What is success for Newcastle United this season?
If you had just arrived from another planet you would see a club that had got relegated, bounced back immediately as champions, then finished 10th in the first season back in the Premier League.
You would no doubt be thinking great momentum, massive opportunity to progress, show ambition in the transfer market and then every chance on top eight this season and also, who knows what then happens if everything falls right and one or two of the usual suspects (relatively) struggle.
Obviously, this hasn’t happened.
Success this season for most Newcastle fans is survival, with anything else a bonus.
However, whilst our enemies are claiming Newcastle supporters are kicking off because money isn’t been spent to enable us to challenge Manchester City, I honestly worry about the physical and mental state of this NUFC squad when it comes to even being good enough to avoid relegation
When I say physical, I mean in terms of ability, do Newcastle have a better team and squad than at least other Premier League clubs at the minute? I’m not convinced.
I would say Cardiff are definitely worse off than NUFC, probably Huddersfield, but after that I can’t say for sure.
Beyond that though, I am concerned about the mental side of things, in terms of drive to win and the rest of it.
I don’t mean that they don’t care but supporters of every club will hope/expect that their players care, so why should we think ours automatically care more?
When you had players such as Alan Shearer, as well as his ability, you knew that it meant so much more to him when he played for Newcastle compared to any other team The same with other local lads such as Clark, Watson, Elliott and so on. Whilst we also recognise it in many other players from outside the region who formed such a close attachment to Newcastle United over time.
It became a club that they believed in and they were desperate to keep playing for in the years ahead.
Now I look at it and this appears to be a team/squad only really for the here and now.
Forget about whether you thought they were good enough or not, imagine a scenario whereby a 22 year old Merino and 23 year old Mitrovic were first team regulars this season and that in the summer we had bought 22 year old Kenedy (instead of a loan), plus maybe another couple of promising up and coming players in their early 20s.
You could then potentially have a core group of players seeing how they can grow together and get collective success here, with more to come later.
Even look back at the promotion team/squad, you had the likes of Shelvey, Lascelles, Ritchie, Gayle, Yedlin and others, full of enthusiasm and thinking with a few quality players added in summer 2018 and then summer 2019, Newcastle could be really going places by now…
Instead, it all smacks of short-termism, with minus (net) money to spend, Rafa Benitez having to cobble together the best he can get for a pittance, to try and get through this season.
Four of the seven summer signings signed contracts for two years or less.
Rondon and Kenedy on loan until next summer with no agreed option to buy for either, whilst 29 year olds Ki and Fernandez were signed up for only two years.
Rafa’s had no choice but it is just storing up problems for the future and even the very near future. Relegation in 2015/16 came about after many years of failing to invest properly in the squad before Ashley realised/accepted how dire the situation it was and despite then allowing half-decent spending in summer 2015, it proved too little to late.
This is no way to run a football club.
That promotion team of 2017/18 was a great base that just needed quality drip fed into it, rather than bargain basement signings such as Atsu, Joselu and Manquillo to fill shirts in the squad to ensure we had numbers.
This is how the squad currently stands in terms of when players see their contracts run out:
June 2019: Rondon, Diame, Kenedy
June 2020: Darlow, Joselu, Manquillo, Fernandez, Ki, Elliot
June 2021: Shelvey, Ritchie, Hayden, Perez, Yedlin, Clark, Schar, Atsu, Lazaar, Saivet, Gayle, Aarons
June 2022: Dummett, Dubravka, Muto, Lejeune
June 2023: Lascelles, Murphy
Even if Newcastle stay up, you have three first team players leaving as they are out of contract or back to their parent club, another six of the first team squad with only a year left on their contract, with the bulk of the squad (another 12) only with two years to go – a time when if you want to keep them longer you have to really get them signed up on extensions and not let it get to a year to go and probably lose them for nothing.
On top of this of course, is that grim reality that unless Mike Ashley sells up or has a personality transplant, we know Rafa and Lascelles will surely be off.
A failing Academy lacking the investment needed, a substandard training complex that was supposed to be replaced by a state of the art one years ago, as well as St James Park that has the bare minimum spent on it.
The substandard infrastructure that has suffered year after year through a lack of care and investment by those at the top, is now looking set to be mirrored by a squad that is suffering the same from Mike Ashley and his people.
We have the manager and fans who are more than ready to go the long haul with Newcastle United but when you have an owner who is only interested in getting by on a year to year basis on the lowest spend possible, you have no chance.
That is our reality unless we see the back of Mike Ashley.