For Newcastle fans this potential scenario is only a nightmare – Or is it?
In Game of Thrones they may worry the ‘Winter is Coming’; but we Newcastle fans need to fear that ‘Summer is Coming’.
The difficulty is this.
For Newcastle fans, the football club is an organisation where there are two separate areas of management.
There is the football management, which is carried out by experts, overseen by an individual widely acknowledged to be a world-leader in the field, with a global reputation.
And there is the business management, which has the appearance of being run by a crew of talentless cronies, with no obvious qualifications for the positions they hold.
During the football season, the focus is on the football. And we are privileged to see an expert at work. Each season, Rafa has a plan. He clearly decides upon an overall strategic goal. He manages his resources across the whole season in order to achieve that strategic goal. He doesn’t panic over a few bad results, or dodgy decisions, or poor performances. He looks after his players. He rotates his squad. He keeps all his core players as fit and as involved as possible. He identifies where the points are likely to be won. He doesn’t squander resources chasing unachievable goals.
And each season we see the fruits of that expertise.
Season 1 – achieve promotion. Done.
Season 2 – avoid relegation and try to develop the squad in the absence of any investment. Done.
Season 3 – stabilise in the Premier League, and improve the squad, again in the absence of adequate investment. Done.
The real achievement of Rafa’s last two years hasn’t been avoiding relegation. It has been quietly improving the level of the squad without the money you would realistically expect to need. When we were promoted it was a commonplace (unfair, I think) view that we had a Championship squad. Two seasons on we have a top-6 goalkeeper and (arguably) a top 6 defence. Achieved on the tightest of shoestrings. Dubravka, Lejeune, Fernandez, Schar – all brought in for a combined sum about the same as it cost Fulham to buy Alfie Mawson.
We have sufficient strength in midfield to go most of the season without Shelvey getting a game – at the start of last season it would have been pretty much unimaginable that a fit Shelvey wouldn’t have been the first pick in midfield. And up front, although the resources are thinner on the ground, we are turning out with Rondon up top instead of Joselu.
Rafa has, and continues to work miracles. It’s loaves and fishes stuff.
And a part of his expertise is to focus on the business-end of the season. So, while there are plenty of managers and pundits getting hot under the collar about what is happening in September and October, Rafa tends to roll out the results when it matters. Each of the seasons under Rafa’s management have ended, more-or-less, on a high.
And there is the problem. Because Summer is Coming.
When the teams walk off the pitch on the 12th May, Rafa and the squad will move off centre-stage. And into the spotlight will come – Lee Charnley and his dream-team.
Remember what happened two years ago. We came storming out of the Championship, went into the close season on a massive wave of optimism – and found ourselves watching on with bemusement as that optimism and goodwill poured down the plughole, and our globally-admired manager was reduced to scratching around in Stoke reserves to find a centre forward.
Remember what happened last summer. Yes the finances took a big hit with relegation, and it would have taken a year to get back on an even keel – but surely after a year back up, buoyed by oodles of TV cash, Rafa would have a decent budget to invest. But again, there we all were, looking at each day’s news, waiting in vain for something, anything to happen.
At the end of last season I predicted a net spend of about £50 million. I felt I was being fairly cautious. I would have been a bit disappointed by a net spend of, say, £30 million. As it was, I seem to recall we ended up with a fairly substantial transfer profit. Or did I just imagine that? It seems too unlikely to be true – maybe too much cheese before bedtime. Beyond belief!
No matter how low you set your expectations, each summer the business management at NUFC will fail to meet them. Clowns without face-paint and wigs. Specialists in spectacular under-achievement.
A normal, sensibly-run club would see our current position as a springboard. They would be straining every sinew to keep their most valuable asset on board. They would give the manager the assurances he wants, and get him signed up to a new contract. They would capitalise on the goodwill generated by keeping Rafa by keeping their strongest players and adding two or three first team players to the core of the current squad. After a summer like that we would go into 2019-20 full of hope.
It really shouldn’t be too much to expect. But recent experience would suggest that Newcastle are racing certainties to mess everything up during the close season.
So here we are – Summer is Coming. It should be the season of light, and hope. But for Newcastle fans it is the Heart of Darkness. Here we stand – close to the edge, peering into the void, fearful, our heads full of imagined horrors. Is that?? Can it be??? No, surely not!!! Anything but that!!! Not Joe Kinnear!!!! AAAAGHH
It’s alright – it’s only a nightmare.
Or is it?
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