The period since the end of the season and roundabout now is a frustrating time for us. We’re anxious to see progress at United but realistic to understand there are reasons why things aren’t moving along as quickly as we might have wanted them. What has been sorted however is the most important and fundamental issue that needed to be sorted – Rafa Benitez is the manager of Newcastle United on his terms and that dear friends is a very good thing. It’s a measure of the man that when his coach Fabio Pecchia accepted the job at Verona, Rafa had appointed his replacement Mikel Antia within days. Twelve months ago there would have been (indeed there was) weeks of fannying on and likewise this summer there will be short-haul trips to Ireland and Belgium for warm-up games rather than long-haul flights across the US to play low quality opposition. Rafa is now the man making the football decisions and we can tell.
Some players have already been released. The departures of Obertan and Marveaux weren’t much mourned but their departures clear space on the payroll for players who might actually be some use. Whilst we are cock-a-hoop at having Rafa is the gaffer on Barrack Road that doesn’t appear to be enough for some players.
First out of the traps was club captain Fabricio Collocini who has again expressed a desire to return to his native Argentina and turn out for his local club San Lorenzo. Whether the fans of San Lorenzo are quite so enthusiastic about that prospect remains to be seen but for me that is a deal that should happen. In previous years I have been a huge admirer of Colo and overall, with the passage of time I think history will judge him to have been a good player for us. That is not to say he has not had his flaws. He was poor in his first season when we were relegated in 2008/09 but it would be harsh to blame him for that – the club was a basket case at that time and the blame rests firmly at the door of Mike Ashley for that demotion (as it does for this latest one). Colo should go. In my opinion this last season Colo has demonstrated a declining presence, pace and strength as a PL central defender and I don’t think The Championship will be any less forgiving. He should be moved on. I don’t think the lad is anything near captain material and I don’t believe it would be workable for him to give up the arm-band. Those situations don’t work. To say I’m less than convinced about the injury sustained whilst warming down from a match he didn’t play in over in La Manga and that this injury was aggravated back at Darsley Park is an understatement. Colo was missing in action and is simply not a leader. Rafa will need a new leader on the park (he can’t talk them through every single game next season as he did in the run-in last season), needs his own man and that man isn’t Colo.
Leaving the club already has been Steven Taylor. I’ve always thought Taylor had the potential to be a top class central defender but it hasn’t happened for him. He has been ravaged by injuries and I thought that played alongside someone with some experience he might have matured himself but he never has. One thing is for certain no matter how he grated at times with his fist-pump routines he can never be accused of hiding. Everything I hear about him points to a dedicated professional who had a genuine and very deep love of Newcastle United. He is the last player after Shola and Harper have departed who played in those celebrated SBR sides and as a local lad intuitively got what it meant to pull on a Newcastle United shirt. Personally, I wish him well and hope the next passage of his career is really successful and he’s very happy.
Now we get to those who have a rather higher opinion of themselves than we have always seen. I have railed against Moussa Sissoko and his disappearing tricks in so many away games and high intensity games like derbies where he has often been as good as a man off. But. Under Rafa I’ve felt Sissoko has a manager who understands his ability and knows how to get the best out of him in a way Pardew, Carver and McClaren just could not imagine. Now Sissoko is fluttering his eye-lashes at Arsenal again but if he is going to go to North London then it has to be on United’s terms. When I clock how much money is being thrown around (i.e. how much we have squandered on the likes of Thauvin, Cabella etc) then I don’t think we should be in the business of giving this lad away to anyone. I’d rate Sissoko in the £20m+ category and that would be a very useful chunk of change for Rafa to reinvest in players with the skill and character (emphasis upon the last word) to provide us with the foundation for promotion. A similar conundrum is Wiljandum. He doesn’t want to stay and frankly I’d be happy to see him leave. He has performed in only around 25% of the games he’s started and whilst he was a player coming into a woefully imbalanced side so often he clocked off and went missing from games. He was the waste of a shirt away from home. He’s another one we should be looking at to bring in £20m+ for because although his character is suspect there is unquestioned talent.
Townsend is a player I’d love to retain and if he can see the big picture of a club in renaissance (I pray) under Rafa then he will stay on Tyneside rather than doing anything insane like throw his career under a bus at Crystal Palace working for a manager who simply does not understand talent.
Janmaat will likely also leave but I find stories linking him with a move to Juventus as laughable. Fair play to his agent for planting this nonsense with the media however.
Shelvey is a lad that baffles me as well. I thought I was witnessing the arrival of a player who could provide the spark we’d need to get us out of that mess we knew we were in following a superb display against West Ham but after that he was fitful whilst the club he left, Swansea City, appeared to be better without him. Shelvey will be a big test of Rafa’s man-management.
