It’s been nearly a month since the season wrapped and yet the grey clouds still seem to be hanging over St. James’ Park.
Usually, the close season brings with it a sense of anticipation and excitement as we’re linked to every ‘Juan el of a Gol’ and ‘Carlos Kickaball’ under the sun.
While the rumour mill is very much in circulation, regardless of the names being mentioned, there still seems a flatness amongst the supporters that I personally don’t recall ever seeing. We survived a difficult season and should be excited at the prospect of rebuilding a team capable of again challenging the top eight right?
Well the reality is when logging onto the blogs, forums and social networking sites the general tone seems to be that of negativity and fear for the future. The overriding concern… have the lessons of the past been learnt?
While flicking through the various news sites a few days ago a story caught my attention. The Journal ran a piece, reporting that our summer recruitment would focus on ‘quality’ not ‘quantity’ with the addition of a striker and a central defender likely to be our only business, with fringe players moving on as the only outgoings.
Now before I go any further I do appreciate that articles like this need to be taken with a pinch or fist-full of salt, however, taking this as face value, if this was the decision the club did decide to take, isn’t there a good chance that it could be a case of history repeating itself?
Last season, it was plain to every man and his dog that the team, while having the basis of a strong core, needed investment to ensure that not only we were able to push on but in fact, make sure we simply didn’t stand still. Our forward line consisted of Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Shola Ameobi as the only recognised strikers with Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor as the centre backs. Our only recognised player acquired was Vurnon Anita for arguably a position we were well stocked – naturally concerned, fans voiced their opinions but we had assurances that we still had quality in the ranks to ensure we pushed on and had a successful campaign… unless that is we suffered an unfounded injury crisis that crippled the squad to the bare bones and left us complete depleted, but realistically what was the likelihood of that happening? Fast-forward 12 months and we all know how it turned out…
Now, if there is any truth in the article from The Journal, it is understandable why the alarm bells are ringing, and this represents yet again another gamble from those upstairs. From the strikers perspective we are down to Papiss Cisse, Shola Ameobi and young Adam Campbell (Gouffran I do not considered an out and out forward). If we were to bring in someone else, surely, that takes us straight back to the situation we were in last year? Arguably worse in fact because let’s face it, Shola aint getting any younger or mobile!
Also, the comments that our focus is going to be on quality not quantity is great in writing but in reality I just sadly can’t see Mike Ashley digging into those deep pockets of his – not without sacrificing one of the supposed ‘purple players’. He dug deep in January and to his credit provided us with some great signings however, his track record suggests these splurges of generosity are few and far between. Also, it’s important to recognise that we had out chance last year to build from strength – we didn’t take it and consequently our stock has fallen. It’s all well and good mentioning the likes of De Jong, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Benteke and such but realistically are we an attractive option to these guys? Only if Ashley is prepared to stump up the big bucks which sadly history suggests otherwise.
Already it looks like two major decisions have been made this summer. Firstly the decision to retain Alan Pardew and secondly the decision to not move for Andy Carroll. Both decisions would of provoked a reaction amongst fans, and could arguably have earned Ashley some much needed brownie points, however this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Looking at Carroll particularly, if we are looking for a forward to supply the role which Pardew seems to be setting the team up for there is arguably no one better around. He bleeds black and white and on his day can be simply unplayable. Yes, I do acknowledge that concerns exist around consistency and fitness, particularly as he is rumoured to be out until September, however, if Pardew does seem intent on playing the current system of long balls up to the centre forward to knock down for Cisse, surely the decision to pass up Carroll, someone who would die for the cause, does carry a gamble in itself?
If the message of quality is to be believed he certainly possess that and surely, if you are looking at those sorts of players you have to expect to pay the reported £15m prices being quoted.
Again, this goes back to the lessons of last year and how the hardball approach cost us the likes of De Jong, Douglas and Debuchy. While it’s commendable to not bow down to agents and clubs, the same can be said for the reverse and not allowing any leeway. Again, there is an argument that we need to relax our policy somewhat.
Similarly, if we are to retain Pardew as coach, it’s imperative that we scout and buy players to fit the style of football he is setting us up for. Much has been made about the particular players we have within the squad against the type of football that he is having us play. The two don’t complement one another – again as pointed out by a number of other posters we must have much more cohesion between the types of players coming in and style of football we are producing.
While I don’t doubt the club have identified the problem areas of last season, the bigger challenge is ensuring that processes are put in place to make sure mistakes are not repeated. Too often under the Ashley reign it’s been a case of learning on the job – yes they have got things right in the past, but it seems to be a case of every good action is outdone by an equally bad one. Six years into his reign and while we appreciate success won’t come overnight, surely we are getting to a point now when there needs to be some substance?
A lot is mentioned about this being the big summer for Ashley and the board, to get it right at Newcastle. Personally, I think that was last summer and in no certain terms, he blew it.
We need to make three steps forward to rectify the two back we took last year. Is Ashley the man to do it? Your guess is as good as mine. What I do know though is the patience for Ashley from the fans is, quite rightly, getting thinner by the day. A healthy balance sheet will only get you so far, and after five plus one years into the grand plan, we need to start seeing results.
By Southern Geordie