The times they are a-changing

Time4Change March

Time4Change March

Who could have predicted this eh? Couple of decent results in the first half of the season, a January of no signings and squad depletion, resulting in capitulation in the second half of the season with a manager, ahem, head coach, telling us it’s all going great! The answer to that question is “everyone” of course. Even the most optimistic of fan wouldn’t have been expecting a FA Cup run, or for us to challenge the top 8. Even the most optimistic of fan knows that under Mike Ashley this club is standing still at best, and slowly retreating towards another bitter relegation at worst.

We have put up with 8 years of Mike Ashley’s tenure at Newcastle United. In that time we have experienced club legends (Keegan and Shearer) having their reputations tarnished, relegation, stadium name change, association with Wonga, the decimation of our playing squad, Dennis Wise, Joe Kinnear (twice), 4 years of Alan Pardew, 5 consecutive derby defeats and only 2 top 10 finishes. While some of our more cautious fans have taken this for “stability” I for one would label all of the above as nothing short of turmoil.

Following on from the aforementioned 5th consecutive defeat to our arch-rivals Sunderland, some fans have taken to say “enough is enough” by choosing to take part in an arranged boycott of the upcoming home game against Spurs on Sunday. To many Newcastle United fans, the very notion of boycotting a game, any game, is an insane suggestion. However, the fact that this boycott appears to have such widespread support sweeping the city and region is testament to the depth of despair and strength of feeling that is circulating in these days. The times they are a-changing.

As someone who was not fortunate enough to grow up in Newcastle, I did not have the privilege of going to the cathedral on the hill every weekend. I spent my youth wistfully dreaming of the day that I would get the chance to be part of the magic I grew up watching. Now that I live here, I cannot bring myself to put any more money into that man’s pocket. It has been an inherently personal sacrifice, but one I do not regret making for a second.

Mike Ashley’s list of sins are many. However, one sin that does not get much air time is the deep, and hurtful division that his tenure has caused among our once united fan base. There currently exists a “with us or against us” mentality from both sides of the divide. Those who believe they are right in staying away chastise match-goers as feeding the regime, while those who are still going to the matches claim that the stay-aways are disloyal. This divide and conquer technique has been employed by Ashley as a means of pitting fan against fan in order to distract from the main culprit and it needs to stop. We need to reclaim our unity because what else have we got?

There have been many discussions this week about whether fans should join the boycott or go to the game. I’m not going to sit on the fence and say “make up your own mind”. I am going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I urge each and every one of you to join the boycott on Sunday. Ask yourself, what have you got to lose? 90 minutes of another insipid display? Your own pride in having gone to every game this season? Or do you genuinely feel that there is nothing worth protesting? Perhaps you think that protesting will achieve nothing. Maybe it won’t force Mike Ashley’s hand but it will send a message though. What message will going to the game send? What message will Mike Ashley take from 52,000 showing up week-in, week-out despite everything he has done? Doing nothing will achieve nothing 100% of the time.

The question isn’t why should you join the boycott, the question is why the hell should you go to the match?

Loyalty is a 2 way street. We’ve all been loyal for these past 8 years, and that loyalty has been betrayed. That loyalty has been made a mockery of. What’s worse is that loyalty has been exploited for Mike Ashley’s financial gain. Those of us who have chosen to stay away don’t love the club any less than those who still go. Attend the protest on Sunday and you will see how much Newcastle United means to each and every boycotter there.

On Sunday, we have a golden opportunity. An opportunity to send Mike Ashley a message. An opportunity to send the world a message. An opportunity to heal a divided fan base. An opportunity to reclaim our battered dignity. An opportunity to say “enough is enough!”.

Please don’t let that opportunity pass you by. Support the boycott.

Tyneside Club has Wembley in its Sights…

It's changed a little since our last visit...

It’s changed a little since our last visit…

This season my commentary on the life and times of Newcastle United has been, for want of a better word, spotty. I’d like to give up credible excuses such as being a final year Law student is so demanding that my time for writing is nil, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth of the matter is this: I’ve lost my appetite for NUFC. The lifeless way in which the club has been run for the past 8 years was so wonderfully surmised by our grossly unqualified M.D Lee Charnley last month. I’m not going to add to Charnley’s comments, or even critique them other to say that the NUFC I loved growing up is dead. Our point at home to Stoke has all but ensured Premier League survival for another season and our exits from the cups means we’ve got bugger all to play for. While steady as she goes is the message from the club constantly treading water evokes no excitement from anyone save for the purists who, apparently, think we have plenty to play for and that each game is worth 3 points and we should get behind John Carver and the lads. To them I say only this – f**k off.