But overall there is a degree of confidence and optimism amongst the support that frankly has no right to be there
following a relegation that has been in the post for at least three seasons. The enthusiasm at having a real, qualified and experienced, proper football man in charge of well, football – appears to have galvanised us in a way that is unimaginable at any other football club in the world. I should know better than to be open-mouthed at the sight of supporters queuing for season tickets and the United website crashing under the demand to get into SJP next season. This club has just been relegated yet our attendances and the number of season ticket holders is likely to increase in the lower tier. For all of the rancour and upset of the Ashley era the fact our support can respond so positively when United make the right calls says everything for the love and enthusiasm for our famous old football club. Newcastle United is a club with soul and it is you and I who infuse it with an incredible spirit that will never ever leave it.
After occasionally being accused of being a miserabilist when it comes to Newcastle United (I’m too gracious to knock on a few doors and tell them I was right and United were in trouble as I said last year) it’s been great to give some publicity to a completely organic movement of some fans to the Corner section of the Gallowgate. Those of us of a certain vintage might remember the days of the 80s when The Corner (aka the Strawberry Corner) housed our more demonstrative and vocal of supporters and frequently it was the chants that started in there that caught fire around the rest of The Gallowgate and indeed St James’ Park on a match-day. There has infrequently been a retention of that spirit in The Corner but towards the end of last season it grew in intensity. Now there is a movement of those who want to provide Rafa and the team with the kind of full-on vocal support we witnessed at the Spurs game on a more frequent basis. From what I can gather from feedback from those of you approaching the Box Office is that lots of requests have been made to decant to The Corner and it’s difficult to get more than single seats in there now. That is absolutely fantastic and I hope we will see the proof of that development next season.
Of course it might mean that The Corner is too small to accommodate everyone who wants to join in the singing in that part of the ground. Again that’s really positive too. For what it’s worth, this humble fanzine is encouraging would-be singers who can’t be accommodated in The Corner to seek out seats in the adjacent Gallowgate lower tier and for those lads and lasses to congregate as close as they can to the east side. Hopefully that will mean singers will be concentrated in parts of the Gallowgate very close to each other and that will mean more like-minded fans are together and giving their lungs a workout on match-days. It was great to see nufc.com and the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) throw their weight behind this and it is to be hoped the Supporters Liaison Officer and the Fans Forum can demonstrate their worth by helping to make this work. This is an opportunity for enmities to be placed to one side and all to come together to create an environment which is good for Rafa and the team. Newcastle United’s greatest asset is its support and always will be.
Anyone who thinks of themselves as a “singer” should do their best to get into The Corner and/or the lower tier of The Gallowgate as close to the east side as possible.
It could not be easier to switch season tickets – just e-mail the Box Office – firstname.lastname@example.org with your details and they will do the rest.
Or you could telephone the Box Office on 0844 372 1892.
Or you could just pop into the Box Office and do it over the counter.
Obviously if you buy tickets on a match by match basis and you are a “singer” then ask for tickets in that area or as close as you can get to it.
I realise there are doubtless good, loyal supporters who prefer to go to games and singing isn’t for them. They might find themselves in this part of SJP. I’d ask them to see the big picture and think about relocating to a part of the stadium which might be quieter and where they will be more comfortable. That allows more of the singers to move into that area and as such allows The Corner etc to develop its own character.
For all of that, no-one here or anyone else can tell anyone what to do but some patience and consideration is called for I think. It’s all about supporting Rafa and the team.
Anyway. Mike Ashley on the telly again. Why, when he is on Sports Direct business does he have to go to the House of Commons in a Black & White striped tie? It was an astonishing appearance with Ashley coughing to significant malpractice and admitting his company may have outgrown him. If Ashley is admitting he might not have the competence to continue leading his business then that is an astonishing turn of events. It is unlikely to do much for a share price in Sports Direct which has dropped by 45% in the last year. He and his company are now widely reviled for their working practices and he is now the poster-boy for zero hour contracts, employment instability and the worst in job insecurity. I don’t buy the little boy lost routine we witnessed and if he is hoping the media will fall for his mea culpa routine infused with liberal doses of faux-ignorance then they are dumber than I thought. It’s only my intuition but I think this last twelve months is seeing the decline of Mike Ashley and Sports Direct. How fast and how far Ashley and his business will fall is anyone’s guess but the man and his company or now so tainted in the eyes of the public and perhaps even considered toxic by investors that it is a long way back for the man from Berkshire.
For all the positivity at United in the weeks following Rafa’s commitment to United, I think we all know with Ashley and his runner, Charnley still at the club there is always a prospect of things unravelling – that hasn’t gone away. I don’t think many of us are under any illusions about Mike Ashley and I for one would welcome the end of his thus far disastrous relationship with Newcastle United.
There, you knew it wouldn’t all be bunnies and fluffy clouds didn’t you?
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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