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Opinion

‘Concerned, angry, deflated’ has now become ‘Howay man Sheikh’

2 months ago
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Last season is now receding fast for Newcastle fans, with the hopes and worries of supporters now directed towards this summer and next season.

The days are now ticking by in the transfer window and fans still awaiting news on Rafa Benitez and his contract situation, never mind new signings…

So we have asked a number of regular/irregular Mag contributors various sets of questions about the state of Newcastle United, reflecting on the 2018/19 season and the issues that face us now.

Answering questions here is Newcastle fan/writer Geordie 7676:

Three words that describe your current mood regarding Newcastle United?

If I had written this yesterday, they would have been something along the lines of ‘Concerned, angry, deflated’.

Writing it this morning, my three words are ‘Howay man Sheikh’

Mike Ashley came out with another ‘every penny’ statement minutes after the final whistle v Chelsea on the final day of the 2017/18 season. With now the benefit of these last 12 months was that genuine, did it prove to be reality, intended to dupe Rafa and the fans, or what? Please discuss.

In no way can the financial activity over the last twelve months prove his statement to be genuine, far from it in fact. With a net spend of a little over £14million according to TransferMarkt, he really did pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

However, with the news breaking overnight that there is a reported takeover happening, then maybe just maybe his lack of spending may just be a blessing in disguise – if the accounts are looking favourable to an investor (such as the reduced wage bill reported in the recent accounts release) then it is possible that the spending, or lack of, was part of a bigger plan.

In hindsight we can look back (if the sale is genuine and does go through) and say that it was for the best considering in the end we retained our premiership status. Time will tell what happens, but right now at this moment in time, I am not too worried about the lack of spending over the last 12 months.

What is your best guess as to what is happening with Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez with regard to the manager staying on?

Again (unfortunately I think a lot of the answers to these questions will now reference the supposed club sale), with the reported takeover, it is of course possible that the delay is a direct result of takeover talks. I don’t buy in to the theory that Rafa is waiting for Ashley to budge on his stance, because he won’t, it’s as simple as that.

If Ashley is still the owner of this club come matchday 1 of the new season, I would be extremely surprised if Rafa was still at the helm.

If this really was a case of the two clashing heads trying to come to a compromise, I think it would already be over, with a statement coming from the club that Rafa will be leaving the club on 30th June. I just can’t see that either party would let it go on this long unless there was something else holding it up.

A takeover would certainly justify the delay, so maybe in hope, I am going to stick my neck on the line and say that no contract has been signed, because the person who will be handling the contract hasn’t got the keys to the club yet.

How would you rate (out of 10) Rafa Benitez last season on:

Transfers

8/9 – considering the lack of funds made available to him he managed a couple of real gems; Almiron has the potential to be the best player to don a Newcastle Shirt since HBA, but with his work ethic thrown in with his skillset, he can pass him easily.

Schar is fantastic, Fernandez solid and reliable, and even though it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, keeping Dubravka, at the price we got him for, is an absolute steal. Ki has been a good addition, but not what we need long term, and of course getting Rondon in on loan proved to be great business. There are a few negatives: Barreca and Muto being the two most obvious, but all in all, solid transfer business.

Tactics

8 – There were a few games where he maybe should of went for a more attacking line-up, particularly against the teams in and around us, but we got some fantastic results, some ground out results, and I think ultimately his tactics proved correct

Entertainment

7 – Some drab games, but I think the better games outweigh the bad ones, to bring up the score on this one a little

Overall

8 – some room for improvement, and not only of his making (mostly in relation to transfers) but a good season, and by a country mile the best person to take the club forward.

At what point did you first have real confidence Newcastle should be ok last season?

Probably after the Man City game.

Beating City, whilst it didn’t have a major impact on our league position, more than anything it showed our character, and proved that we were better than our league position at the time showed. Of course, City weren’t exactly at the races that day, but they proved countless times throughout the course of the season, that they were capable of winning the tough games when things weren’t going their way.

It wasn’t a forgone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination, and there were still plenty tough games to go, but I think that night was our real turning point.

What’s your choice for best three Newcastle goals of last season (in order)?

1. Schar’s ThunderBast..d against Burnley – what a strike;

2. Schar again – his jinking run against Cardiff was a lovely goal;

3. Perez 2nd goal vs Everton – it wasn’t a great goal, but coming from two goals down, and sticking it up Pickford was just brilliant. I lost my voice for three days after that went in.

What do you make of everything that has happened/is happening at Sunderland?

There are two sides to me on this.

Firstly, I don’t really care all that much. They are our closest rivals, but other than derby days I don’t really pay too much attention to them. I think sometimes our supposed hatred of them gets in the way of our love of NUFC, and that bothers me sometimes. I would much rather focus entirely on us and then deal with Sunderland rivalry when we must. Nothing wrong with a bit of banter of course but I do think that some people focus on them a bit too much.

Secondly, and this is from a footballing point of view with rivalry aside, I feel for them, I really do.

They were always destined to drop into the Championship at some point. We know ourselves what happens when the wrong decisions are made at board level and they made many of them. Dropping into the Championship should have been a wake up call, but then they were dropped in the proverbial sh… by Short, it has just been a downward spiral of epic proportion since.

