These are desperate times at Newcastle United.
As usual under Mike Ashley, you don’t need a full handful of fingers to count the positives at the moment.
In fact you only need two fingers for Mike Ashley and the disaster he is dragging NUFC inevitably towards.
The two fingers you require to count the positives for are: Rafa Benitez and the fans.
The way things are looking, Newcastle are heading into a surefire relegation fight once again. A relegation fight we would almost certain to lose, if not for the presence of the manager.
As for the fans, despite Mike Ashley doing everything he can (no transfer budget given to Rafa, forced to sell before he can buy, rise in season ticket prices, most expensive replica shirts in Premier League, treatment of the manager), St James Park will no doubt have 50,000 or so fans in every home match, despite falling season ticket sales, giving their support to both manager and players – even if not the owner.
However, it is impossible to dress up our current situation as utter desperation, rather than progression.
Despite this, you still see some Newcastle fans who not only see their NUFC glass as half full, they actually believe it is overflowing.
We all understand the wanting to be positive ahead of a new season but you have to be realistic.
The transfer signings that Rafa Benitez is making, are 100% an attempt at damage limitation, rather than anything to celebrate.
Yes, of course we will get fully behind anybody who does end signing for our mental club, as always. We won’t write them off because they are free or cost pennies in this new world of every club outspending us, even many in the Championship.
However, you have to accept that Dubravka and Kenedy apart, the other signings are all a case of Rafa getting what he can get, with the limited funds available. Even Kenedy is just a loan deal with zero chance of signing him at the end of it if he proves decent once again, absolutely no foundations being put down for the future.
Rafa Benitez himself has said that he is having to go way down his preferred list of targets for every position, not first or second choice, not even close.
We lose 22 year old Mikel Merino for £10m, a player who suggested early last season he has the potential to be a top player. We have replaced him with 29 year old free transfer Ki Sung-yueng from relegated Swansea. Bottom line is he isn’t a star Premier League player and hasn’t even being an automatic regular at a poor Swansea side, starting 55 times in the last three seasons in the Premier League and named on the bench 27 times. This doesn’t mean he is rubbish but on the other hand I don’t hear any fan thinking he should be an automatic starter even in our very weak squad.
Last season’s 10th place and Premier League safety was very welcome but it was a relegation struggle for the previous eight months, including a run of one point from nine matches. The top half position was a nice reward for manager, players, and fans, but you also have to accept that on the final day of the season, if results had gone wrong then Newcastle could have finished as low as 15th. The 44 points Newcastle finished with, was the lowest ever total to get a top half position since the Premier League started.
With pretty much every other club that finished around us spending tens of millions, and the three promoted clubs doing the same, you can only surely believe the odds are shifting against us. That doesn’t mean you can’t beat the odds, as Rafa did last season, but this summer it is the equivalent of Mike Ashley chopping off another limb, to further handicap our chances of ‘success’, which yet again looks to equal staying up.
I see other likely signings Newcastle appear set to make.
Fabian Schar is seemingly set to sign for around £3.5m, once again some super positive Newcastle fans want to see this as a stroke of genius from Rafa Benitez.
He looks a decent signing in terms of value for money (cheap!) but he isn’t improving out first team. Since leaving Switzerland he joined Hoffenheim for only £3m and started only 23 Bundesliga matches in two years.
Schar then signed for poor to average La Liga club Deportivo for a similar amount last summer and struggled for a game at times (started 25 games, 9 on bench) for a club who were relegated and conceded more goals than anybody else in the Spanish top tier. Once again, this doesn’t mean we write him off but he is what he is, I don’t see a host of top clubs vying for him this summer, or indeed when he joined both Hoffenheim and Deportivo for £3m or so each time.
Yes I know he played at the World Cup but the Swiss did concede in all three games he played including two against Costa Rica, plus playing at the World Cup doesn’t automatically equal a player who will be brilliant in the Premier League, otherwise we could just have signed the whole Panama squad…please, nobody suggest this to Mike Ashley!
Salomon Rondon is another, if he comes we are getting a striker who turns 29 in September and has scored 24 PL goals in the past three seasons, plus I don’t see a queue of other clubs for him either.
Relegation appears to be a constant theme with our transfer targets, trying to pick up players from struggling teams who other clubs aren’t falling over themselves to buy.
Thursday morning sees Yoshinora Muto supposedly on his way to Tyneside. Mainz were almost relegated last season and stayed up in 14th (of 18) spot, with Muto starting 20 of the 34 league games. He has started 30 Bundesliga matches the last two years and in the same time been named on the bench 20 times, so again, we have to be realistic about who we are signing here, and not expect him to be the total answer to our poor goalscoring of last season.
We all hoped and expected that this summer would see Rafa Benitez to be backed on progressing and moving away from being relegation battlers, attempt to try and start bridging the gap with those in the top six, it might be far in the future but you need a starting point.
Instead, it is more bargain shopping for Rafa Benitez in an attempt to swerve relegation once again, plus bringing in generally older players with no potential of showing big improvement in seasons to come.