This was included in an edition of True Faith from the end of the 2011-2012 season. It seems somehow pertinent to remember it now:
As the season draws to a close, Newcastle fans could be forgiven for feeling satisfaction. Some might even be a little smug. A season which began with fears of another dip on the rollercoaster the club is so often compared with, has ended with the club sitting on a higher peak than most feared to hope out loud. If the finances aren’t in the black yet they appear to be heading in that direction. Meanwhile back on the pitch, the astute transfer business conducted in the last two windows has delivered a team capable of at least flirting with a challenge for Champions League qualification. Alan Pardew and his back room staff are the antithesis of the series of big name Big-Time Charlies we’ve suffered in the past, not least in the sense that they are impressive and successful in what they’re trying to do. The crowds are flocking back with a number of full houses in response to the side’s late run. How could it get any better? Or to put it another way, where do we go from here?
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules are especially pertinent to Newcastle. Having qualified to play in European competition next season, any financial mismanagement could disqualify us from competition in the future. Splurging money in an effort to ensure success has not been Newcastle’s way recently, what success they have achieved having been through intelligent use of sustainable funding. Qualification for Europe and the wish to continue doing so in future years means that they cannot now turn away from such a policy without counterproductively risking a disqualification. Colossal summer spending is out as an option then.
Participation in European competition brings with it improved finances of course, so extra money will be available next season. In addition, that participation also makes a club more attractive to prospective new signings. So sustainable spending doesn’t mean a lack of improvement to the squad, nor does it mean breaking even in transfer dealings is necessary.
The main danger to Newcastle repeating the success of the season just completed is if injuries cut a big enough hole in the squad for long enough during the season. It nearly happened at the turn of the year when defensive injuries left Pardew fielding a very makeshift back line for a number of successive games. The immediate priority has to be defensive reinforcements, still the thinnest area of the squad. A centre back and a full back would seem to be the minimum to cover for injuries while improving the first team at the same time. These are by no means the only new recruits required. If Steve Harper’s contract is not renewed this summer, and Fraser Forster leaves the club as seems likely, Newcastle will have only two senior keepers on the books. A second choice keeper is needed, Rob Elliott looking more of a third stringer.
There is a downside to playing in Europe, added to possible runs in domestic cups, and that is the dramatic increase in the number of games played. That in turn means areas of the squad which were perfectly well resourced for the season just gone suddenly also need additions. A central midfielder and a striker would ensure Newcastle could put out a strong side under most eventualities, and allow a limited amount of rotation to keep the team fresh.
The off-pitch success has been well publicised. There is danger there too. Other clubs who shall remain nameless currently have a scouting policy of buying anyone who gets a favourable mention on Match of the Day for north of £15m. They will have noticed that we have scouts who can recommend relative unknowns for a fraction of that who end up performing better than their proven Premiership performers. The logical action for that club’s owner would be to spend a portion of the cash he would have wasted this summer on luring our scouts to work for him. Pardew too will be in demand should Newcastle continue to achieve as they have in the season just gone. Though he’s missed out on the England job, there will be clubs who will be tempted to make him an offer.
Last summer the target was to finish in the top half and then look to build on that and maybe challenge for Europe the year after that. The club’s progress is therefore a year ahead of schedule. The target for the coming season should take that into account and look to consolidate the improvements of the past year. Another European qualification next year, sticking to the original plan, would signify that Newcastle’s season just gone was not overachievement, a flash in the pan, but deserved and repeatable. Repeated European qualification would then provide a platform to build towards regular Champions League qualification. To do that we’ll need to hang onto those who’ve been responsible for our success and boost the size of the squad, all the while constrained by finances. Why shouldn’t we aim to be fixtures in the top four? We don’t have the money other challengers have, but they won’t necessarily use it as wisely as they could. Our financial self-sufficiency can become an important source of the pride we would feel towards a successful club funded from the city itself, by the fans themselves. Slow progress, season by season, will deliver that.