Two and a half years since my last post. It says a lot about the strides (lowered expectations?) made at the club that I've not felt motivated to rage against the machine in that time.
A lot of what has been achieved at Newcastle since September 2011 should be lauded, and personally, I felt that while the club was generally on an upward trajectory I wasn't comfortable nitpicking every single contradiction. As long as Newcastle United move in the right direction I am happy. By and large chairmen are an unpopular breed, but it's rare that fans will make a stand on principal. If buying a ticket gets you entertaining/winning football and consistent improvements in your squad then the majority of fans can usually overlook (if not endorse) financial mis-management, profiteering, sex/drug scandals, playing in red or paying Seth Johnson double what he should realistically dream of.
If the top man at the club is not himself halting progress on the field, then as a fan I don’t want to be the one bringing negativity to the stands. I want everyone to be on the same page, aiming for better and achieving it.
In 2011/2012, Alan Pardew took us to 5th place and Europa League qualification. We signed Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Davide Santon and Pappiss Cisse. Anger at that time remained focused on the sale of Andy Carroll the previous season, despite consistent reassurance he would not be going anywhere. However, in hindsight the deal was an excellent one for Newcastle, even at the time many were satisfied with the amount received, if not the level of re-investment. Other major departures were Kevin Nolan, Wayne Routledge, Joey barton and Jose Enrique. With the exception of the latter there would be little argument that anyone sold was inferior to their replacement.
In 2012/2013 things nose-dived on the field after a confidence draining summer where only Vurnon Anita arrived. If we’d spent a season blowing up a balloon that transfer window was like someone came along and popped it. There was no statement of intent, no signings to show any of our players that they would need to up their game to the next level. Leon Best and Fraser Forster weren’t big losses but their sales saw us break even in the transfer market. We had a European campaign to play and everyone except those controlling the purse strings realised the squad was too thin to cope. As our sole signing, Anita wasn’t even capable of breaking into the first team.
Complaints at that time were muted. It’s difficult to kick up too much of a fuss when you’ve finished 5th. Come January, Ashley proved he had learned a lesson from the debacle of 2008/2009. Rather than sack the manager and sell players when relegation threatened, he backed his manager with big investment. Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko arrived and were instantly first team stalwarts. Yoan Gouffran and Mapou Yanga –Mbiwa were better cover than anyone we had on the bench. Massadio Haidara has taken more time, but became a regular sub. Our form improved (it couldn’t have got worse) and survival was secured.
None of this is to say that there weren’t serious gaffes in that time. Renaming the stadium, the sponsorship deal with Wonga and subsequent spectacle of Cisse refusing to endorse it all resulted in copious column inches, but they were sideshows for those of us who just go to a match and only want to see a better team run out after a transfer window than before it. Despite the disappointment of our worst Premier League points return outside of relegation anyone could see we were a better team when injuries weren’t decimating us, anyone apart from disinterested observers like Garth Crooks.
Any positive strides made on the field were clearly going to come to an end though, when we heard the announcement from Joe Kinnear himself that he was coming to take over affairs. Derek Llambias was an awful man that every Newcastle fan was delighted to see the back of, but as with every Ashley appointment, barring Keegan, in came another man even worse than the last. Even then though, one banner calling Kinnear a clown was the height of protest in the stadium. Possibly a sign of the relief felt, we had never signed anyone but we got through the summer without major outgoings. Small mercies.
The difficulty faced by the club, any club, is in hitting a glass ceiling. It’s fairly bread and butter stuff to find a reasonably cheap foreign player who can play better football than Danny Simpson. The same is true of Steven Taylor, Kevin Nolan, Routledge, Ameobi and many of the other players that were remnants of the championship season. That’s not to belittle the work done by Graham Carr, some of his finds have been better than we could have hoped, given the prices paid, but it’s in having found the very best that your budget can stretch to that you must then stretch your budget further if you’re to make any further strides. Failure to do so will disillusion those players that arrived cheap and can go on to bigger and better things. Worse though, it will disillusion the remaining fans that had bought in to the improvements, despite the off-field fuck-ups. Those players using us as a stepping stone can move on. We cannot.
I had started this post before Cabaye was sold to PSG because it had looked like being another disappointing window where we would sign no-one. Following a summer where we signed no-one I felt that many other fans would be feeling as angry as I was, and a backlash would be coming. Cabaye’s sale only exacerbates that. It feels different to those of other “purple” players. Reasons could be given as to why Carroll, Enrique and Ba should have been sold, contractual or financial. As a profit making club with the player still tied down for years to come those excuses hold no water here. We have sold the heartbeat of our team, a fully formed talent we will have zero hope of replacing in the short term and will have little hope of a cheaper replacement bettering in the long term either.
The club have been telling us all along there is no ambition for anything more than selling players signed cheaply at a profit, they have no interest in the cups, they will not be looking to break into the top 6 with any regularity. Nobody is surprised by what has happened and will keep happening.
Kinnear telling us “I will not let any player leave Newcastle United in this transfer window.” on the eve of selling our best player rubs salt in the wound though.