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Opinion

What happened to the ‘class’ of 2015/16?

5 months ago
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As Mike Ashley’s 13 year reign seemingly comes ever closer to an end, it seems ironic to think that the only manager he ever really backed during his time in charge, was Steve McClaren in the 2015/16 Newcastle United season.

Over the course of McClaren’s time in charge, Ashley allowed £81 million to be spent and buy the following players: Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba, Ivan Toney, Florian Thauvin, Henri Saivet, Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend.

While some of them were unknown quantities, on paper it looked like decent transfer business had been done, and had we had a manager in charge with any nous or skill, that squad of players should have been nowhere near relegation.

So how did they fare in the Newcastle shirt and what have they done since? In this article we take a look.

Georginio Wijnaldum

I remember being genuinely excited when it was announced we had signed Wijnaldum.

He came with an excellent reputation following successful spells with Feyenoord and PSV and he seemed like the kind of creative midfielder we were really lacking. I think a lot of Newcastle fans will be divided on how they feel about him.

In his one full season at the club he featured in every Premier League game and scored 11 goals. His quality was evident for all to see. However, he was rightly criticised by many for going into his shell in away games, evidenced by the fact that all his goals were scored at St James Park.

After relegation he was sold to Liverpool and typically, like so many players who leave Newcastle, he has thrived at Anfield. Currently in his fourth season with Jurgen Klopp’s men he has played 177 games and scored 18 goals. He was a key part of the team that won last season’s Champion’s League, scoring two goals in two minutes after coming on as a substitute in the second leg of their famous comeback win against Barcelona.

Since then he has added a UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup to his list of honours and will surely add a Premier League winner’s medal to those baubles once the 2019-20 season comes to an end, one way or another.

Aleksandar Mitrovic

Hot headed striker signed from Anderlecht, Mitro arrived at the club with a burgeoning reputation having scored 44 goals in 90 games over the previous two seasons.

Despite being part of the side that was relegated, Mitro’s aggressive style quickly found favour with the fans on the terraces. Not always a regular in the side he did manage to score 9 goals in 36 appearances – not a bad return for a young striker playing in his first season in English football.

To this day I believe his downfall at the club was on the final day of the 2015-16 season. After scoring a brilliant header in the 5-1 thrashing of Tottenham, he was sent off for a terrible challenge on Tottenham’s Kyle Walker. Because that was his second red card of the season it meant that he would be suspended for the first four league games of the next season.

This meant that Rafa Benitez needed a new a striker and he spent big in the summer to bring in Dwight Gayle. In Mitro’s absence Gayle made the lone striker role his own, and although the Serb did manage 29 appearances that season, many of them were from the bench, and he only managed six goals all season as Newcastle won the Championship.

Further indiscipline at the start of the following season as he received a three game ban for an incident in an early season game against West Ham. That seemed to be the final straw for Benitez who froze him out. Mitrovic then went out on loan to Fulham and after scoring 12 goals in 20 games as they secured promotion, the move was made permanent. He would score 11 goals in the Premier League as Fulham were relegated at the first attempt, but surprisingly stayed for another crack at the Championship and had scored 23 goals in 34 games before this season was suspended. He has also excelled at international level for Serbia, scoring 34 goals in 55 games.

Chancel Mbemba

Another who arrived from Anderlecht with a good reputation, Mbemba had all the attributes to be a top class defender.

Quick, strong and good with both feet, he impressed at times in that debut season, but much like Titus Bramble, despite all his qualities, he always looked like he had a mistake in him and once Benitez was installed, Mbemba’s days as a first team regular were numbered. He was eventually sold to Porto.

Ivan Toney

Unfair to lump him in with the others as he was signed as a very young player from League Two Northampton Town.

Had a series of loan spells while at the club before finding a permanent home at Peterborough United, where he has scored 49 goals in 94 games.

Florian Thauvin

Signed with a reputation as a skilful winger from Marseille, for Thauvin it seemed like the right club, but at the wrong time.

He was just too lightweight for English football and quickly lost his confidence playing in a struggling team. Sent back on loan to Marseille, the deal was made permanent in the summer of 2017. He then scored 26 goals in 53 games and was part of the France squad that won the World Cup.

Henri Saivet

Three words: a complete flop.

Has played only 8 games for the club, scoring one goal, a free kick in an away win at West Ham in December in 2017. Has had four separate loan spells since joining the club but is remarkably still on our books.

Jonjo Shelvey

Shelvey joined the club in January 2016 and remains with Newcastle and has just recently extended his contract.

Shelvey was poor as we plummeted to relegation and often found himself out of the team but was reborn during the season in the Championship, playing 47 games and scoring five goals.

He continued that form on our return to the Premier League, with his form that season leading to strong speculation that Shelvey may be included in Southgate’s squad. He wasn’t and the following season he suffered injuries and a loss of form. He bounced back this season and was enjoying a good season, making 20 appearances and scoring five goals before the season was suspended.

Andros Townsend

Also signed in the January transfer window, Townsend joined the club looking for a permanent home after multiple loan spells during his time at Tottenham.

Townsend was one of the very few high points of a desperately bad season. He played 13 games and scored four goals as he did more than anyone to try and keep the club in the Premier League. While it was hoped that he could be persuaded to stay at the club, his ambitions to play for England facilitated a transfer to Crystal Palace, where he has stayed ever since, and been a virtual ever present for Alan Pardew’s / Roy Hodgson’s side.

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