To borrow some media-speak, the transfer window slammed shut last week. How we’ve enjoyed it. From almost the start to the finish most of us have been nodding approval at Rafa’s manoeuvrings but on Wednesday night the nods had become loud guffaws of laughter as Tottenham (and really, who else?) were relieved of £30m for the services of one Moussa Sissoko. Now, I’m not going to attempt to re-write history or any of that malarkey. Last season Sissoko was our best player. That’s hardly a great honour given we ended up relegated but on occasions, our support was on its feet, anticipating something as the Frenchman saw a spot of open grass with the ball pushed in front of him and attacked it. I’ve been excited on occasions by Sissoko, looked to him to provide our main attacking threat and at times he has delivered.
I’ve also often considered that Sissoko is exactly the kind of player Benitez would have in his team – strong, fast, athletic, powerful and just the player he could get another 20% from, add to technically and here’s the thing, help achieve more consistency. I’ve also thought about Sissoko and indeed Janmaat and Wiljandum that with better players around them they would achieve more and their qualities would be allowed to breathe within a more balanced team. Let’s be honest here, having rubbish central defenders, no left-back or a striker with the cumulative impact of Pardew-Carver-McClaren coaching them isn’t going to help anyone reach their potential.
But United proved you sow what you reap. Pre-Rafa our club’s strategy had been to bring in promising but unproven players from the lesser leagues of France, Holland and Belgium, give them a polish and put them in the shop window hopefully to make a profit. On occasion that has worked but it has also led to an atmosphere around United which meant supporters felt conned and players felt no connection to the club because they had been sold Newcastle United as a shop-window. Thus any criticisms of a lack of leadership, strength of character etc. completely missed the point. United had been sold to them on very individual terms i.e. what the club could do for them and help them achieve rather than what they could do to help Newcastle United achieve. The ambitions of the individual subsuming the aspirations of the collective.
United got it’s just desserts and at long last Mike Ashley woke up. Rafa Benitez gave our loathed “owner” his overdue epiphany. I hope.
So now, Rafael Benitez is the most important man at Newcastle United and progress has been instant. He has achieved what he wanted to do. United has been fumigated of those who had proven they were unable or unwilling to commit to our club. Only Townsend is one we would have liked to have stayed I think. I believe within the next 18 months Andros will rue leaving the tuition of Rafa Benitez for the service of Alan Pardew and his severe coaching limitations.
Our squad already looks far more balanced than it was last season. It already looks like it has more character and
commitment and we can see leaders emerging. Do we have better players than we had last season? That’s debatable. Do we have a better squad and team? There is no question that we do and I’d speculate the pool of players currently at our disposal would have stayed in the Premier League with something to spare last season.
Despite relegation, the support is happier, more optimistic and content. Last week Rafa had the Geordie Nation swooning with these words:
“We are only interested in bringing players to Newcastle who want to work hard for the club and the team, not players who want to be at another club maybe next year or the year after. We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United. Every player should be honoured to wear the shirt of this club. They should feel the same passion that the fans feel.”
Rafa Benitez gets it, understands what our club must mean and I don’t believe he would be here if he felt anything different. Benitez has too much self-respect, too much faith in his own ability and ambition to pimp himself out as a pseudo manager like Pardew or McClaren in the charade of a football club Newcastle United had become in their time here at the behest of Ashley. Rafa Benitez is the real deal and barring Mike Ashley going mental again, so by association is Newcastle United FC.
There is a real sense of purpose emerging around the club. Good things are happening. The whole Gallowgate Flags
initiative is rightly from the grassroots but has pushed at an open door with club officials and people at United who viewed worky-tickets like me and others with distaste are now engaging and friendly. This is the Rafalution I can assure you. The club no longer feels under siege and it’s to be hoped that continues. United has to do more and only a few months of goodwill won’t completely undo years of antagonism, belligerence and arrogance. The club seems to have shown it wants to move in the right direction but now it has to make those moves and continue to do so. Be open and be confident in itself.
I’m not wholly convinced Mike Ashley is a Prince amongst men all of a sudden and I do live in fear of him reverting to type but Benitez’s presence at United is a massive reassurance things can move in the right direction. This man doesn’t need us as much as we need him.
On the park, Rafa’s team has recorded four wins on the spin and there is the emergence of a feel-good vibe. These are early days but I lapped up the Brighton game (though the refereeing was abysmal) and how we dealt with the challenges Hughton’s lads presented the team with – the foul play and play-acting. We managed the game really well and that bodes well for the season ahead. I’d love us to go on an extended winning run (big surprise there eh?) because the confidence would come surging through the team and that would have a major impact upon the crowd at SJP – which at times can be overly anxious and fretful – we all need to stop that mass sighing at a misplaced pass and I’ll repeat my mantra – players need our support just after they have made a mistake than at any other time.
The feeling is good, the manager, the players and the support seem to be as one and it all has to be maintained. Everyone has a responsibility to do the right things for Newcastle United – that includes Lee Charnley and the radgies in The Corner getting the singing going.
(TF126) has been the most widely read issue of the fanzine we have ever published. That means it is the most widely read fanzine Newcastle United supporters have also ever published and I’m confident enough to say your fanzine is the most widely read independent, fans’-led publication in the UK. I’m as sentimental as anyone for the days of standing outside SJP flogging the fanzine but the truth is the world has moved on, social habits have changed and what we are doing now is a million times more popular than anything ever done before. It’s also cheaper and far more accessible.
The next issue of the fanzine has been a pleasure to edit and to be honest it’s something of a relief not to be wading through swamps of bile and bitterness (and drafting a fair bit of it myself to be honest) but reading fellow supporters’ optimism and analysis. As ever the vast majority of true faith is all about Newcastle United but we think our audience likes to go off topic occasionally and we’ll have plenty material which is a bit different too. There is still a wee bit of time to get in touch and get something drafted for the next issue and you can do that by dropping yours truly on firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyway, we’ve got a relatively quiet week. We’ve got players to return from international duty who will be training with team-mates for the first time and then we’ll be heading for Derby County and a tea-time KO. Derby are one of those clubs who carry some gravitas for those of us a certain vintage and their supporters, players and directors believe they are worthy of a place in the top division. Like Fulham and Bristol I don’t doubt Pride Park will be a sell-out and somewhat inevitably our allocation of tickets has been sold out for weeks. It will be a tough assignment but we can go there and win.
Good luck to Rafa and his team.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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