With the Football League already up and running, and the Premier League curtain raiser at Wembley done and dusted, there is nothing left to do other than to get the Premier League season up and running. Following the horrendous capitulation Newcastle United fans had to endure in the second half of the season many fans could be forgiven for looking for another week or two of respite before having to be subjected to another, probably, disappointing campaign. However, it would appear that Newcastle fans are in fine fettle and looking forward to another season with optimism (or blind delusion, take your pick).
As the final whistle went on the final day of last season it was patently obvious that Mike Ashley had to dust off the cobwebs off his chequebook and sign a few players otherwise United would be in dire straits this season. Departures of key men Loic Remy, Mathieu Debuchy and Yohan Cabaye, as well as seeing regular squad players such as Shola Ameobi, Sylvain Marveaux and Luuk de Jong leave the club, we were depleted both in terms of quality and numbers.
The club did respond by making a number of signings – Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella and Daryl Janmaat being the most notable of these, and in total the club have made 9, yes 9, signings. I’ve heard many people praise the fact that we’ve signed 9 players (2 of whom have been sent straight back on loan to Nottingham Forest) but while I can perhaps see why some people would think that 9 is a sizeable number of signings, I am not convinced. Considering how we had went 2 transfer windows without making a solitary permanent signing in a squad who had let key players leave, as well as the fact that our squad was already 4/5 players short of being competitive, I would say that the number of signings is about right. Arguably it is still a little short of what’s needed to really bring us up to spec. Call me cynical or negative if you will, but it’s how I see it.
There are those who are excited and delighted that the club have made so many signings, however if one were to boil it down to the figures you will see that in this transfer window, while we may have signed 9 players, we have only made a net spend of £5 million, which is not a considerable outlay when you consider that we are still crying out for a proper striker as well as a dominant centre half. Also, when you consider that Ashley has yet to dip into the bumper TV deal that we are now in receipt of, as well as the lucrative sponsorship deals, money made through merchandising and season ticket sales it is more than a little obvious that we have a lot more money available to spend, yet Mike Ashley will still not spend it.
This is not an attempt to spin a negative situation from a positive one, I am merely pointing out a fact. We have reached a point where Ashley has lowered the expectations of Newcastle United fans to such an extent that any semblance of transfer activity is seen as a positive move on his part. This is a common psychological affliction called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ (if you don’t know what it is, I suggest you look it up) Yes, Mike Ashley could have decided not to spend a single penny, sit on the money made from flogging Debuchy and Cabaye, and just not re-invest any of that at all, right? Well technically he could have. But then again that would have almost definitely led to certain relegation, and considering how much it cost him last time round, I don’t think he wants a repeat performance, so giving him credit for making signings to prevent an inevitable relegation doesn’t quite ring true for me.
However, my main question wasn’t to analyse whether Mike Ashley has been ambitious or not as that’s not really a matter for debate (or at least it’s a separate matter. He’s not being ambitious, just in case you were wondering) but rather to discuss whether or not Newcastle United are ready for the season ahead. Before I attempt to get into that discussion and answer my own question, I suppose it boils down to what our targets for this season are. If Newcastle United are serious about really cracking the top 8 with a view to challenging for the European places then I am afraid the answer is that we’re so horrifically behind the rest of those teams who have those self same targets that we’d need at least 2/3 quality signings who can directly impact our first team before we’d even consider it – an established striker as well as a capable centre half is the least we would need. However, if our target is to maintain the status quo and finish within the top 10 again, I think we’ve probably got that well within our capabilities, in fact I even think that we will perhaps do even better than last season and finish 9th.
Before I begin to sound faintly positive, this is not progress. It is standing still. Even if we have a miraculous season and finish inside the top 6 Ashley will simply sit and watch the values of our star players rocket and cash in at a later date – just like he did the last time we managed to crack the top 6. Instead of kicking on and challenging to be better, we slam on the brakes as if we’re Icarus flying too close to the sun. Our raison d’etre is not to be competitive, but rather to make Mike Ashley money. We are not a proper sporting entity who want to challenge for cups, climb through the league and really excite our fans, and to think any otherwise is only opening yourself up for a world of hurt. Maybe we will burn our wings if we fly too high, but isn’t it better to try?
Like any Newcastle United fan, I will be willing us to do well this season. I really hope we play some good attacking football and our fans have something to cheer about. The problem is to what aim would all this be for? I wish I could blissfully and ignorantly take my support for Newcastle United as devoid of what has gone on before, but I can’t. The mistakes/deliberate contempt from Mike Ashley in the past has scarred me. Permanently. Until he has left our once fine club, those scars will never heal, nor can I look forward to Newcastle United embarking upon a new Premier League season.
Are we ready for the new season? Sadly, I’ll have to say ‘Howay the Lads’ but I don’t care if we are or not because I for one won’t be watching. That is the most sad part of Mike Ashley’s legacy of his time at Newcastle United.