By Simon Green
Why on earth would anyone choose to be a Newcastle fan?
Following the Magpies over the last decade or so has been difficult. Following on from the wonder years of King Kev, and with the fanbase and stadium to outshine some of the big names in English football, there was a feeling we could really push on as a club.
After the first relegation, some hope remained when the Toon finished fifth in the Premier League in 2011-12 and managed to reach the quarter-final of the Europa League the following season.
However, the potential of the Mike Ashley era disappeared almost instantaneously. By making a string of poorly-scouted signings and selling our best players such as Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye to try and get a return on his investment, Ashley was on the verge of running the club into the ground in footballing terms.
The ‘Rafalution’ seemed to be the answer to any Geordie’s prayers when Rafa Benitez came in and turned the squad around completely, equipping it perfectly to deal with the arduous task of a campaign in the Championship following the relegation of 2015-16.
When David Stockdale spilt that shot in the Brighton goal, gifting Newcastle the Championship trophy, I almost threw my can of cheap lager across the room in excitement. It seemed like this was it – this was the start of the next phase of our history. We would get rid of the deadweight and invest in a squad fit to cement our status as a Premier League club.
Predictably, that did not happen. Reading the list of transfer incomings and outgoings over the summer was about as painful as the thought of my impending summative deadlines. And, as with my summatives, the scouts at Newcastle waited until the last minute and produced very average results.
Players like Grant Hanley and Emanuel Rivière were moved on, but the incomings fell far short of what was required. Put simply, we currently possess a Championship squad with a few players of genuine Premier League standing.
The latest run of games included five defeats out of six and a frustrating, scrappy draw against West Brom.
Jamal Lascelles has been missing through injury in all but one of those games (in which he went off injured) and the difference in the players’ attitude has been remarkable. The captain is loved by manager and fans alike for his undying professionalism and willingness to grab his teammates by the scruff of the neck if he feels any of them don’t match this.
Without the skipper’s passion and defensive leadership, Rafa looks like a broken man. It’s hard to think of an entirely fitting analogy for the situation in which he currently finds himself. I guess it’s like a world-class brain surgeon trying to operate with a blunt knife. No matter your CV or skill level, if your tools (or players) simply aren’t good enough then you look average at best.
Benitez chose Jamal Lascelles as captain at such a young age as he saw a leader who would do anything for the black and white shirt. And that’s all the fans want. There is a great myth that Newcastle fans think we should be in the Champions League and fighting for league titles. We don’t. We just want to watch our team play with the desire and passion that we have for our club.
If the proposed American-led takeover does not come to fruition, and by extension, if there is no major investment in players with the necessary skill (and more importantly) application in January, it seems like we may well face the drop again.
It’s not just the fact that our current squad is not good enough. After performances like the 3-0 drubbing by Watford, it appears that most of them don’t even care anymore.
Who on earth would be a Newcastle fan, eh?
Photograph: Glasgow Celtic via Wikimedia Commons