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Opinion

It wouldn’t be Newcastle United without these sub-plots and sideshows

7 months ago
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Now that the World Cup is over, my liver feels like it has run a marathon a day for the past month.

I thought it was a very good World Cup overall, typified by the final. An own goal, a terrible goalkeeping mistake, a couple of quality finishes, a pitch invasion inspired by a punk band and a ridiculous refereeing decision made even more gripping by watching the referee watch it on TV ten times so he could decide to make the wrong decision. Gogglebox eat your heart out, expect to see Scarlett Moffat refereeing a game near you soon.

To be fair to the referee, it is one thing to make a split-second decision based on what you do or don’t see, it is another thing to hold your nerve when you are surrounded by a team of self-proclaimed superstars telling you to go to VAR. The old mantra of “it’s not worth it, he won’t change his mind” has been replaced by “gang up on him and he’ll change his mind.”

Then when the VAR referee tells the on-field referee that he needs to watch it again on TV, the man in the middle is probably already wondering what calamity he has missed. In the case of the World Cup Final, the referee missed a bloke accidentally handling the ball as an attacker a foot in front of him ducked under the ball. If VAR ever comes to the Premier League, that’s another twenty penalties a season against us for Manchester City et al.

newcastle united

‘VAR: Can you ask Pep how many penalties he would like today please?’

In the end I think that the best team won, Croatia and Belgium valiant losers and England did as well as anyone could have hoped. At least England can look forward instead of back and know that if they can produce midfielders in the class of Modric and Rakitic, or attacking players like Griezmann and M’bappe, in the next four years then they can go a step further. Without that class, effort and organisation will only take you so far. Which is pretty much where Newcastle United are at this stage of the summer.

It was a positive when the club signed Kenedy on loan for another season. Now United are in exactly the same position as they were at the end of last season, we just need to catch up on all the teams who have improved. Kenedy individually was a huge boost to the team last season and is very welcome again this season, even if his quoted price-tag of “not free” proved to be too much for a permanent transfer to happen. It was nice to hear his rambling signing on speech as well, he meandered in the interview as much as on some his runs last season:

“Everyone likes the movie (Goal) and because there is the connection with Newcastle, I was asked about that a lot. But it’s a beautiful history and now I know already more about the club. I’m more familiar with it and I have been learning more about it during the close season.”

Brilliant, I’m not going to tell him GOAL wasn’t a documentary. I have contacted a couple of agents to see if we can get some more beautiful history by showing Stormy Mendy, Purely Bellerin, I, Diego Costa and Get Courtois.

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‘Get Courtois: You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape’

For me, the joy of the incoming Kenedy was tempered by the sale of Mikel Merino to Real Sociedad for about £10million.

I am aware that the player both supposedly wanted to return to the region of his birth, and was hardly in the team in 2018, but I still feel that it was a bad deal for Newcastle United. The club’s transfer strategy, if it has one, is often said to be based on signing younger players, improving them and selling them on for profit and this is something like what Rafa Benitez suggests is also his policy, the probable difference being that Rafa wants the player to see a step up being Real Madrid rather than Real Sociedad.

In the case of Merino, not only did the club not make a profit on him, the £10million release clause in his contract seems ludicrously small if the club paid roughly £9million for him, but it looks like the low release clause suggested they were already aware that he wasn’t going to improve at Newcastle. By the time the club had paid the huge agents fees when they bought him and paid the agents involved when they sold him, they probably lost money on the deal. I can’t see what sort of transfer strategy that is, buy a promising young player, hardly play him, sell him on and lose money. Perhaps the old SAFC transfer blueprint was faxed to the wrong office.

Whoever is to blame for all of that, apart from the financial side of the deal, Merino was also good cover for our central midfield pairing who were excellent for the second half of last season. Even if they amaze us and keep that form going for the whole of next season, Shelvey and Diame will still need a rest, still get injured or suspended. Throw in the apparent wish of the only other central midfielder at SJP to leave this summer, which the club must have known about when they sold Merino, selling him looks even more odd. Perhaps the club will surprise me and buy a top class central midfielder to replace Merino but I have my doubts, it looks to me that all they have done is sold one.

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‘Mikel Merino: Basque home, we’ll be thinking about you when you are far away’

For now, it looks like the World Cup was simply a no man’s land between the trenches at SJP, with Rafa Benitez on one side and Mike Ashley on the other. Many fans I know are with Rafa, a few stick up for Ashley, some sit in the middle just wanting to watch a club try and play football.

This week it seems that the Christmas Day Pipes of Peace have gone quiet and the bombs are starting to fly again. Rafa says there is no money, “every penny” means nothing and he must sell to buy. He talks of a willingness to stay and of offers from Spain rejected, sometimes with absolute focus and fact, at other times just tittle-tattle lacking real clarity as to what he is trying to say, perhaps on purpose. The club’s Ministry of Plenty talk of contract extensions refused, a willingness to discuss terms and highlight financial stability with back-slapping and high-fives but rarely trumpet the on-field improvement of the club through investment.

Some fans start another action group letting the club know that the force is with Rafa and love is rarely unrequited.

It wouldn’t be Newcastle United without these sub-plots and sideshows. Less than three weeks until the transfer window closes and the Premier League starts. For me, the first seems too close for comfort, the second can’t come soon enough.
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