From reading a lot of comments over the last few days, it seems Hatem Ben Arfa is lauded as our best (and arguably key) player.
One or two challenged the latter notion and it led to an interesting article from Moreno, who questioned why a player that has managed six or seven games in over a year should automatically claim that title. This is not another Benny piece by the way, I’m going to take a little look at our team and leave it for you readers to debate who our key players are.
Now some teams do have one special player that just stands out from the rest of the squad. A player that can produce a bit of awe inspiring magic in an instant when completely unexpected and leave us fans drooling. For Manchester United that would be Wayne Rooney – the derby day overhead kick for instance. For West Ham once upon a time it was Paolo Di Canio, emphasised by that legendary wonder strike against Wimbledon which you can see here. For us despite the horrific injury and lack of games, there is no doubt that player is Hatem Ben Arfa, underlined by his performance against Everton last season.
However, some teams are not blessed in that department and instead rely on having two or three players that are simply ‘key’ to their side. Players in certain positions that they simply cannot function without. I guess it’s all about having strength in depth and the means to provide it. For the very top sides this is not too much of a problem. Manchester United lose Ferdinand – no problem as Phil Jones or Chris Smalling can step in and do a more than adequate job. You could argue that if any side loses a key player, they will be affected. However the more strength in depth a side has, the more equipped they are to deal with it.
Ferdinand is an exceptional defender, one of the very best in world football. But because his team has such an abundance of quality waiting in the wings, his loss is not the end of the world. Therefore, is he a key player for them?
Back to Newcastle United now. Benny was our ‘star’ player last season and provided this injury has not taken half a yard off his pace or destroyed his confidence, then he probably will be again in the future. At the moment, and for a long time now, he has not been in our team. We have learnt to live without him and have been quite successful doing so, so even if he is still our ‘star’ player, can he be considered a ‘key’ player?
This leads me to looking at the depth amongst Newcastle United’s ranks. Where are we covered really, really well? Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs are all covered all over the pitch. Not to the same standard maybe, but very close to it.
We on the other hand are not. Possibly in goal yes. Steve Harper has now been overshadowed by his young apprentice Tim Krul, but is safe hands if we need to call on him. But defence? We have Davide Santon now, who is an Italian international and can cover both sides thankfully. However we have not seen him in this league yet and like Colo did, he may need a bedding in period. That said I think his return to fitness along with young Ferguson will give us plenty of good options at full back.
In the heart of defence we begin to struggle. If Steven Taylor or Fabricio Coloccini get a long lay off (please no) then we are in trouble. Our alternatives are Mike Williamson, Tamas Kadar and James Perch. Williamson being first in line, he established a decent partnership last season with Colo but our defence let us down countless times and cost a lot of points – the West Brom game being a typical example.
Only five sides scored more than us last season, we even outscored Spurs. Now Williamson would do OK, but in the long term our defence would suffer without ‘Saylor’ or ‘Colo’ who offer 100% commitment, aerial prowess (Saylor) and a calm influence with top notch passing ability (Colo) to play us out of trouble. ‘Willo’ has a bit of everything, but is not particularly strong on anything. So his weaknesses get exposed, whereas ‘Saylor and Colo’ just about cover every aspect of central defence between them. Kadar is seemingly not rated by the management and Perch was written off long ago by the fans. Our team would suffer with the loss of these two, so to me they are ‘key’.
On the wings we have Jonas Gutierrez, Sylain Marveaux, Gabriel Obertan, possibly Hatem Ben Arfa as well as a couple of the young lads like Shane Ferguson and Sammy Ameobi so although we would rather not lose the likes of Guti, the other lads could step in and do a very decent job.
Back to the middle again and we might struggle. Cheik Tiote is a master of protecting the back four. What do we do in the long term if we lose him? Smith, bless him, is past it at this level, probably due to his very own nasty leg break. I’m not sure the club knows what Dan Gosling’s best position is yet and as discussed the other day Danny Guthrie does not seem to have the ‘fight’ in him to nail a holding role. Lucky then that we have Yohan Cabaye who is better served moving forward, but has already displayed a willingness to get stuck in. I’m sure he could drop back and cover Tiote well enough if need be. He is more than capable of putting the tackles in and spraying out the balls from a deeper position.
That leaves a hole in front though. Again – easily filled. Guthrie could do a job there. Ben Arfa definitely can. Marveaux too as well as young Haris Vuckic. Between such a talented mixture of midfielders I’m sure that we could cope without one of the ‘better’ players over a long period of time if needs be.
Moving up front and we have Demba Ba, Leon Best, Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands. Whilst wearing our colours they all have pretty good figures – yes even Ameobi has always produced regular goals – 272 appearaces (115 of those as a substitute), 61 goals. On a minute for minute basis that would be 1 goal in about every 3.5 matches. Whilst Ba was fasting his performances were sluggish, but Best stepped up. If Ameobi or Lovenkrands got a run then they too would produce. Their overall contribution would not be as high as Ba or Best, but they would score goals which is their principle job.
I think Ba is the only striker realistically capable of reaching anywhere near that 20 mark that we would love to see in one of our strikers though. Therefore, losing him for a long period of time would probably cost us a few points. He just has natural finishing prowess – the type of player you can be confident in putting chances away if they are a rarity in certain games.
In conclusion I feel that Newcastle United currently has three ‘key’ players – players that if we had to do without for a long period of time, we would suffer. They are Steven Taylor, our Captain Fabricio Coloccini and Senegalese striker Demba Ba. My reasoning? A) They are very good players and B) Our club simply does not have the quality in depth to cover their loss.
What do you guys and gals think?