Fresh from a 5-1 drubbing at Chelsea and dropping back into the relegation zone, Newcastle head into an 18-day break before their next fixture. Having won only 6 games in 26 since he took over, the Grin Reaper Steve McClaren will shockingly be given even more time to turn the team’s form around – starting with a ‘training camp’ in Spain. But what can the fans expect from such a trip?
This will be the third season in a row that the Magpies have gone abroad for a ‘winter training camp’. Every time the club packs up for one of these warm weather camps, the media and fans alike voice their opinion that it looks like the club is off for a jolly when they should be rolling their sleeves up instead. I can’t help but notice these trips always seem to coincide with most other clubs around us playing in the next round of domestic cups, which we almost invariably get dumped out of in the earliest rounds. I don’t like to buy into or start conspiracy theories, but I have to ask if it is a club strategy to exit the Cups early in order to spend time abroad doing club and Sports Direct advertising? Are we sacrificing ambition for a quick buck again? It just seems odd to keep going away to places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the middle of our fixture list, which is primarily played in the rain, wind and cold. How does warm weather training prepare us for our forthcoming away fixture at Stoke for example?
Lets look at how the previous two warm weather camps have gone, beginning with Alan Pardew’s charges visiting Abu Dhabi. We had just gone out of the FA Cup in the 3rd Round and Pardew had this to say; “It was scheduled in to give us a lift for the fourth round of the FA Cup, we used to do something similar when I was at Crystal Palace. It was already booked before we lost to Cardiff. Fans need to know that. The players deserve a bit of sun, but they’re not getting a break because we’ve penciled in hard work.” We had started the season quite strong, but exited the Cups early and then went on a run of 4 defeats in 5 leading up to this trip. I’m not sure that form warrants the players deserving a trip. However if the club is going to sell these trips as an opportunity for team bonding, working on fitness & conditioning and getting injured players back, then I’d expect the team’s form to pick up on their return.
This is what Pardew said on the team’s return prior to facing Norwich;”We had planned it before our cup exit because we thought it would give us a nice boost for our fourth round tie but that unfortunately didn’t happen. What it has given us is a boost in terms of a bit of sun on our backs. It has boosted everybody’s character and personality and given us an appetite to try and chase a Europa League place, or even a Champions League place.” We did not challenge for the Champion’s League, or the Europa League. Instead – we finished 10th. The boost the trip gave us was nothing of the sort. We lost 3 of the next 5 games, picking up only 4 points out of 15. In total for the rest of the season, we picked up 14 points from 48. Well that did not work out did it?
The following season saw John Carver take the team to Dubai. Again we had no Cups to play for having been dumped out of the FA Cup by Leicester. The team had picked up 1 point from 9 and lost 3 out of 4 games in the run up to this trip. Again, not really a squad deserving a trip away. But did form pick up upon their return? Well the immediate reaction was winning 5 points out of 12. Not exactly a success. We would slide from relative safety to relegation fodder, narrowly avoiding the drop on the last day of the season. In fact we only won 2 fixtures out of 15 following that trip.
So here we are in 2016, this time going to Spain having been dumped unceremoniously out of the Cups at an early stage yet again, stuck in the relegation zone and with 5 of our next 7 fixtures away from home. Given that out away form has not been poor, but abysmal – with the wrong tactics, wrong line ups and wrong attitude employed on every occasion – what is Steve McClaren trying to achieve? What is the club trying to achieve? I repeat – we are travelling to Stoke City for our next game, in almost certain cold conditions. What is a warm weather camp going to do to help the players prepare for this fixture?
This is what the Grin Reaper has to say; ”It’s definitely not a jolly. We could have gone to warmer climates and more luxurious places. It is a training camp and we believe there is a lot of work and preparation to be done. There are players coming back, we need work and togetherness because after the Chelsea game from Stoke onwards it’s game after game. It’s the most critical part of the season when you are coming into the last 10. We are in a position where we are still in that battle to climb up the league and get away from the bottom three.”
Newcastle face Norwegian outfit Lillestrom in a game at the La Manga camp.
McClaren said: “We also needed a game. It’s difficult to find one here because everybody else is playing and if they aren’t they need a rest. So it’s an ideal opportunity to arrange a game behind closed doors.”
Do the Grin Reaper’s words sound familiar? If we need game time, then get a friendly arranged on our own patch, in the cold – where we will playing our next few competitive games? The club does not seem to appreciate the negative perception that these trips have with fans. Given our form following and leading up to these trips on other seasons, the fact we have been dumped out of the Cups yet again – it does look like a jolly and I’m not inclined to believe that the players deserve it or that it will do us any good. 5 games from 7 away from home coming up. Is there any hope for us? Nope. We have lost our last 5 away games on the bounce, conceding 13 and scoring only 2. This trip is a bad idea. So is allowing Steve McClaren to be on the plane.