[I tried writing this post on October 5, and I failed to delay it being published before it was ready. And while Newcastle's situation has improved somewhat as of October 18, I am leaving this up. Unprofessional, sure. But this isn't a professional blog.]
I regret not posting any opinions about what was the most exciting transfer window for Newcastle United since the summer of 2012. But now I can offer a more accurate prediction of where Newcastle will end up next June: one league down, in the SkyBet Championship. Newcastle are doomed this season.
Before I give my take on the 2014-15 campaign and the objectives for 2015-16, you should read Phil's post over at I Wish I Was A Geordie. When he published his piece, I realized that he summed up over half the points I wanted to make here, and he did a better job than I would anyway. My opinion here is still that of a Yank supporter trying to criticize and analyze the club objectively, except I will try not to repeat Phil. So here goes.
In the 2013-14 season, Newcastle were saved by a leased striker, Loic Remy. He scored 14 goals while on loan. Without him, they wouldn't have the goals required to earn their 49 points and finish in a remarkable (and undeserved) 10th place. They were also helped, at times, by the likes of Davide Santon, Yojan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy, and Moussa Sissoko. It was also a season brought serious trust and reliability issues for their captain, Fabricio Coloccini, and an astonishing season for the other central defender, Mike Williamson. With both Taylors injured at various times, Williamson was the unlikeliest of heroes in the backfield. The club had an over-performing defender, a prolific striker, and some inconsistent, but overall good players on the wings. That earned safety and the chance for the club to make significant improvements in-between campaigns.
However, the club instead chose to blow that chance, in favor of enhancing its profit margin. There was no summer shopping spree. Instead of setting the stage to give Alan Pardew a clear chance to fix his tactical mistakes, the club undermined Pardew through the unnecessary hiring of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football. This would be the first of two similar blown chances in a short period of time (the second would come just 6 months later when manager Alan Pardew resigned). In the summer of 2014, the club needed to buy one or two central midfielders. They needed to at least consider getting a defensive midfielder to replace the injury-prone Chiek Tiote. They needed a first-team quality striker. Of those three requirements (and surely there were more), they only completed the last one - the signing of Siem De Jong. That would have helped if he wasn't injured so often. So the team relied on it's other striker signed in the summer of 2014, Ayoze Perez.
The summer of 2013 was similar. Thee were signings. But it wasn't like Pardew's first summer, when Cabaye, Obertan, Santon, and Marveaux were signed. A summer without strong signings can lead to a thin, demoralized squad when the injuries and losses pile up. Then the relegation battle begins.
How did such a big club get here for the third season in a row? And why do I think they cannot save themselves from relegation in this third drop to the bottom? Well simply put, they should have been relegated last season, and a new manager, a new system, and new signings are all too late to save Newcastle. Steve McClaren will try to keep his club calm, but the 10 wins needed to secure safety are not coming. Goals are not coming. And this team seems doomed to concede the first goal in nearly every match.
And even when this team does score the first goal (improbable first goals to boot), they still fail to win.
This post was written on October 5th, and at the time, Newcastle's next 6 games looked winnable, on paper. Well, so were 3 of their first 8 legaue games this season. For this reason, I am calling it: Newcastle are going to be relegated. Relegation would be devistating. It would set the club back 5 years, financially. It would mean at least another 10 years without Europe tournaments. I know how bad it would be. But a part of me knows that Newcastle would deserve it. Relegation would make the owner hold on to the team longer, but it would force players out who need to go (Tioté, Sissoko, Coloccini).
Only in retrospect, after 3 years, do we know how the club got here, even though it has been happening before our eyes since the winter of 2013. Who or what is to blame? It isn't the owner. It was never the mangers after Sir Bobby Robson. It was and is the failed transfer policy. That shouldn't be a surprise, because we heard that three-word phrase as early as the summer of 2013. Couple that with a failed summer transfer strategy, and you have a disaster. I will try to explain.
This past Summer, Newcastle signed 5 players at the cost of £52.6 Million before salaries. Of those, 3 are proving themselves to be capable of playing and succeeding in the Premier League. The rest are development players with Premier League salaries and needing at least a year to get up to Premier League fitness and strength. And still, the team needs new central defenders and a true defensive midfielder.
Manager Steve McLaren has acknowledged this. He has been upfront that he doesn't see a roster full of players he needs until February 2017. But we fans are convinced that he isn't choosing the new players. We don't think any Newcastle manager since Allerdyce has been involved in player scouting and recruitment. That work is done by chief scout, Graham Carr.
What has Newcastle done under Carr? It has "bought for value." The team has brought in promising mainland European talent, who have ended up in a few, fairly predicable scenarios. Some have proven to be capable of succeeding in the Premier League, which eventually attracts a profitable bid from a bigger club. Some players become unhappy, and see their time at Newcastle as an audition to play for a more famous club. That would be okay if they were engaged and played hard in every appearance (that's you, Moussa Sissoko). Then there are the flops. The Ben Arfas. The Marveauxs. The Cabellas. The Thauvins?
When a team brings in flops, and the best guys are sold, you are left with a second-tier team in a top-tier league. If the new arrivals don't start producing - if service to the strikers doesn't improve - and if Wjindulum and Mitrovic don't increase their goal rate, this team is going down.