Absurd that Newcastle fans and local media peddle notion that everything about this is fine and dandy
There is no doubt that this is the first Newcastle United team in a long time, where the manager and the players are much loved by the fans.
Even when you think back to the Sir Bobby days when the team was flying high at the top of the league and reaching the latter stages of the European and UEFA Cup, there were always a few players in the side who you weren’t exactly crazy about. Thinking about the likes of Bellamy, Dyer, Bowyer and Bramble, there is no equivalent in this Newcastle side.
Those players in the squad who have come in for criticism, such as Ayoze Perez and Isaac Hayden, have since the turn of the year, or in the case of Perez since the start of March, done much to prove a lot of people wrong. We may never see Isaac Hayden in a Newcastle shirt again but there will be pressure on Ayoze Perez to show whether he can actually do it, rather than two great runs of form we have seen in the past two seasons between March and May.
The main point being is that you really can’t fault the effort of this group of players. As fans, we have been starved of players that actually give a damn about Newcastle United. As a result, we are without doubt over-estimating their ability. It is important to remember that this is a side that finished 13th this season, and was near the bottom of the table for most of the season, until a great run of form took us away from the drop.
One constant narrative over the past few years is that Rafa is getting the best out of a bad bunch. It is something that I still believe.
That Rafa Benitez continues to get 110% out of this group of players almost every single week, and that if he didn’t manage to do this, then we would not have got out of the Championship, nor would we have survived the past two seasons. I don’t think there are many people who even debate this notion – it is a widely recycled narrative in the local media, but also in the national one too. Essentially, the crux of the argument is that if any other manager was in charge of Newcastle United then we would not be in the Premier League.
I certainly believe that hypothesis.
There is no doubting that is a great group of players. I have mentioned that many times before and I think most fans are onboard with the fact that just about every player in this squad is likable. Give me the likes of a Joselu over a Sissoko every day of the week.
Without going off track, but while I have mentioned Sissoko (who will likely start for Spurs in the European Cup final) – I can’t not mention the former NUFC player he will be lining up against in that game.
I have seen it bandied around quite frequently lately, that Wijnaldum was great for Newcastle, he was misunderstood and that if we had stayed up under Rafa then he would have been a great asset. That last point may be true, however, in his only season at the club I was at almost every away game and I am not buying into this argument. For the most part, when things weren’t going for him, or on days when he didn’t fancy it… basically whenever the going got tough, Wijnaldum didn’t get going. He wasn’t willing to break sweat in a Newcastle shirt, and when the pressure wasn’t on or he didn’t have thousands of screaming geordies on his back (usually away home), he was nowhere to be seen.
The problem with this ‘Rafa is getting the best out of a bad bunch’ narrative is that it is in direct contrast to two other narratives that are bandied about Newcastle United right now.
The first is that this is a Newcastle side with the best defence we have seen in years. Now this is a funny one because I don’t think there is much doubt that for the first time in years, when we come to discuss who NUFC should sign in the summer, a centre half is probably the last position on everyone’s minds. Meanwhile at left back and right back, we are doing ok. Perhaps Deandre Yedlin’s poor form this season has led many to believe his position is one we should be looking at.
Now that narrative again, I don’t necessarily disagree with it and it doesn’t dispel the notion that Rafa is getting the best out of a bad bunch.
However, it is the next narrative that has emerged that leaves me scratching my head and thinking ‘well, if this is true, then what is so good about Rafa?’
It is the narrative that we should be building a team around Rondon, Almiron and Perez. While it is true that the three of them have been brilliant together since Almiron was signed at the start of February, I dread to think where we will be if we take the mind set of ‘these are the three guys who show the standard we want to be at’.
Rondon has been our player of the season and he is an absolute no brainer to sign this summer. However, we need a second striker, and if we are going to go anywhere we need a finisher, someone who can keep with Rondon and hopefully be better than him. I am his biggest fan but lets not pretend that Rondon is the standard that we should all be aspiring to.
If there is any ambition at all at Newcastle, then a centre forward like Rondon should be the minimum. If the likes of West Ham, Everton, Leicester decided to sign Rondon (which has been mooted), would he be going in there as their star centre forward? Not at all! He would be a supporting striker competing with the likes of Arnautovic, Hernandez, Tosun, Calvert Lewin, Vardy and Iheanacho just for a starting place.
Likewise, Perez has been great since March, absolutely fantastic. His run of form, and the goals has chipped in with, have been incredible. They haven’t been tap ins either, the goal at Leicester was one of the best headed goals I have ever seen, and he single-handedly turned the game around for us at home to Everton. But is he the standard we should be aspiring to? Building your team around Ayoze Perez… I tell you something, that is a terrifying thought. If Perez can find some consistency, and put together a whole season’s worth of half decent performances, then we can start to think about building a team around him.
Then there is Almiron, we still don’t know what is to come from him. No goals and no assists so far doesn’t make for great reading but of course anyone who has watched Newcastle United will know he has contributed far more in terms of the dynamic he brings to the team. He has had a free pass in his first half season, but come next season, the pressure will be on him to step up.
So which one is it?
Rafa can’t be a magician if he is getting a group of players with a great defence and a great attack to just about avoid the drop every season.
It is absurd that fans, and the local media, peddle this notion that everything is fine and dandy, Almiron is amazing, Perez is a star and Rondon is the striker we are desperate for. In truth it is a little embarrassing and it shows just how far we have let our standards slip. Mike Ashley has sucked the ambition out of everyone.
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