With Brighton on the verge of taking the Championship crown, Newcastle are left to focus on sealing automatic promotion.
Sky Sports recently published an article asking if Newcastle have underachieved by failing to win the title. They point to having a manager of the calibre of Benitez, a Premier League wage bill and a large outlay on transfers during the summer as reasons to why they feel we should be doing more.
It’s important to mention that as much as Sky and other media outlets like painting a picture of Newcastle splurging vast sums of money on promotion (the most expensive squad in the history of the Championship they call it), this doesn’t tell the whole story.
In terms of salaries and transfer fees, it is the biggest outlay a team has made in this division. This doesn’t account for the fact though that our wage bill has reduced from last season and our net spend for the season on transfers actually comes out as a £30m profit. Being a ‘bigger’ Premier League team always meant we had assets to sell and a bigger budget than many teams. Rafa and the board should instead be congratulated on securing such high fees for outgoings, Sissoko in particular looks like a better bit of business with each passing day.
We do have a squad though that is the envy of most, if not all, of the Championship. Most fans will agree we need vast investment this summer but for this level, we have a very good squad. Arguably, no more than three or four other players from this league would get into the Newcastle starting XI, on paper at least – which as we know from previous seasons, is not always an accurate judgement in reality. However, it also meant signing 12 players in the summer. So many signings always means difficulties. Time is needed to find your best XI and a clear pattern of play and as we have seen, some signings won’t work out.
This brings us nicely onto Brighton. They already had a balanced squad with only a few additions needed after just missing out last year. It’s a group that has Championship experience and a playing identity, all under a very good manager in Chris Hughton, as we know.
It’s also important to put some context on the task we faced. Only 3 of the 30 teams in recent years who have been relegated, have bounced straight back up, one of which was us in 2010. Aston Villa and Norwich, who came down with us, are nowhere near the promotion reckoning. There are countless big clubs who are stuck in the Championship: Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday to name a few. If we finish second it would be a great achievement.
This was always going to be a pivotal season in the history of the club. If we don’t go up, it is very likely that we would lose Rafa and many of our key players. Not having another season of the new TV money from the top flight would make promotion each year even more difficult to achieve. To go up and avoid all these potential problems would be a massive relief.
I think there is no shame in admitting we have the best squad in the league, with the most illustrious manager, but we came up against a team who were well set in Brighton. They could get more than 100 points. It’s the longer term we can focus on if we go up; I would fancy us to be in a better position than Brighton in 12 months time, with Rafa and the resources we have.
So we can congratulate them and celebrate going up in second place, if it happens. I am sure there will be many teams who wish they were in our position, especially those who are relegated from the Premier League in May.