufficient resources to make it worth his while committing to the job.
With the club on the market, everyone involved will realise that Rafa’s continued presence is going to make a big difference to the value and the saleability of the club – so it’s in everyone’s interest to get Rafa tied down and settled in as soon as possible. It is bound to be item one on everyone’s agenda.
So I’ll be looking to see agreement on a new contract early in the close season – ideally straight away. If that happens we can be hopeful – not just because the club will be keeping its biggest asset, but as a sign that Rafa has been given the assurances he needs to persuade him to stay. The longer we wait, the more cause there will be to worry.
For Mike Ashley to keep his word
It’s difficult for Newcastle fans to have a reasoned discussion about Mike Ashley.
He’s a bit like Brexit – lots of people have very entrenched views and they see things through the perspective of those. If something happens which doesn’t sit with their personal views, they’re more likely to change their view of reality than to change their views – it’s what they call ‘cognitive dissonance’.
We’ve probably all come across people who’ve been driven mad by Brexit or Ashley – and there’s not really any point in trying to engage with them. They’ve got so much invested in their view that they’re not going to change it.
My own view of Ashley is that he’s not a very good owner – but he’s far from the worst one out there. He hasn’t bankrupted the club. He hasn’t sold the ground and moved us into an athletics stadium. He’s made a lot of stupid, stupid mistakes. He’s not good – but he could be worse.
One thing he has been pretty clear about over the last few years are the financial ground rules by which he has said he will run the club. I’m sure he gets his bit out through advertising and commercial operations – it’s his business, not a charity, so I’ve got no problem with that. On the other hand he has been absolutely clear that he isn’t going to put cash in. More than that, he won’t let the club borrow – there won’t be any speculation with a view to accumulation.
But he has said in terms that Rafa can have every spare penny that the club generates. We can’t realistically hope for any more than that – but we can hope that Ashley will keep his word, and that after a year’s income under the new TV deal, there will be a decent amount of money made available for Rafa to spend.
How much? Not being on the inside, it’s impossible to say. But if Ashley is good to his word, you would expect Newcastle to have an overall budget for transfers and wages comparable to other teams outside the top six. My guess would be that Rafa will have about £50M plus sales to work with – it would be nice if it was more, but on the whole I’d be content with that.
Sign Dubravka quickly and offer £20m for Kenedy
No manager gets it right all the time, but if any proof were needed that Rafa knows what he’s doing with player recruitment, these two are the evidence.
I for one was a bit nonplussed about the ongoing stories last year about Rafa’s search for another keeper – I thought it was one of the areas we were better equipped in. However, after seeing the difference Dubravka has made, I’ve got to doff my cap to Rafa – he knows his stuff.
And we can all see why he was so keen for so long to bring Kenedy to the club. He wouldn’t come cheap, but if we could get him for £20m I reckon that would be good business. So I’m hoping a sensible offer will go in straight away.
A new forward line
I don’t think there’s much wrong with our defence. You would expect one or two of our keepers to leave in the summer with Dubravka to sign. You would expect us to be looking for some cover and competition at full-back, with Gamez and Haidara to leave. There might be need for another centre-back since Rafa clearly doesn’t like the cut of Mbemba’s jib – but I wouldn’t have thought there would be need for a great deal of net spend on that.
Again, in midfield I wouldn’t have thought there’s need for much net spend. There might be the odd player traded out for whatever reason (maybe Merino if he wants to leave, or Murphy if he’s not going to be good enough) and a replacement brought in, but no need for much more than that.
I’ll be looking for all our available money to get spent on someone to play wide on the left (hopefully Kenedy), competition with Perez at no 10, and two front-line strikers.
I’m assuming that Mitrovic will go. Regardless of his abilities, short of a complete character change and an intelligence-implant, he isn’t going to have any future in a Rafa team. Rafa’s forwards work like stink when they don’t have the ball and they play a tightly disciplined role within the team. I like Mitrovic – but that’s not him, so he might as well go.
I can see Gayle leaving as well – though I’d be happy for him to stay. If I was manager of a team looking to get out of the Championship, Gayle would be right at the top of my wish-list – so I wouldn’t be surprised if an offer came in for him that was too good to refuse.
And I can see Adam Armstrong being sold this summer as well.
So for me a good summer’s business would be for Rafa to have about £50m plus say around say £35m from selling Mitrovic, Gayle and Armstrong. Hopefully spend £20m on Kenedy. That would leave about £60m+ to buy a number 10 and two centre-forwards.
I think Rafa could give us a decent upgrade for that amount of money.
Keep hold of Jamaal Lascelles
Our skipper is going to have his head turned by all sorts of talk this summer. I think he’s a sensible lad. I hope that he’s able to see that if Rafa stays then things are going in the right direction, and he has the chance to make himself a legend at Newcastle, better that than a sub at Chelsea.
That’s my wish-list for the summer. The one thing that’s not on there is a takeover.
The way I see it, if there is someone out there who has enough money to spend £350-400m on the club and then enough left over to invest in it, then they’re likely to just buy it without a great rigmarole beforehand through the press. If a potential buyer is arguing the toss with Mike Ashley about £50m on or off the price, do I want that person to buy the club? No I don’t. Do I want to see some consortium scrape together the money to buy the club by borrowing, and then have to service the interest on that? No I don’t.
So I would be content not to hear anything more of Amanda Staveley, or the like. If a takeover comes along, then it might be for the better, or it might be for the worse – but I’d rather be looking at summer headlines about player deals than corporate deals.