While it is safe to say that cup ambition is in short supply up in Barrack Road, a short metty journey to NE29 sees the cup buzz in full swing as North Shields took on Phoenix Sports in the FA Vase on Saturday. I was fortunate enough to sample the atmosphere of a small town buzzing with cup fever, proud of their lads who have gotten them this far and hopeful that they can go even further. As a Newcastle fan it’s been too long since I’ve felt like that, so it was a refreshing experience to say the least.

Admittedly, I am not from North Shields, however as I was cordially invited by a good friend of mine, born and raised in North Shields, I knew I would be made welcome, and what a welcome I got! After sharing a few Newcy Broons with my good friend as well as being accompanied by former Newcastle forward Paul Cannell, we made our way to the Spring Gardens where the atmosphere was electric. A few more sups and we made our way to the ground with a real sense of anticipation in the air – how a proper cup game should feel like I would imagine…

As we formed part of the 1000+ crowd who attended the game I must say I loved every minute of it. From the North Shield’s unofficial mascot – a fresh fish – being hoyed onto the pitch tied up with some catgut (all in the name of bribing the linesman for some favourable calls), to the less than gentle teasing being directed at the NUFC stewards who were present, decked out in Sports Direct clad orange jumpsuits no less. Chants of “you sold your soul to the devil” garnered some chuckles, but served as a stark reminder that there is no escaping Ashley’s grip on football in Newcastle.

As for the game itself? I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that a more than capable North Shields side easily dispatched of the previously undefeated Phoenix Sports 4-1 without even having to break sweat. The soft southern lads were given a harsh lesson, and it was a joy to watch. Next up for North Shields is an away trip against the winners of Holbeach United and Erith & Belvedere with the winners of that match being 1 game away from Wembley. It is still too early to be talking of Wembley for the Robins, but those whispers are becoming murmurs and one more win will have them within touching distance. With North Shields thriving in the league, and only a few games from Wembley, it is nice to see at least one local team with some ambition.

I certainly cannot promise more articles on Newcastle United this season as it would involve actually watching them play, and at this rate I’d rather stick rusty pins into my eyeballs. However, as the general election looms large I may throw in the odd tid-bit about politics, and while not in keeping with this being a NUFC blog, I would kindly remind people that I really couldn’t give two f**ks.

Keep on keeping on!

What’s next for NUFC?

Will his departure change NUFC's fortunes?

Will his departure change NUFC’s fortunes?

After an extended break from updating this blog I thought the recent departure of Alan Pardew to be just cause to flex my writing fingers to give a brief update on my stance as to what this actually means for the future of Newcastle United. Not that anyone cares of course.

Let me start off by unequivocally stating that Alan Pardew’s departure will have no meaningful impact on the way Newcastle United play football, or the long-term direction the club is heading in. Anyone expecting Frank de Boer, Rafael Benitez or even Michael Laudrup to take on the top job in North East football will be bitterly disappointed when the new ‘head coach’ (Ashley is not giving the new man the top title by all accounts) comes into Toon. In different circumstances men like these, and hundreds of talented managers like them across the globe would have been delighted to take on a project such as Newcastle United, which then begs the question, why won’t they come? Anyone familiar with my line of thinking will know the answer to this – Mike Ashley. We’ll get to him in a minute.

Quite frankly I’m surprised that Pardew left the club because under Mike Ashley he had a job for life. He may not have been the flavour of the month in the fans’ eyes but he was working at the biggest club he’ll ever work for and had relative job security compared with Crystal Palace who go through more managers than I do hot dinners. My guess is that even Pardew had had enough of having his hands tied behind his back. He’d had enough of taking the flak for Mike Ashley’s constant failings at the club, and he’d probably had enough of the scripted s**t that he had to roll out every pre-match and post-match press conference about how “we was a fret” even after 90 minutes of never hitting the target. Don’t get me wrong I am not absolving Pardew of anything, this man robbed a living while he was manager of Newcastle United and will (rightly) go down as one of the worst managers we’ve had in living memory (yes, even worse than Sam Allardyce and Graeme Souness in my books) and not only that, but the very fact that he was complicit in Mike Ashley’s running of the club negates any possible sympathy that could otherwise be evoked for him. The man is charlatan, a snake oil salesman and he will be found out for the pathetic manager he is when he inevitably relegates Crystal Palace this season and I for one am delighted to see the back of him. However, nothing is going to change.

