7 years ago, Newcastle were relegated. It was a massive shock – a side that had only spent a season outside the top flight since the introduction of the Premier League. That time, they were lucky. They had a decent manager in Chris Hughton, and plenty of experienced players such as Nicky Butt, Alan Smith, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan – who eventually got them back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Fast-forward to May 2016, and it has happened again. The difference? No experience, and no real shock – it was expected. Newcastle now have, for the time being, a truly world class manager. Unless Rafa Benitez stays, and a lot changes are made behind the scenes – Newcastle could easily be the next Portsmouth.
So, how did it go so wrong, so quickly – with so much money spent? Well – there are many reasons:
Lee Charnley, Transfers and Steve McClaren
This man is a former secretary of the club, who was promoted a few years ago by Mike Ashley. He has presided over the last 18 months-2 years or so, since Derek Llambias left the club. He has unfortunately though proven himself to be totally inept, with Kevin Keegan once saying ‘he could write his footballing knowledge on the back of a stamp, and still not fill it’. That, hits the nail on the head.
He, along with chief scout Graham Carr – basically picked out a manager who would put up little resistance. Steve McClaren was a failure at all but a few clubs in his career – and was given the job on the back of blowing Derby’s promotion chances after spending a lot of money. Back to Charnley though – as mentioned, he and Carr decided the transfer strategy without a manager, and with the owner reticent to spend any real money. That lead to the club signing the 3rd or 4th options.
Once McClaren came in, the club loosened the purse-strings a little and signed Alexandar Mitrovic, Gini Wijanldum, Chancel Mbemba and Florian Thauvin. All talented individuals, but under a manager who has the charisma of roadkill, he struggled to motivate them. Added to the fact that McClaren clearly wanted a more British based squad, and you had the first major issue. He wanted Shelvey, Townsend, Austin and more of that ilk.
Early Season Pressure & the ‘Footballing Board’
After 8 games, Newcastle were still winless, and performing poorly. McClaren said to judge after 10 games, and there wasn’t much improvement between the 8th and 10th. Until the club beat Spurs and Liverpool in consecutive games, he was in trouble. However, Charnley was determined not to be proven wrong so gave him more time. Add in that McClaren was on the board with the likes of Bobby Moncur, and he had more power and influence than any manager should have.
The French Flops
Thauvin was a total failure – he was impossible to motivate and looks diss-interested for all but a few minutes of his Newcastle career. At £12m, he was expected to have an impact, but had none at all. in January, like Remy Cabella, he found a way back to France and will never be seen in a Newcastle shirt again, thank god. Cabella and Thauvin cost the club £25m, and with both likes to leave, the club are expecting to receive less than half of that outlay. This could, and should – lose Graham Carr his job.
January Panic & No Defence
With Charnley quaking in his boots at the thought of relegation and an earful from Ashley – he listened and believed McClaren when he said things would improve, and when the January transfer window had shut, McClaren had his wish of Townsend and Shelvey – as well as Saivet and Doumbia (let’s not go down that road…) – but the club were still floundering in the relegation zone. Most importantly, with Mike Williamson out on loan, Steven Taylor as useful as a chocolate teapot and the likes of Haidara and Dummett injury prone – Charnley and Carr decided that no cover was needed at the back. The game after the window shut, Taylor injured himself again, Mbabu & Dummett also suffered injuries and in the last 6 weeks or so Daryl Janmaat punched a wall and injured his hand. This left the club with very few defenders.
Rafa Benitez – Too Little, Too Late
After yet another loss, McClaren was put out of his misery – and fact in the end that those two wins against Liverpool and Spurs probably killed any chance of the club recovering. Benitez’ initial games were losses to Southampton and Leicester – but wins against Palace and Swansea, as well as points against Man City and Liverpool gave great hope – only for a goalless draw at Villa, meaning that their fate rested in the hands of Sunderland losing their final two games, and Newcastle beating Tottenham. Sunderland beat Everton 3-0 to doom the Geordie nation to a season in the Championship. Benitez could stay, but the exodus needs to be huge.
