Another season is finally over and it’s been a hell of a ride. It, probably, could only happen to Newcastle United and if someone wrote down the events of the 2021/22 season a couple of years ago, they’d have been ridiculed as a crazy fantasist!
It’s all ifs and buts: What if the takeover had happened this time last year….? What if Bruce had been sacked sooner….? What if Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier hadn’t got injured…?
There’s also the counter to those statements: What if Bruce hadn’t been sacked….? What if Clark hadn’t been sent off….? What if the takeover hadn’t happened at all….?
It’s all mind boggling, but the reality is that we finished 11th after almost everyone having us dead and buried at the start of this calendar year. The work put in by all of the staff, playing and non playing, has been incredible. The belief and fight we’ve shown has been immense and it’s been to a joy to watch unfold. Our form over the last half of the season has been way beyond anyone’s expectations. The table for the last 19 games shows that Liverpool at the top on 48 points, Man City second on 46 points and Newcastle United third on an unbelievable 38 points! We’ve earned 13 and 14 points more than West Ham and Manchester United, respectively, over that period and they have both qualified for Europe! It really is superb and it all bodes well for next season.
Going back to the what ifs, I reckon that if Wilson had stayed on the pitch against Man United and continued, with improved fitness, for the rest of the season, we could conservatively be looking at an extra 11 points, where games would have ended in victory, or draws, with just one goal making the difference. I’ve added our defeat to Everton in that scenario, because, poor though we were, I reckon that had Wilson been playing, we’d have had more of a focal point up front, probably would have scored and may have seen Everton crumble. It’s all hypothetical, but we could very well have qualified for Europe. My head hurts!
For the first time in ages, probably since we finished 5th under Pardew, only to realise that zero investment would mean we’d regress rather than build and progress, I’m sad to see the season end of a season. I’m not including the Championship win under Rafa Benitez, because I was over the moon to have that season end as it did! This time, again for the first time in years, I’m looking forward to next season and am pleased that it starts sooner than usual. I hate the close season. As a kid I enjoyed a summer holiday at Butlin’s, or something similar, playing cricket with my mates and days out at the beach, but nothing is a suitable substitute for watching the beautiful game.
It’s sad that so many players will be moved on. We could have seen the last of many a great servant, who’ve fought to get us promoted and keep us in the Premier League. That is the nature of the game, though. Very few play beyond age 34 and most are coming to the end of their peak by 32. Modern fitness, nutrition and methods used to combat injuries, all help to keep some players beyond their sell by dates, but this time around we need space for incoming players, who we hope will bring more quality to the team and more strength in depth to the squad. For that reason, a number of top players will be moved on. We have to trust Eddie Howe on this. I know I certainly do!
Looking ahead, I feel like that 6 year old, once again, looking to find out when the new season starts and the relatively modern phenomenon of seeing when the transfer window opens, with pure excitement, more greatly anticipated than the best Xmas ever! I know that table for the last 19 games looks very promising, but I’m under no illusions that we’ll finish above Spurs, Arsenal, or Man Utd, as they all have a strong basis and will be spending in the summer, as well. Chelsea are an unknown quantity, because of the situation hanging over the club and if their own takeover goes ahead, or not. However, I feel that we can give all of these teams a good run for their money. They’ll be worried about the old/new kinds on the block, the princes elect! I really can’t believe that I’m even writing about this, if I’m honest. It still doesn’t feel real, somehow after all that’s gone on in the last 15 years or so.
One thing that I will say is that we have a fantastic opportunity to achieve something really special next season. Now, I know that this is a long term project, but I think the circumstances we find ourselves in could prove to be the perfect storm. One that other teams will be dreading!
This is what I mean:
We already have the basis of a great team, with the players we’ve had for a while coming to some real amazing form, along with the new players that arrived in January. That table has shown that. We will have investment in the summer and, perhaps, again in the January window, bringing in some real quality. We can compete for top players on free transfers, but also look at some excellent footballers we have to dip into the market for. We have a new structure at the club, from top to bottom and the pre-season is so important in terms of buys, but mostly in relation to fitness and togetherness, all looking ahead, rather than being concerned about the coming campaign. There’s a new positivity throughout the club.
We find ourselves in this position, but unlike the teams mentioned before, along with West Ham, we don’t have any extra European fixtures to contend with, so we can concentrate solely on the three domestic campaigns. There’s also the anomaly of a World Cup taking place in the middle of the season! Yes, we have a few players who are internationals and will hopefully be going to Qatar, but most of our current players are skirting around the edges of selection for their countries and may not be taking part. I’d love to see Joelinton partner Bruno Guimarães in the Brazilian midfield and it would be brilliant to see Callum Wilson playing for England and Allan Saint-Maximin dance around the pitch in a French shirt, but aside from some players we may bring in during the close season, there aren’t many who will definitely be going to the World Cup.
That puts us in the position of being able to keep the bulk of our squad together, during that break, keeping up fitness levels, but not totally flat out busting a gut to win the World Cup in the searing heat of Qatar. The fact that most of the aforementioned teams will be sending many of their players to the Middle East may, be an extra advantage handed to ourselves!
It’s all hypothetical, as I say, but it all bodes well for a very interesting and potentially fantastic season. I can’t wait!
It Doesn’t Really Matter…But It Does!