Alan Pardew’s departure from the club will not signal change for Newcastle United. You may think I am being negative with this prediction but I am afraid it will (most likely) be the case. Mike Ashley has had his fingers burned when it comes to managerial appointments in the past; he chose the popular options of Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer – these appointments did not work due to Ashley’s own failings but his own lack of control over these iconic figures played a part in that. He then chose a safe pair of hands in Chris Hughton, but the fact that Chris believed a lot in player power meant that Ashley couldn’t keep him in the job, especially when his cohorts i.e. Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique were calling for better bonuses it was clear that their respective times at the club were always going to be short-lived. Finally he appointed from within his own circle of trust in the ilk of Joe Kinnear (twice) and Alan Pardew. It is through this model that Ashley has had the most stability (despite Kinnear’s short reign as both manager and Director of Football) and don’t be surprised if it is through this model that Ashley appoints again. The list of friends Ashley has in the game is short, however, with only the like of Dennis Wise, Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables of any real repute, and I’d doubt any NUFC fan would be happy with any of those appointments for a myriad of reasons.

So that leaves Ashley with another option – appoint from within the club. Save for the fact that Colo hasn’t got his coaching badges, I’d have bet my bottom dollar that he was going to be the next manager at Newcastle United. He successfully ostracised and seen off the likes of Yanga M’biwa and Hatem Ben Arfa, all the while protecting the manager and by extension, Mike Ashley. Considering that only 2 years ago he was looking a way out of the club himself, this indicates a marked turnaround and is a demonstration of how much individual power he now wields at the club. Forgetting the fact that he is now a shadow of his former self and would no longer be starting but for the fact that centre half is a position we are stricken in, Colocinni is a man to be wary of looking into Newcastle United’s near future.

The most likely candidate for the job comes down to a choice of 2; John Carver or Peter Beardsley. Carver and Beardsley represent men who were previously held in high esteem at the club, but through their association with the Ashley regime are now no more than bought and paid for stooges. If Ashley appoints either man as ‘head coach’ the majority of fans will be delighted that a “Geordie lad” has the top job, while some of us will see it for what it really is – a continuation of Alan Pardew’s sterling (!) work at NUFC. Mike Ashley wants minimal fuss and a smooth transition. He doesn’t want to indoctrinate a new man into how he does things, he wants someone who knows his model of running a football club already, which is why my money is on either of these two being the next manager.

These are worrying times for NUFC, especially considering that Ashley has been gazumped in a struggle for shares at the club formerly known as Rangers. To my fellow Newcastle United fans I say this, be careful what you wish for and beware the Ides of March.

Is NUFC ready for the new season?

Looks good in pre-season

Looks good in pre-season

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.

 

 

Should Loic Remy be given a THIRD chance at NUFC?

In recent light of events with the Loic Remy saga, the question posed in this article is, should he be given a third chance at Newcastle United?

 

Loic_Remy_Newcastle_United_NUFC_600_01-2

Recent days have seen Loic Remy’s imminent arrival to Liverpool, only to then fail his medical, this came as quite a shock to QPR officials and manager Harry Redknapp who was quoted saying;

“I don’t really see how he could have failed a medical

“He’s never had a problem with his fitness – you couldn’t meet a fitter lad.

“I’ve seen the story break but I don’t know how there can be an issue with his fitness – he’s got no problems whatsoever.

“There must have been a breakdown or they’ve changed their mind or they’ve decided to move in another direction.

“It’s not fair on him because it’s my opinion and the opinion of everybody else – he’s never had a problem before.”

Now moving on from that, Loic Remy had a chance to sign for Newcastle United before he ended up choosing QPR after playing Fifa with owner Tony Fernandes. That instantly put Loic into the bad books of Newcastle United fans! Choosing money to play for a relegation bound club, rather than a top club such as Newcastle.

And then he came, on loan of course, Mike Ashley decided it was a better move to sign Remy on loan rather than a permanent transfer. He then went on to score 14 goals in 26 appearances and made a huge impact at St. James’ Park. But at the end of the season he expressed his desire to move on to greener pastures when he decided he wanted to join Arsenal, and told Newcastle he wanted to play for a Champions League club. That would be strike 2, Loic.