There were pluses – Jamaal Lascelles came out as a real leader. Karl Darlow was very good in between the sticks when Elliot ended his season and Krul was still out with a knee injury. Vurnon Anita was a revelation at Right Back, while Paul Dummett was solid at left back. Andros Townsend was the star of the last few months and could well have earned himself a spot in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad.
The worst thing about those is that they were forced. Janmaat was out for months (once fit he did not feature again), so Anita had to come in. Taylor fell out of favour with Benitez and they was no other option but Lascelles. Darlow was the only fit senior keeper, while Dummett was the only fit left back, and Townsend was a big money signing so had to start as the club were short of wingers.
Lack of Leadership
Fabricio Coloccini was apparently the Captain, yet it became even more noticeable that he didn’t really want to be there – which has been the case for maybe 2 years. Despite being given a new contact, he wasn’t there mentally for the whole season, as well as physically for the last 3-4 months. He wanted out, to go back to San Lorenzo – but when the club refused to let him go for free nearly 2 years ago, he’s been on a sharp decline.
Well, this is what will define the next decade of the club. Get it right, and they go back up immediately. Get it wrong, and they could be the next Leeds or Portsmouth. Rafa Benitez has indicated that given the right powers, he would stay. But, with someone so oblivious to common sense as Lee Charnley at the helm – your guess is as good as mine.
For me, as a fan – a mass clearout is needed. Yes, there is a great deal of quality in the squad, but when most of them are simply using the club as a springboard to greater things – you won’t get far with them as they will jump ship quicker than the Asian supporters are doing from Chelsea to Leicester City…
The likes of Daryl Janmaat, Moussa Sissoko, Papiss Cise, Cheik Tiote and Gini Wijnaldum willl be gone within weeks of the window opening. The first two have been passengers for most of the season – big time charlies that think they are Champions League players. Cisse and Tiote were nearly off in January to China, but both didn’t quite get what they wanted. Tim Krul is a good keeper and with Elliot and Darlow, the club will listen to offers.
Light at the end of the Tunnel?
In the likes of Elliot, Lascelles, Anita, Shelvey, Townsend, Aarons, Mitrovic and Armstrong (if the two January signings stay) – should form the basis of a good team. Armstrong has just come back from loan after scoring 20 goals in League One, at a very young age. Had Newcastle have stayed up, he would have gone on loan to the Championship – so in effect its one less striker to buy. Aarons has promised much but kept getting injured – should he stay, and stay fit – he will be dangerous. Lascelles is a candidate for the captaincy – as Coloccini is likely to leave. The ex-Forest centre back was tipped for a bright career and I can see why. He was one of few to hold their hands up, and put in countless excellent performances in the latter stages of the season.
From those mentioned, who are likely to leave – the club should recoup a fair amount of money. Ayoze Perez will be in demand and could fetch as much as £20m, while Wijnaldum should recoup most if not all of the £15m paid for him. Sissoko is well worth £10-15m, and Janmaat is being banded about for around the £7m mark. The big thing will be freeing up the wage bill – the club are estimated to be paying £75m a year for the current squad, so with the likes of Cisse, Coloccini, Krul, Tiote and those mentioned above – it should be sliced in half.
Should Benitez stay, I have a great amount of hope for the future. He wants control of transfers (in and out), as well as a couple of other things such as the training facilities and treatment room. Ashley has come out and said he will do all he can for the club to get back to where they belong – so let’s hope he keeps this promise. Benitez is the best manager the club have ever had, possibly baring Sir Bobby Robson. They have the chance to keep him – and under his watchful eye the likes of Aarons, Armstrong and Lascelles will only get better.
In short – this season was totally on the shoulders of McClaren, Graham Carr and Lee Charnley. The latter thought he knew best – which ultimately cost the club their Premier League status, and hopefully his job. He is not a football person, and should not be in charge of a club like Newcastle, or any club for that matter
What has happened at the club has been self inflicted. Mike Ashley trusted and employed the wrong people, who in-turn employed one of the worst managers I’ve ever seen. The club have been, as they have for many years – the masters of their own downfall.