When the Fulham tickets came on sale this week it was a timely reminder of where we are at in terms of the new season just being round the corner. To its credit United seems to be getting a few things right these days even though how basic they are reminds us just how dysfunctional the club was before Rafa agreed to stay. A 4G pitch and adequate recruitment of medical staff at a club of Newcastle United’s profile shouldn’t really be the cause of street parties on Tyneside.
In the here and now in terms of players leaving it would seem Wiljandum will join Liverpool and all that needs to be agreed on that deal is the payment structure and something in the region of £25m estimated, representing a £10m profit on a player brought in twelve months ago and who has turned up for less than half of the games. This is evidence of the new TV deal and the amounts swilling around the PL as a result. Remember, we’ll be competing with those sorts of prices if we manage to get promoted this coming season. Next in the departure lounge is Moussa Sissoko who once again enrages our support with disrespect for the club, his manager, team-mates and support by publicly inviting bids from those yet as unknown clubs who he imagines he is worthy to play for. I’d imagine Janmaat will want to bail out as well but at least he’s being a little more discrete than his French team-mate.
Various discussions continue about these players but let’s be honest despite under-performing for a large section of last season – Townsend, Sissoko, Wiljandum and Janmaat are probably our best players and none seem inclined to stay. In the cold light of day I don’t really blame them for our relegation – that lies with an abysmal selection of Head Coach and a transfer policy which left us critically short in central defence and up front with goals. In a better team framework, those players who have been hammered (by me as well) for lack of effort at times would have performed much better and we would not have been anywhere near relegation!
I realise this won’t be a universally popular point to make but I’d have liked Sissoko to have stayed (I know he hasn’t gone yet) because he looks every inch a Rafa type of player (as did Townsend) and I do think his contribution is underplayed by his critics for reasons of his ambition to leave United for better things. Even that I can forgive because as has been well recorded here and elsewhere, the club’s whole transfer policy in recent years has been to buy players from the likes of France, Holland etc. and give them a stage with United in the hope we’ll be able to sell them at a handsome profit then repeat the trick whilst treading water in the PL. If players then treat the club as a stepping stone it’s hardly surprising because they have heard it from their agents, United and everyone else. Why should they be loyal? That was never part of the deal.
As I type this up we are still hopeful of signing the central defender Grant Hanley from Blackburn [STOP PRESS – CONFIRMED] and if we do we should have a decent stock of centre halves in Lascelles, Mbemba (presuming he doesn’t go), Dummett and the new lad. I’ve given up on ever seeing Haidara put a run of games together for us so a left-back is still essential (I’ve got Anita at RB for us rather than running around aimlessly in midfield) but in midfield and up front there is still business to be done.
Jonjo Shelvey has to be a big player for us because if he isn’t that could be disastrous for us and for him. I’d like to see him further up the park with Colback sitting deep and doing the dirty jobs. I’m not a particular fan of Colback but he should be head and shoulders above most others in the Championship particularly if he’s deployed sitting in front of the back four. I really can’t imagine Tiote being here at the end of August. Ritchie will give us pace and width as will Aarons who I am hopeful can stay fit and tear up the Championship this coming season. I’m still of the view we need more creativity in that midfield and with Sissoko and Wiljandum gone there should be decent money for more focused and enthusiastic replacements.
Gayle, Mitrovic, Perez and De-Jong doesn’t seem enough to me particularly as the latter looks like he’s never going to be fit. To be strong in the Championship we will need more goals and I’m not 100%v confident we have them as yet.
There is of course the unknown quantity of Adam Armstrong coming through and it would be brilliant if we were to have his enthusiasm and energy as a local lad in the side but that seems to be a long-shot at the moment. As for Riviere and Goufrann, the latter may do a decent job at this level but Riviere has never looked anything while he’s been here. Other players like Sammy Ameobi and Florain Thauvin present something of a headache to Rafa because neither looks anything like good enough and I’m baffled how either got contracts here. Investments like that get you relegated and so it came to pass.
Off the park, Rafa’s authority at United appears to be being felt and seen with events at Darsley Park involving local children and an open training session at St James’ Park up and coming. It’s just a happy coincidence but the removal of W***A from the shirts sold to children strikes the right tone and although it was always planned W***A no longer being on the shirt after next season hints at things turning for the better, I’m always mindful of reading far too much into these turn of events as evidence of any great new strategy. Indeed it isn’t determined cynicism to point at what Ashley is doing with the land at Strawberry Place as evidence of a leopard not changing its spots. See more on that here –
I was intrigued to see the club recruit Brian Aitken who appears to have been brought in as part of a concerted effort to build bridges with the regional business community (and as a consequence buy corporate packages and advertising) with whom it has systematically lost touch with over the last number of years. Aitken, a consultant who previously worked at The Journal likely has a contacts book that Lee Charnley doesn’t, has important work to do to repair that corporate part of the club’s operation because it has all but dissolved at the present time. I’m sure we wish him every success.
