This is the worst decision Newcastle United have made since selling Les Ferdinand to Tottenham in 1997
During this Premier League mid-season break, time to take stock at Newcastle United.
At the two thirds of the season stage, Newcastle are on 31 points after 25 Premier League matches and moving into February, still in the FA Cup!
None of it has been particularly easy on the eye but how do you see the current state of affairs at Newcastle United?
We have asked a number of regular/irregular writers for The Mag to answer various sets of pertinent questions, next up is The Armchair Fan.
Have you enjoyed this season?
Almost, in spite of myself, I really have.
Some of the matches have been God awful to watch but look at all the highlights we’ve enjoyed already.
Matty Longstaff belting home the winner against Man United, Shelvey’s cracker at home to Man City, Almiron breaking his duck against Palace, Hayden burying a late winner against Chelsea and of course Lejeune’s two injury time goals at Everton which rendered me completely speechless!
We’re also on the verge of a cup run as well with only West Brom and a favourable draw standing between us and Wembley. The overall play has not been great but some individual moments this season have been brilliant.
I live in a block of flats and went to my local pub the other week where I bumped into the fella who lives in the flat directly beneath mine. He said he could hear me jumping around cheering all the above goals and said to his wife “bloody hell, I hope he doesn’t come through the ceiling” ha ha, if that’s not a sign of an enjoyable season then I don’t know what is!
How do you feel about Newcastle United compared to 12 months ago?
I feel less hopeful about the future but that’s only because I was heavily reliant on Rafa Benitez for any type of long-term optimism. I guess I also feel a bit more detached as I decided to boycott when Rafa left. I didn’t attend many matches but I always enjoyed the ones that I did.
One day soon, I’d love to go back with a new owner and a fresh start for everyone. A personal bugbear of mine is that I’m currently stuck on seventy nine away games and would dearly love to join the ‘Eighty Club’ hopefully sometime soon. On the pitch, not much has changed this past year but off it we’ve gone backwards.
Replacing Benitez with Bruce was the worst footballing decision NUFC have made since selling Les Ferdinand to Tottenham in 1997. Both decisions were totally avoidable, unnecessary and both will be regretted for years to come.
With 17 of Newcastle’s current 26 man first team squad seeing their deals end by June 2021 at latest, what do you think is happening with contracts and why?
I don’t think it’s a deliberate ploy by anyone at the club to allow contracts to run down, I just wonder if there’s been so much uncertainty at NUFC over the past few years that no parties have been thinking long-term.
Benitez wasn’t going to offer long-term contracts as he didn’t know if he’d be staying in the job, Steve Bruce’s remit is more to do with coaching and picking the team,
Ashley has never cared about the long-term future and don’t forget there may also be reluctance on the part of the players as well. Perhaps they don’t want to get locked down when a better offer at a more ambitious club could be just around the corner. The sooner we get some of the younger prospects signed up the better, Matty Longstaff being the prime example.
Was the January 2020 transfer window a success for NUFC?
I think only time will tell, the early signs are promising though that some depth has been added to the squad. Signing a striker would have turned a good window into a great one. Overall, our first team is more than capable of holding our own against most others in the league.
We do however seem just one or two injuries from a complete lack of options so I was pleased (and relieved) to see the three fresh faces.
What do you think are the chances of any or all of Rose, Bentaleb and Lazaro staying?
With any loan move you have to take something of a ‘wait and see’ approach as the players are essentially here for a trial period. If the loan moves work out and they help improve the team then why not? Would be great to keep them on especially as they would be considered ‘lower risk’ having already met their teammates and familiarised themselves with the area etc.
This only works in theory though, remember Kennedy who looked a world beater when on loan from Chelsea but then really stank out the place once we signed him permanently. He never recovered from that missed penalty away at Cardiff.
Are Newcastle safe, or capable of still been dragged back into relegation trouble?
Newcastle United are not yet safe from relegation and anyone who thinks we are is forgetting John Carver’s disastrous February to May run in 2015 when we had thirty one points at the start of February but only stayed up on the last day of the season. When we drew 1-1 with Stoke on Feb 8th, we were eleventh in the league, we then went and took just two points from the next thirteen (THIRTEEN!!!!!) league matches.
There’s one team every season that gets sucked into a relegation battle from a mid-table position so fingers crossed it’s not us. I’ll be breathing a whole load easier if/when we get to that magic forty points.
NUFC on 31 points after 25 games, how would you divide the credit for it between…Steve Bruce, Mike Ashley, Rafa Benitez, the character of the players, luck, Dubravka, the defence, the strikers…?
I wouldn’t give any credit to Mike Ashley, he’s held us back for so long that any success is in spite of him rather than because of.
I think Rafa deserves some credit for the system and mentality he set up of being hard to break down and therefore hard to beat. Steve Bruce has even said that himself so I guess he deserves some credit for acknowledging that and not trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.
The character of the players has played a big part in our success and so admittedly has luck. Both of these things were in evidence during our recent victory over Chelsea, you could see the togetherness of the players when celebrating that last minute winner in a match that did contain more than a sprinkling of good fortune.
