Easily the best Newcastle United team during the Mike Ashley era was the 2011/12 one.
Not exactly a lot of competition…
That season Newcastle finished fifth in the table and maybe there was an element of luck in terms of finishing a point ahead of sixth placed Chelsea, in terms of a fair few spectacular goals coming off that season, none more so than the two Cisse scored at Stamford Bridge in the end of season run-in.
However, there was certainly no fluke in terms of Newcastle finishing nine points clear of Everton in seventh and thirteen points ahead of Liverpool in eight. In fact, if you went the other way, Newcastle were only five points off Arsenal in third.
There were 17 players who started at least 10 Premier League matches that season, as Newcastle at last looked to have a team and squad that could establish itself in the top six, if this breakthrough season could be built on…
The feeling at the time was that a few key ambitious signings could really set the team and squad up for the next season, instead, only versatile squad player Vurnon Anita was added and even that was funded by the sale of a number of squad players.
A big thing going for that 2011/12 team/squad, was that as well as having some obvious quality amongst it, it also had a pretty perfect age profile.
When that 2011/12 season kicked off, these were the ages of the 17 players who were to go on and start 10 or more PL games, Papiss Cisse of course not signing until halfway through the season.
The age of the Newcastle United squad at start of 2011/12 season:
29 Fabricio Coloccini
28 Jonas Gutierrez
27 Mike Williamson
26 Demba Ba, Ryan Taylor, Papiss Cisse
25 James Perch, Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye
24 Leon Best, Danny Guthrie, Danny Simpson, Hatem Ben Arfa
23 Tim Krul
22 Gabriel Obertan
20 Davide Santon
This was a team that could play together for years and improve season after season with the right additions.
What an opportunity wasted.
If there had been proper investment then who knows what could have been achieved.
Instead, the better players saw zero ambition and either realised they had to leave (Cabaye, Ba), or stayed and stagnated as their enthusiasm drained up and were never quite the same again (Krul, Coloccini, Tiote, Cisse, Ben Arfa).
In reality, it has been downhill pretty much ever since, even though the presence of Rafa Benitez does continue to give us hope, especially after he cajoled a relatively weak squad in 10th last season.
Newcastle United are now in a position where this below is how the age profile of the squad would look in 12 months time, unless there is serious investment.
33 Rob Elliot
32 Mohamed Diame
30 Ki Sung-yeung, Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie, Federico Fernandez, Martin Dubravka
29 Joselu, Karl Darlow, Henri Saivet, Dwight Gayle
28 Paul Dummett, Florian Lejeune
27 Fabian Schar, Jonjo Shelvey, Yoshinori Muto, Christian Atsu, Achraf Lazaar
26 Jamaal Lascelles, Ayoze Perez, DeAndre Yedlin
25 Javier Manquillo,
24 Isaac Hayden, Rolando Aarons, Jacob Murphy
We have now been left with an ageing squad.
A lack of investment has meant Rafa Benitez has ended up keeping players from the Championship campaign for longer than he probably intended, whilst also feeling that with so little cash to spend, he has to target older players to try and plug the gaps in quality in the short-term – rather than being able to invest for the longer-term as well.
The likes of Ki, Fernandez and Dubravka were brought in on permanent deals this summer but all will have turned 30 by this time next year. That isn’t such a bad thing on its own but when there aren’t the other more progressive bigger money deals happening for younger quality at the same time, it means no foundations are being laid for the future.
A typical Mike Ashley scenario, no long-term plan for Newcastle United, just giving the manager as little money as possible in the hope NUFC can survive in the Premier League for another season.
Rafa wasn’t even allowed to make a cash offer to buy Kenedy after his initial loan success, so if he blossoms this season then no doubt somebody else will benefit from that.
After his goals and performance against Bournemouth, a lot of Newcastle fans are hoping Rondon can be bought at the end of the season. However, he turns 30 in September and once again you are going for a temporary fix for another year or two.
I’m not saying I would be against potentially signing Rondon on a permanent deal but at some point Newcastle have to start and build a side for the future. Well run clubs invest in plaayers at all stages of their careers, whereas price consistently forces Rafa to now have to look at older players. You also have the situation where both Ki and Fernandez only signed on two year contracts, so next summer would see them contracted for only another 12 months.
We have a manager in place who could start to lay foundations in terms of turning around the failing Academy as well as building a proper first team squad, if only he received the realistic backing he needs to do so.