And now, because he was rejected by Arsenal, and with a failed medical at Liverpool, I don’t think Loic Remy will want to stay with QPR, the question is, should Newcastle United break the bank and welcome him with open arms? After he’s turned the Toon down twice already? Does he deserve a third chance? Or should Newcastle United themselves, look elsewhere?

For the right price I’d say absolutely, many people would see him as disloyal and not motivated. I merely see it as this; If you’re working, and you’re offered a promotion, you don’t turn it down. He was offered more money and also had hopes of Champions League football second time around! Now he’s got us or QPR, get yourself here Remy!

NUFC or Mike Ashley’s touring billboard?

Heritage only costs 30 pieces of silver...

Heritage only costs 30 pieces of silver…

No preludes. No flowery nonsense. Just straight to the point. I’ve not been writing about Newcastle United’s pre-season because I don’t give a shit about it. I don’t give a shit how the new signings are playing. I don’t give a shit who looks fit and who looks fat  (though I heard something, somewhere about Fatem being a little bit overweight) nor do I give a shit about seeing some of our younger players getting some minutes under their belts to be ready for the first team this season.

Why such flagrant disregard for our pre-season thus far? I’ll tell you why. It has gotten to such a self-evident point already that Mike Ashley doesn’t give a hoot about the success of Newcastle United – the past 7 years have told us that much already. It’s already self-evident that he doesn’t really attempt to hide his disdain and disinterest in us as fans/customers, though he’ll spin some lies and weasel his way out of tricky situations by surrounding himself with willing idiots who will gladly take some of the flak for him. However, what has me so incensed is that now Mike Ashley isn’t even attempting to hide the fact that Newcastle United are nothing but a defenceless concubine of Mike Ashley’s lecherous S***** D***** Empire as is evidenced by our debacle of a pre-season. Hence why I don’t give a shit about watching a solitary minute of it.

If it wasn’t blatantly apparent with our first pre-season outing pitting us against Oldham Athletic at the stadium formerly known as Boundary Park (now renamed S*****D*****.com Arena…) who took to the field with shirts emblazoned with the putrid S***** D***** logo, Mike Ashley must have been rubbing his hands with glee seeing his advertising hoardings running around like the puppets they are, unwittingly giving his tacky sweatshop goods even more advertising.  Of which he can never have enough. At least he paid for the privilege this time, and it only cost 30 pieces of silver…

One game was bad enough, but it would have been somewhat bearable had it been stopped at that. Following the disasters of previous years where pre-season tours  were cancelled, it was announced that we would indeed be able to showcase our talents on foreign soil. So where was wor Mike taking us? The obvious choice would be the emerging football markets right? Like USA (where Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United were) or Asia (where Everton and Chelsea have elected to go), so where was Mike Ashley sending his roving advertisements?

New Zealand. Really? Why?

Football is not the dominant sport in New Zealand, nor is it even close to becoming an emerging sport in the country. It is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a distant passing interest in comparison to the likes of cricket, rugby union and rugby league. If that is the case, what on earth would possess us to travel all the way to the Southern Hemisphere, as well as travelling all around New Zealand if we’re not looking to tap into a potential new wave of Newcastle United supporters?

Could it be a coincidence that Newcastle United pre-season tour to New Zealand has occurred at exactly the same time as Mike Ashley has announced a partnership with the company MySale Group, who have agreed to operate S***** D***** websites in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the fact that Mike Ashley has announced that he is expanding his brand of sweatshop tackery Down Under with 3 flagship stores in the land of Oz and another in New Zealand?

There will be many of you out there who doubt these  allegations and lambaste me as being negative and cynical. To you I say this. If Newcastle United were down there trying to promote Newcastle United Football Club in an attempt to lure a new market of potential supporters, then how come we have played every single pre-season friendly so far without lining out in our famous black and white stripes? Surely it would make more sense, from a purely brand recognition point of view to play in our famous kit so that these new supporters can instantly recognise our team?

It is absolutely galling, to me at least, that any pre-season tour, especially in a foreign country where we are supposed to be trying to capture a new audience for our club, that we play in a repugnant grey kit when we could be showcasing the one thing that makes Newcastle United one of the most instantly recognisable football teams in the English Premier League.