For me, a huge slice of the credit has got to go to Dubravka who time and time again has been immense. We’ve been very lucky to have a number of quality keepers down the years (Pav, Given and Krul to name three) but I really struggle to remember one who has consistently saved us so many points. I honestly think without him, we’d be near the bottom (if not bottom) of the league.
I can’t give any credit to the strikers I’m afraid, their main duty is to score goals and one league goal all season between all four of them is just ludicrous, way below the bare minimum we should expect.
Everybody fit and a must win game, which 11 players would you pick from current squad and why?
A very difficult question as it’s not always as simple as picking the best eleven players. You have to fit them into a system that works for the whole team.
I’d obviously start with Dubravka as that’s a complete no-brainer.
In defence, I’d have Lascelles for his leadership alongside Schar, Lejeune, Fernandez and Clark so we’d be playing the tried and tested five at the back. In midfield I’d always start with Almiron and Saint-Maximin as they’re our most attack minded, flair players. I’d have to anchor this with Hayden and Ritchie.
I might get shot down for my choice of centre forward but I probably would persist with Joelinton for now. In truth, I’m not sure any of our four strikers should really be starting a premiership match and that tells its own tale. It really is the area of our squad that requires by far the most improvement.
What would Rondon and Perez bring to our team these days? We’ll never know but my guess is that we’d be pushing for a European place, scoring more goals and playing better football. It’ll take a lot to replace those two and as things stand we’re nowhere near having two players with that many goals in them.
Is Mike Ashley seriously trying to sell?
I think he is but only if an offer comes in that is wildly over his original estimate of £350m. If someone came in with an offer of something like £450m or more than he’d probably take the money and run. In the meantime, he seems more than happy to keep the club, ignore the hate and watch his bank balance grow.
The amount of money from TV is astronomical for Premiership clubs and there’s cash coming in from all four corners of the globe. We’ve recently played out goalless draws at home to Oxford in the cup and Norwich in the league, these matches were both watched by full houses. That’s one hundred and four thousand fans (minus the ten thousand free tickets) who all paid to get in. Many of them will buy a pie, others will stop for a pint in the bar, kids will want a snack or a trip to the club shop and then there’s thousands upon thousands of programmes sold as well. If you were a businessman, would you give up that much easy revenue without a fight? No, me neither.
Are there one or more bidders seriously trying to buy the club?
There will always be interested parties for a premiership club. What probably doesn’t help is the press leaking the stories in advance and thus ruining the ‘non disclosure agreements’ that may well be an integral part of the deal. I also think that any bidder will have to do business under Ashley’s terms so new owner or not, we’ll be stuck with the advertising of his various businesses for many years to come. It’ll be part of the deal.
I do believe there are bidders who seriously want to buy the club, whether or not they are dealing with a seller willing to offload at a realistic price however is perhaps a more pertinent question.
Do you think there will be a new owner(s) by the time the 2020/21 season kicks off?
I hope there will, I pray there will but do I think there will? I’m going to have to swerve this one and say it’s fifty fifty as things stand. If a deal does happen we’ll probably be the last to know. A statement will come out of the blue saying the club has been sold and then the whole city can party. Going to be a glorious day.
Is VAR a good thing for the Premier League?
I’m not so sure. I’ve always been a huge advocate of goal line technology. It seemed crackers for sky sports to be able to tell us within two seconds whether or not the ball had crossed the line but for teams to end up losing despite scoring perfectly legitimate goals.
VAR under its current guise however, appears tedious and too slow. I’m hoping it’s just experiencing some teething problems and a more common sense approach can be used next season. To answer the question, yes I think it is a good thing for the Premier League when implemented properly, we may just need to have a look at how best to use the technology more efficiently.
Over the course of the next three seasons please predict Joelinton’s most likely progress/career development, if any?
I’m sad to say that I don’t think things will work out for him at the Toon. I think to play a young lad out of position in a team that creates very few chances is simply setting him up to fail. It’s not the first time we’ve done this either, Jon Dahl Tomasson experienced exactly the same treatment twenty two seasons ago, he went on to have a glittering and trophy laden career (unfortunately away from Tyneside).
Joelinton didn’t choose his forty million pound price tag and in all likelihood, didn’t choose the number nine shirt, but both of these things bring a certain amount of pressure.
One league goal so far just isn’t good enough regardless of circumstance. I personally think he will move away from the Toon and the Premier League this summer and I’ll wish him all the best as he bids to rebuild his career in one of the European leagues. If I’m proved wrong and he sticks it out to become a club legend however, then you won’t find a happier Toon fan.
I’d love to imagine in ten years time he’ll score his two hundred and seventh Newcastle goal (a winner against Sunderland in the FA Cup final perhaps) to take the record from Alan Shearer but I can’t see any of that happening.
There’s a decent player in there and the stats show the sheer amount of aerial battles he wins, get him in a system that suits him and I think one day we’ll lament the fact we so badly misused young talent.
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