Watching this summer’s unfolding catastrophe at Newcastle United has been puzzling, frustrating, and anger-inducing all at once. A lack of investment in the team in the summer of 2012 left Newcastle unable to push on and build on a dream 5th place the season before, for that matter unable to do much except avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth. It was widely accepted that the squad was both too small and lacking in the necessary quality beyond the best 11. Alan Pardew had struggled throughout 2012/13 to find a way to get the players at his disposal to perform as they should. He persisted in using formations which didn’t suit the squad, commonly resulting in several players playing out of position. His cautious tactics, especially at home, gave the initiative to the opposition time after time and left the team chasing games far too early and far too often. The players for their part had seemed uninterested towards the end of the season, resulting in a series of ever-worsening humiliating heavy defeats.
I’d have expected the squad to be seriously beefed up, money spent on better players so that current first-teamers ended up on the bench. If reserves had proved to be incapable of stepping up to the first team when needed, then they should have been jettisoned, but those leaving also to be at least replaced numerically. I’m not sure Pardew should have survived as manager. As “Who to replace him with?” is the common response to such an opinion, but that’s not something we as fans or the journalists who cover the club should have to specify without being able to converse with those on our minds to see if they’d be interested for one thing. I’ll happily share some suggestions on options that could have been considered in the summer though; Timur Ketsbaia, Eddie Howe, Rafa Benitez. Surely a choice there for any opinion on what was required. If Pardew was to remain he’d need better help than he was used to, better coaches, possibly a Director of Football with a genuine continent-wide reputation to help attract players and provide advice where necessary.
That the opposite happened is indisputable, unfathomable as that may be. 8 players with first-team experience have left the club either permanently or on loan, and only one – a loanee – expected to be anywhere near the first-team has come in. Supposed moves for new players fizzled out in spite of interest on their part. A squad almost too weak to avoid relegation last year has been further weakened. This excellent blog by David Pick outlines the influence of new Premier League FFP rules on Newcastle’s ability to sign players . Newcastle’s wage bill of £64m last year means that it can only be increased to £68m this year, that £4m increase ( about £75k/pw) probably entirely accounted for by Loic Remy alone. In addition new commercial deals & increases in matchday income ( though not increased TV money) can also be used to increase the wage bill on top of these figures. I’d expect the increased sponsorship money coming from Wonga to provide the ability to sign at least another player of the stature of Remy. That still leaves the wages freed up by leavers to be accounted for, and I’d have thought they would allow us to sign another 1 or 2 good players, a total of 3 more, without needing to move anyone else on. Newcastle’s commercial income appears to be almost an afterthought currently, and that’s where the club is falling down. Ashley’s penny-pinching in the area of commercial staff now seems anything but pound-wise. If there’s a silver lining it’s that this income is so low that an increase to half what Liverpool pull in would provide a big increase in the allowed wage budget. Pardew remains in post, without changes to the coaching staff. The Director of Football appointed was Joe Kinnear, a previous failure as Manager here, a throwback to a bygone era tactically and a nobody in terms of reputation continentally. To be fair to Pardew, unsuccessful as it may have been, there did appear to be an attempt at a switch in emphasis in the team’s style of play in the season opener, a 4-0 defeat away to Manchester City. The team were a lot more willing to try to pass the ball out of defence than they had been for the whole of last season, however the late withdrawal of Yohan Cabaye took a lot of the passing creativity from the side. They were able to move the ball upfield without ever being able to get the ball to the forwards in a situation which they could threaten from. Cabaye’s absence removed even the puncher’s chance from Newcastle, without any kind of goal threat it’s impossible to grab a goal and hang on, previously Pardew’s favoured modus operandi. Maybe it’ll work better against lesser teams than the admittedly hugely accomplished City. Sam Allardyce’s West Ham visit this weekend, thankfully without the perma-injured Andy Carroll we are led to believe.
Cabaye’s withdrawal from the squad against City in response to a bid from Arsenal provides us with an even more sobering thought. He didn’t play because he wants the move. Up to now, there’s been a case to be made that Newcastle’s attempts to get the best value possible in the transfer market would end in them building a side better than they should really be able to afford. The confirmation this summer that the best value in Mike Ashley’s mind appears to be not to spend any money at all will have convinced those players we did so well to sign in the last couple of years that they are wasting their time here, that we’ll never improve, and that jumping ship is their only chance of fulfilling their potential in the short footballing career available to them. It appears that players have grown tired of waiting for us to improve and Cabaye may be only the first in an exodus of players who should really be playing at a higher level than we can provide. The chance to build on the initial successes of Graham Carr may have passed and left us only on a treadmill of constantly trying to replace our best players just to stand still.