So, to return to the original question – which I hope you have gathered by now, was rhetorical – are we Newcastle United Football Club or merely an advertising offshoot of Mike Ashley’s ever expanding sickening Empire.

You’re smart enough to know the answer.

 

Murdoch and Ashley in Cahoots?

Ashley's new ally?

Ashley’s new ally?

Let’s be honest, journalists, and the parasitic profession that is journalism, has taken quite a blow following the Leveson enquiry, and in particular, the phone-hacking scandal. What once was a profession dedicated to the dissemination of information, has morphed into one that has become more interested in spreading tabloid nonsense and celebrity gossip, indeed going to extreme, even illegal, lengths to be able to do so.  Journalists will do anything, and write any old garbage if they feel it will help sell a few more of their filthy rags to the blinkered masses.

With that glowing introduction in mind, it would appear that Newcastle United may be aligning themselves with the very worst of a very bad bunch, with many taking to social media to question the links between Ashley-owned Newcastle United and Rupert Murdoch’s offspring, The Sun. It has come to light that The Sun was the only newspaper invited to a recent press conference according to some national journalists, leading many to think that there has been some agreement between the two parasites to offer exclusive reporting rights on Newcastle United to The Sun in exchange for cash.

This is not the first time the “Cash-for-access” question has been raised with regards Newcastle United, with many national newspaper outlets reporting that Newcastle United had attempted to sell access to journalists and their publications last December. The club vehemently denied any attempts to pursue such a course of action, however, their more recent denials of this practice do not hold up much water with a club spokesperson recently stating,

“We’ve not announced any media partnership with any newspaper so there’s nothing really else I can say.”

We’ve not announced any media partnership so there’s nothing really else I can say!? Hardly amounts to a categoric denial of the practice. In fact, what that amounts to is a disgusting PR attempt to con and deceive by wriggling out of the question by not giving a straight answer. While it appears the club are denying they have a media partnership with The Sun, what they are really stating is that they have simply not announced one which is not the same thing as denying its existence is it?

Following the banning of local newspaper publications NCJ Media, parent company of The Chronicle and The Journal, and now the apparent existence of “Cash-for-access” at Newcastle United, you can be guaranteed that there will be no accurate, or in-depth reporting coming from any journalist associated with Newcastle United (not that The Chronicle and The Journal ever did any in the first place, but you see where I’m coming from).

Finally, if the club were going to pursue such a pitiful practice of charging journalists the RIGHT to report on our football club, did they have to align themselves with such a detestable reputation such as The Sun’s? What was the selling point? “Dear Mr Ashley, we can’t flog this rag to the working people of Liverpool because of our gross misreporting of the Hillsborough disaster, do you think the Geordies are stupid enough to buy it?” I’m sure you can guess Mr Ashley’s response to that one.

 

Do New Signings Mark a Change in Direction for NUFC?

Former Ajax Captain

Former Ajax Captain

Touted for big things

Touted for big things

There you have it, the World Cup is sadly over, and I think few could have many complaints about the eventual winners. Germany were by far the best team in the tournament, combining ruthless efficiency with some moments of sheer class to deservedly win the most coveted prize in world football. Now that the World Cup is over, and we are now only 32 days away from the new Premier League season, I thought it appropriate to give my views on Newcastle United’s summer transfer business thus far and form some conclusions where, as things stand, does this leave the club going forward into the new season.

To say that Newcastle United’s transfer business was underwhelming prior to the recent acquisitions of former Ajax man, Siem de Jong, and current France International Remy Cabella, is an understatement. Having only signed Jack Colback on a free from the unwashed, and securing the services of talented, yet unproven, Spanish kid Ayoze Perez, one could be forgiven for thinking it would be more of the same as Newcastle United would flatter to deceive and go into the new season with a grossly inadequate squad.

However, in recent days, the club has taken rather pro-active steps to secure the services of a couple of very capable players which some have taken to social media to claim as an act of intent that Mike Ashley does indeed want to push the club forward in the right direction. While I must admit that I do agree with the sentiment that these two players are indeed quite capable, unless many more signings are finalised between now and the end of the transfer window, it will be more akin to maintaining the status quo than any semblance of squad building.