Losing out on the play-off promotion yesterday will be another catastrophe for them – they have players on Championship wages, kept on once again in anticipation for automatic promotion. They should of achieved it, they haven’t, and I suspect there will be serious financial implications for them now. One thing is for sure, it is going to be a long time until I have to care about them again.

How relaxed are you at the minute in terms of everything turning out OK this summer?

Let’s see how this supposed takeover goes – if it goes through, then everything will be great, if not, I will answer again at a later stage

Is signing Salomon Rondon for £16.5m and paying him Premier League wages a no-brainer?

Of course, but only if he is willing to sign a three year contract, because four is too long.

He isn’t mobile enough and because of that, by the time he hits 34 his legs just won’t be in it anymore.

I know it’s only another year, but the type of player that he is, will be useless to us without his current skill set. Can we really expect him to play to the same standard as this season in 2023? I just can’t see it happening. He deserves a contract at Newcastle, and IF he signed for four years, it’s not like I would be disappointed, I wouldn’t, I just feel that the last year would be a waste of a squad place and wages.

Eight players (in order) that Newcastle definitely need to keep for next season (not including this past season’s loan players)?

Longstaff, Dubravka, Schar, Lascelles, Almiron, Ritchie, Lejeune, Perez

As well as a decent transfer budget, Rafa Benitez has made clear that Newcastle have to also show ambition when it comes to the new training complex that was promised years ago, as well as investment in a fit for purpose Academy. How integral do you think these things are for both Rafa and the future of the club?

I think they are massively important for Rafa but some of it not so important for the future of the club.

The training complex is a no-brainer. Not only does it ensure that our players have the most up to date and cutting technology, it is also a big selling point for players coming to the club. Players want to know that they have the best of everything – they are a club’s biggest commodity, so keeping them happy by investing in this area should be done ASAP.

The academy however is where I differ slightly to a lot of people I hear and talk to. Yes, there are benefits, but when you look at already established academies, even with major upgrades it would be difficult to tempt kids up to us. Young players will choose the likes of Southampton and Chelsea over us every day of the week irrespective of how much effort we put into it because they already have that sort of A grade aura around them, not to mention their locations.

They have been doing it successfully for years, churning out premiership standard players, and even if we try and compete with them, it is always going to have that ‘supermarket’ feel about it – everyone knows that Lidl and Aldi are decently priced shops with good produce, but win the Lottery and you know you’re going to shop at Waitrose, because you can.

By all means put a bit more effort in to it, I certainly don’t think we should scrap it entirely, but I don’t see the huge benefits that some people talk about.

The three positions most in need of strengthening?

We need a new right back, Central Midfielder and a striker.

I like Yedlin at Right Back but mostly for his attacking play. He makes mistakes defensively and if we are going to improve, we need to be even more sound defensively than we were last season.

Central midfield is a shame because Hayden really was proving to be a good player for us. Family comes first however, so he will be away. Longstaff can be our holding defensive midfielder for the next 10 years if he decides he wants to stay here, and I hope he does, so we will need a more attacking midfielder, not quite a number 10, but definitely someone who can pick out those defence splitting passes. Shelvey always threatened to be that person, but even though I do like him, he doesn’t seem to fit into Rafa’s plans, and his temperament gets the better of him both on the pitch, and apparently on the training ground. We need someone of his ilk, but not him.

Lastly, striker. Rondon of course at the minute would be first choice, but only because of last season. If money was made available to Rafa then should we potentially look for even better quality? I would argue that yes, we should. Realistically we should be looking at bringing Rondon AND another top-quality striker in, and who knows, if this takeover happens, we may be able to start dreaming of world class number 9s again. We can but hope.

As a quick side note, another role that people say needs filling is the number 10 role. I feel we already have it. I think Miggy (and I am sure many of you also think this) should be given a chance, but that would first mean ripping up the tail end of the season 5-2-3 formation which proved successful.

We either find a more attacking but also defensively solid LB (I am a big fan of Dummett but he doesn’t tick the attacking box here) to hold that side of the pitch and let Miggy float, or keep Ritchie there and do major defensive work in the summer with him. Money doesn’t need to be spent on this one, just some good coaching.

With level of signings you anticipate, how high do you think Newcastle can aim next season?

Top 10 must be our target for next season, irrelevant of the supposed takeover. We only finished seven points behind 9th placed Leicester (level on points with West Ham in 10th), and If you consider we didn’t win our first game until 3rd November, everything would indicate that if we can get off to a good start and beat those teams that are in and around us it should not be an unreachable target.

Throughout the course of the season we dropped enough points to have been there this year (Kenedy missed penalty against Cardiff, 2nd half capitulation against Man U, Wolves last minute winner in December, the draw against Fulham, Willy Boly’s last minute assault on Dubravka, and Origi’s winner for Liverpool from an extremely dubious free-kick – realistically that’s 12 points there that would have put us level with wolves on 57), so it is not beyond the realms of possibility to achieve much more than we have this year.

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