The news about United’s season ticket sales has been evidenced as part of the galvanising impact Rafa has had since he agreed to stay and the numbers – 33,000 being greater than the likes of Spurs and Chelsea (you can add Sunderland, Boro, Everton, West Brom, Swansea, Southampton, Watford, Burnley, Bournemouth and likely a few more to that list) is positive but we should remember the gate money we’ll be taking (compared to London clubs and Man U, Liverpool and Man City) because of the differences in price will be marked.
What has perhaps flown under the radar is just how the numbers have dropped from 40,000+ season ticket holders just over a decade ago to where they were before Rafa and the direction they would likely have gone had he not stayed. We can sneer at news Villa will be closing the top tiers of their stadium this coming season but I don’t think we were a million miles away from that kind of implosion without Ashley pulling Rafa out of a hat and apparently abandoning the failed model of Head Coach he has pursued for so many desperate seasons. There is reason to be positive about United right now but we would be deluding ourselves to imagine everything has changed. The club is still not in the position it was in when Ashley bought the club and there is much work to be done to be convinced it is doing everything it can to demonstrate lessons have been learned and we are moving in the right direction. But there is a chink of light.
One thing is for certain, Newcastle United enjoys a support wholly disproportionate to what it deserves. I could have written that sentence in any of the 45+ seasons I’ve been trailing up to SJP but next season will provide between the eyes evidence of that being the case. Its expected we will sell out the away end at Fulham for a Friday night fixture at the other end of the country on 5/Aug/16 but St James’ Park will be completely rammed for the visit of Huddersfield Town on Saturday 13/Aug/16.
Full houses aren’t unique at SJP but with all due respect to The Terriers, I’ll struggle to name any of their players and this is a second tier game. But our famous old ground will be full to the gills and a few things will have changed.
Perhaps it’s a new era of Glasnost at United but they have welcomed the formation of the independent GALLOWGATE FLAGS group and so far been very positive about what this new group intend to achieve. At the time of writing, from a standing start GALLOWGATE FLAGS has raised almost £4:5K to spend on a variety of flags for the GALLOWGATE END and I’m delighted to learn its plans have been rubber-stamped by United. That means, all being well, the Gallowgate End will be a riot of Black & White when the players come down the tunnel for that first game of the season and our support shows its appreciation of Rafa Benitez’s decision to stick with the club and give us the benefit of his expertise over what I hope will be many years to come.
Of course it’s not just about the flags GALLOWGATE FLAGS purchase, it’s also about the ones already in circulation and it would be fantastic if they were all out of the sheds, garages, lofts and wherever else, shaken down and on display at least for the Huddersfield game. Obviously you can bring your own flags to the match wherever you are at SJP but if there’s a reason you would simply like to donate your flag to GALLOWGATE FLAGS then please do so.
As well as making donations to GALLOWGATE FLAGS the group needs volunteers to make things happen on the day. Lads and lasses in the Gallowgate will be needed to help organise the distribution of flags and the collection of them at the end of the game. It might mean giving up a couple of pre-match pints and stopping back a few minutes after the match but what you will be helping to achieve will be displays of Newcastle United’s support which will be seen all around the world and demonstrate vividly that our club has the best support of any in the world.
To make a financial donation to GALLOWGATE FLAGS, please click here.
To donate a flag to GALLOWGATE FLAGS – E-Mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
To become a GALLOWGATE FLAGS volunteer –E-Mail – email@example.com
You can visit the GALLOWGATE FLAGS website by clicking here
You can follow GALLOWGATE FLAGS on twitter here – @gallowgateflags
The lads had a good stretch of the legs in Dublin’s fair city and although comfortably beating a below-strength LOI, Bohemian FC side is hardly cause for wild celebration, it’s positive to get in the winning habit and again, it’s good the club isn’t on some ill-conceived mad dash of the US playing pointless games and exhausting the players with their travel itinerary. That fixture as well as the one at Doncaster and Belgium seem measured and about the football. Long may that continue …
Keep On, Keepin’ On …