Before I get accused of being cynical, or negative, let me back up my point of view. From 25-man squad that was named for the start of last season we are currently 6 players lighter; Shola Ameobi, Dan Gosling, James Tavernier, Yohan Cabaye, Loic Remy and Mathieu Debuchy (all but confirmed). While some would argue that Shola Ameobi, Dan Gosling and James Tavernier are not great losses (especially since the latter spent the whole season away from the club on loan) it still is worth mentioning that Shola made 28 appearances in all competitions last season while Dan Gosling was consistently in our match-day squads, making 10 appearances in all competitions. Add those two to the monumental losses felt by the departure of Cabaye, the inevitable departure of Debuchy and the expiration of Loic Remy’s loan spell, then we were left with very sizeable holes left in our squad that needed to be addressed.

For argument’s sake, let’s say De Jong fills the hole left by Remy, Cabella fills the hole left by Cabaye, the reported signing of Janmaat fills the hole left by the outgoing Debuchy, Perez fills the hole left by Shola and Colback fills the hole left by Gosling* then surely a case can be made that the signings that have been made are solely replacements for the players we have let go? In fact, the positivity that has been spun on social media has no basis because there has been no actual squad building. In order to build a squad that is better than the one before, you do not replace your building blocks with other building blocks, you build on the building blocks you already have with more building blocks. If you keep switching like-for-like then you will never get anywhere. You will simply stay where you are.

(*A lot of these players are not like-for-like signings as they play somewhat different positions/roles)

This is the crux of the issue I’m afraid. We are standing still.  I said at the start of last season that we were at least 5/6 players short of a squad that could realistically push the top 6 teams, and that was shown to be the case in the second half of last season. Therefore, I will echo those sentiments this time around. We are at least 5/6 players short of a squad who can realistically challenge the top 8 teams in the Premier League.

It must also be said that everything that has been aforementioned is on the pretence that we do not sell any more players. If any more players are let go, we need to sign their replacements and then sign another 5/6 players on top of that – this is with the expected departures of Hatem Ben Arfa and Yanga Mapou M’biwa in mind.

While I am glad that we have replaced quality players such as Loic Remy, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy with potentially quality players in Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella and Daryl Janmaat (still to be confirmed), this does not satisfy me as there has been nothing in the way of actual progress.

I am cynical when it comes to Newcastle United. I am negative when it comes to Mike Ashley. I am frustrated when it comes to Alan Pardew. But don’t I have good reason to be? So while Pardew is patting himself on the back for bringing a few players in, Newcastle United are still a long way short of where they need to be going into next season. Unfortunately, I fear they have done enough to flog those remaining season-tickets, and get the happy clappers back on board to fill up the stadium for the visit of reigning champions Manchester City on the opening day of the season. To say this fact disappoints me is an understatement.

 

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It’s finally here!

Finally, football worth watching...

Finally, football worth watching…

Last night saw the eagerly anticipated start to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. As is customary for me before international tournaments I make a point of missing the utterly pointless opening ceremony, and switch on about half an hour before kick-off to soak in the atmosphere of the opening game.

Unfortunately, last night’s opening game was being covered by ITV, which meant I had to endure the horrific cringe worthy presenting of one Adrian Chiles, who knows as much about football as my gran. Suffice to say, she’s not an expert. Sandwiched between Chiles, whose resemblance to the part of the male anatomy which encases the family jewels is uncanny, and the ever enlightening Lee “I don’t know what I’m doing” Dixon were 2 legends of the game; Patrick Viera and Fabio Cannavaro, who must have thought their worst nightmares were being realised, as well as coming to a deeper understanding as to why England are as bad as they are at football if this is what amounts to their standard of punditry. But I digress.

Pathetic punditry aside I was looking forward to the game (or not having to listen to Adrian Chiles any longer) when the handover from Chiles said “Your commentary team for tonight’s match is Andy Townsend…” Ah f**k!

Andy Townsend must single-handedly be the worst pundit on television – and that includes a stellar list of buffoons like Michael Owen and Chris ‘Pelanty’ Waddle.

10 seconds into the game, Andy Townsend wielded his almighty wit when talking about the expectation levels on the Brazilian team. “Well Clive, expectation, you’ve got to expect it…” Sheer genius.

The game itself was an even affair. Neymar was nowhere near the standard he needs to be if Brazil are going to win the World Cup – even with his 2 goal haul and but for shocking refereeing and pathetic goal-keeping Croatia would have left the game with a point in the bag.

However, four goals, massive talking points, and the fact that even the Brazilian fans recognised pathetic punditry when it is in their presence by cracking ITV’s studio with rocks, all made for a very enjoyable and entertaining opening game.

