Newcastle United. Probably the most difficult side in the Premiership to pick Daniel Cumming tries to make sense of it all; including the management staff.
Admit it. You like to have a laugh at us. And in the premiership years, from Keegan’s infamous “I will love it if we beat them” sound bite to the more contemporary horse punching cringecident we have mostly obliged your curiosity. Two seasons ago though, we broke from stereotype and played like an actual proper football team. We were hard to break down, well organized, and although we didn’t create quite as many chances as the elite teams, those chances were usually smashed in to the back of the net by a Senegalese man. We were the hottest new thing around – 5th in the league and qualification for Europe. We were poised, in a great position to genuinely challenge the elite in England – with a little investment we might actually get there.
That promise is what made last season’s efforts even more disappointing than the traditional Newcastle underachievement. No summer investment, a congested fixture list with Europa league and a sobering injury list contributed heavily to a depleted squad and loss of form. We were genuinely (and deservedly) in danger of relegation, and suffered some humiliating defeats later on in the season. I certainly won’t forget a certain opposition manager conducting the away crowd’s post match singing at St James Park in a hurry.
Well, the most significant changes have (disappointingly) come at board level. For reasons lost on everyone except himself, owner Mike Ashley has hired walking PR disaster Joe Kinnear as the director of football. Yes, that’s the same Joe Kinnear who gave an expletive filled rant to reporters during his short and unsuccessful tenure as Newcastle manager during the disastrous relegation season in 2008-09.
His first interview in 2013 (before the club had even announced his appointment) had to be heard to be believed. Kinnear mispronounced almost every single player or club official’s name – including the now infamous “Yohan Kebab” – while the rest of what he said was either hyperbole or simply not true. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic, but the disrespect and contempt he has shown towards the Toon fans in this and subsequent interviews will be hard to forgive.
One of his more believable claims however was that he has an “open door to every manager in the premier league”, and that he “would deliver the club quality players” in his role as DoF. So far this has yet to eventuate, with Loic Remy on a season long loan from QPR the only summer signing likely to make any impact in the first team. It remains to be seen how Kinnear’s working relationship with Pardew will develop over the season, Pardew has been very quiet on the issue, but he can’t be happy that his boardroom ally Derek Llambias (or Lambeezi as Kinnear called him) has been replaced by Kinnear.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, indeed part of being a Newcastle United fan is being optimistic in the face of whatever the football world has to throw at you. We haven’t lost any of our best players this summer; perhaps we have our poor 2012-13 to thank for that. As a result there is still plenty of quality in the squad: Krul, Coloccini, Debuchy, Tiote, Cabaye, Sissoko, Ben Arfa and Cisse are all good players who at their best would make most premier league first XI’s outside the big 5.
This group’s form – notably Tiote and Cisse – mirrored the team’s fortunes and they have plenty to prove in 2013-14. Others such as the criminally underused Dutch international Vurnon Anita, new recruit Loic Remy, versatile defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and pacey wide forward Yoann Gouffran have the ability and hunger to play at the top level and cement a starting place.
But it is how these talented players blend together that will ultimately decide how successful this Newcastle team is. There are 11 French players in the first team squad now, and with key players Tiote and Cisse also being Francophones, there is a real risk of cliques developing in the dressing room. This can’t be allowed to happen, and is surely one of Pardew’s biggest challenges as manager.
In my opinion the person who will contribute the most to the success (or otherwise) of this team is the club captain and Toon icon Fabricio Coloccini. After a 2012-13 marred by injury and personal issues, if he is as revitalized and committed to the club as reported then he is the strong leader that commands the necessary respect to keep the dressing room united and working together. At his best on the field, he is a world class central defender whose ability to bring the ball forward on the deck was sorely missed last year – he played only 22 out of 38 premier league games.
Coloccini’s absence had a big impact on us tactically last season. Without his composure on the ball we were very direct and other players were played out of position to compensate – leading to disjointed performances and a real lack of penetration. Our best passer of the ball Yohan Cabaye was sometimes so deep he couldn’t affect the attacking third of the pitch. The dynamic Moussa Sissoko was played in almost every conceivable midfield position except his favoured box to box role.
This has to change, and surely it is time to go back to the incisive 4-3-3 that worked so well during 2011-12 and helped Pardew win the Manager of the year award. This system also suits the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa drifting wide and cutting in from the right hand flank. If he can stay fit and hit top form, there aren’t many defenders that can live with him.
Now that Nile Ranger has left the club, there are some young players at the club worth putting some time into. Paul Dummett has been impressing at left back in pre season after a good season at St Mirren on loan, and deserves some time in the first team this year. Sammy Ameobi (or Ammomobi according to Kinnear) has hopefully put some weight on and his pace off the bench will give any tired fullbacks a bit of bother late in matches. England U-19 Striker Adam Campbell is the brightest young talent to come through the ranks for some time, although next season might be a more realistic time for him to break into the first team.
Prospects for 2013-14
What do I think will happen? Newcastle are the hardest team to pick, anywhere from 6th – 19th is possible but a realistic finish that most fans would be happy with is 10th in the league, any lower than 12th would be regarded as a definite failure though.
What do I want to happen? Keep the squad together, keep them fit and happy, and see what they can achieve. Work hard. Make St James park a fortress. Top 7 or 8 isn’t out of the question – the core of the squad that finished 5th is still there. Finally – I am expecting the club to take the FA and league cup very seriously this year, let’s have a real crack at winning a damn trophy. It’s been far too long.
Howay the lads.
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