So, the old Europe argument has once again reared its ugly head this week. The reason being that we are playing Burnley next and they are one of a number of teams that just can’t seem to get their heads around the problems associated with qualifying for it.
I understand that the way the fixtures are structured can be an inconvenience, but it should be just that, an inconvenience. It shouldn’t be a major obstacle to completing the fixture calendar, nor should it send a club into a mad panic that they have a few extra games to play.
I know footballers can be creatures of habit, but if you’re seriously telling me that altering their working week to play on a Thursday night and a Sunday afternoon (or Monday night) then these overpaid millionaires really need a reality check. Surely they all aspire to play for top clubs? Surely that would mean playing midweek and again at the weekend? It can’t be the players that are the problem with this fear of European qualification.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche, who has a growing respect in the game, came out with “When you go through it and you look back and you reflect on it, you understand why it’s well documented, you understand why all the managers come off it and go ‘massive challenge’. Well, If you under invest like Burnley did last summer I’m not surprised it’s a challenge.
How has it become a ‘massive challenge’ all of a sudden? Players are fitter, have all the right diets, have all the best facilities to train in and the vast majority of places can be reached by plane in under three hours. It seems to have been a mantra over the last decade that European competition is more of a hindrance to some clubs than a prestigious target to aspire to.
Back in 2012 when Newcastle United last qualified for the Europa League, the alarm bells were ringing at St James Park after our Premier League form took an alarming hit and we struggled against relegation. This and the attitude to Europe as a whole should be attributed to bad management, both from the coaches AND the club’s higher management, and NOT the fact that clubs have an extra few games to play.
In 2012, once Newcastle secured 5th place, that should have been another watershed moment for Mike Ashley and the people running the club. It should have been a time to build, to add quality and depth to the squad, yet instead all we got was Vurnon Anita for £6m. That wouldn’t have been good enough to consolidate on 5th place, never mind improve on it AND tackle a European campaign.
Alan Pardew (bless him) can hardly be described as a miracle worker. However, he got the club to 5th place because he simply had too much quality at his disposal to finish much lower in what was a poor league that season, and anyone who thinks otherwise, is seriously over-egging Pardew’s abilities as manager.
In a season where Chelsea and Liverpool massively underachieved and with a squad consisting of Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Davide Santon, Danny Simpson, Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, you’d be hard pressed to struggle.
If I have any sympathy for Pardew, it’s that he was unlikely to be warmed to by the fans up here, based on the fact that he isn’t a good manager. The fact that he was an apologist for the owner and blamed everyone but himself, is a moot point, but I digress.
The point being made is that for nine months, clubs battle it out through a 38 game fixture list and we all know three will falter and lose Premier League status, while another four will qualify for Champions League football and 5th place will get you into the Europa League group stages.
A further two teams will qualify for the qualifying rounds if they win either the FA Cup or the EFL Cup. Now depending on who finishes where, it’s also feasible that a 6th or 7th place finish could get you into the Europa League so it’s definitely something to aim for. That is, if you’re a football fan, not so much if you’re the owner of a football club it seems these days.
Newcastle United have had a policy in recent years of not trying in cup competitions so getting into Europe via that route is out. A serious lack of investment puts 5th place well out of reach, especially considering the teams that spend way more than what we do/have done. So we are left with what exactly?
If you look at the current Premier League table, any team from Leicester City in 10th I would mark down as being relatively safe from relegation even at this early stage. This would give those teams scope to have a crack at either the European places, the cups, or both. Everybody from 11th downwards has the dubious honour of simply fighting relegation I’m afraid and that’s the group that Newcastle find themselves in.
Sadly, as I’ve already stated, what exactly is the point of the league campaign for well over half of the teams currently in this division? People may not like what I’m about to say but it must surely be merely survival.
The top four is currently proving a challenge to break into even for the Arsenals and the Manchester Uniteds of this world and with Everton, Bournemouth and Watford sniffing round, qualifying for Europe is no more than a pipe dream for Newcastle fans under this current regime. That is unless we start taking the cups seriously and for that, we need to spend some money to ensure that we can look at the cups without taking our eyes off the ball in the league.
Then again, what on earth is the point of having a crack at qualifying for Europe if the second we do, competing in it is held as a ‘massive challenge’ and a major culprit if we struggle the following season?
I’ve never advocated spending fortunes at Newcastle United as I don’t think it’s necessary. Last summer, if the money we banked was spent on Rafa Benitez’ first choice transfer targets and they were brought in BEFORE pre-season, I’m convinced we would be in a far healthier position than we currently find ourselves.
This could have allowed us to at least have a go at the cups instead of being in perpetual limbo with only survival to aim for. We already know the aim of the owner is survival and nothing more and at the most minimum of expenditure possible. Sure he’d like to finish higher but it’s also true that he’d also gamble on relegation (and has done season after season) rather than risk qualifying for Europe, as that would mean massive investment would be required.
It’s for this reason that two factions won’t be around next season if Ashley remains in situ.
Firstly, Rafa Benitez, he isn’t an also ran, he harbours a project and the project he sees for Newcastle will include some sort of progress, not middling about in the lower half of the table forever.
The second group that won’t be here next season if Rafa goes, is many, many fans who will simply have had enough. If Rafa walks, it will be a cast iron assurance of zero ambition, as if we needed any further confirmation.
There is no point in a club existing simply to make up the numbers season after season. At some point an effort has to be made.
The food chain of the Premier League doesn’t help, but there are teams in the league, that make a far better fist of it than Newcastle United do under Ashley.
Either back the club and the manager properly or sell up and clear off, because this groundhog day scenario that he has run the club into is getting mighty tedious, annoying and certainly no fun at all. Failure I can handle but not merely existing as a ghost club for the club’s billionaire owner.
Once again, If Rafa leaves at the end of this campaign, I won’t be around next season to participate in the charade any further.