So where do we go from here? Personally, I’m backing Spain and Germany to be the front-runners in this World Cup. Yes, Spain are an ageing side, and their brand of football has apparently been ‘found out’ at club level. However, a few of Spain’s first team are coming back from a successful Champions League campaign which should stand them in good stead. Also, Spain have won the last 3 international tournaments and know how to get the job done. They may be lacking a potent finisher up top, but given that in Euro 2012 they cultivated a winning side with a 4-6-0 formation, as well as the fact that Torres won the Golden Boot last time round, I think they’ll be OK in the goal department. As for Germany, yes they have lost arguably one of their most prodigious talents in Marco Reus in a worthless World Cup ‘warm up’ match (utterly detest these games) and they will be a poorer side for it. However, they have talent, they have strength and they have organisation. Add to the fact that they have players who simply get better when they pull the German shirt on; namely Podolski, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose who is still banging in goals for Germany! All of this leads to a winning formula when you add a talented coach into the mix and a fairly deep squad to pick from as Joachim Lowe does. They have been Spain’s closest contenders in terms of quality in the last few tournaments, it is time for this young team to seize their opportunity.

Aside from my personal predictions, there are the standard teams to watch out for. Brazil, Argentina and Italy. All of whom are brimming with quality but have never quite managed to put themselves in contention in the past few tournaments. Italy were well beaten by a rampant Spanish side in the Euro 2012 final. They will be keen to avenge this defeat, by going one better and winning the World Cup. This will be Andrea Pirlo’s last hurrah for Italy, and what better way to bow out of international football for a legend such as he to lift the World Cup?

Then there are the dark horses. I’ve always liked Uruguay’s combination of flair going forward and grit at the back. If Suarez is fit and on song, they have a fighting chance to get to the latter stages. Forlan hasn’t got it in him to lead the line any more, and frankly Cavani is, and always has been, utter s**t so they heavily rely on Suarez. I fancy them to push for the latter stages, only to lose out to one of the big boys.

The Netherlands have been perennial nearly men and were so close in the last World Cup, only to lose in extra-time to Spain (despite the fact that they clearly should have been down to 10 men) and will be looking to go one step further and win it. However, as is always the case with the Dutch, in-house fighting will be their undoing as Robben has been acting the prick again. Quarter-finals at best. Can see them having a poor tournament.

Belgium are many people’s dark horses for the tournament. This is the first international tournament they have qualified for in a while and boy did they qualify! They steam-rolled a qualification group that included the impressive Croatia and have a plethora of Premier League talent, as well as top flight experience across Europe. They have high calibre all over the pitch, from Kompany at centre half to Lukaku up front. Nippy forward men such as Dries Mertens, Mirallas and de Bruyne. As well as depth of talent in midfield with Dembele and Witsel. It remains to be seen if they can do it at the top stage with the world eagerly watching their progress. Will they falter or will they live up to their pre-tournament hype?

England. What can I say about England? England aren’t dark horses for this tournament. England are merely a horse in this race. Just like the 100/1 Grand National shot, you’re happy enough to see it come over the first few fences without it falling flat on its backside. Hodgson will insist on playing the likes of Smalling, Jones and Welbeck, like his previous predecessors, he has an unnatural love-affair with Manchester United which will be his undoing. The insistence to play Wayne Rooney regardless of the overriding needs of the team will also prove England’s undoing. Rooney is a club player. A good one at that. He has never given England what they need because he is never used in the right way. He is a player without a position. By forcing him to play either wide, or down the middle exclusively, his worth is negated. Let him run between the lines. Let him track back, let him bomb forward. So long as Sturridge is down the middle England have sufficient threat going forward. Defensively England are suspect. Cahill is not good enough. Johnson has never been a defender and Baines is good, but isn’t as defensively sound as Ashley Cole.

England will do what they always do. Qualify from their group – definitely second behind Italy. Then when it comes to facing top opposition they will get utterly destroyed. I take a somewhat sadistic sense of glee from that fact what with me being an Irishman and all, but it really is about time England utilise the talent that is available to them. Too many squad places are being wasted by utter tripe. Trim the tripe and pick players on merit not reputation. Then, and only then, will England stand a chance.

Well there you have it, my own views on the World Cup. Of course I could be completely wrong, but hey, that’s all part of the craic! Let me know what you think of my views!