The curious case of Newcastle Utd

Will Newcastle ever return to the big time

Will Newcastle ever return to the big time

For those reading this who are 20 or over it doesn’t need to be said, but to those who were born after 1995, Newcastle Utd actually used to be quite a big side. With this weeks appointment of Steve McLaren and Mike ashley’s interview on the last day of the season, many are wondering if this sleeping giant from the North East can return to what many see as their natural place, in the upper echelons of the Premier league.

Just 20 years ago Kevin Keegan was managing a Newcastle Utd side that was leading the title race. Skip to the modern day, and after a relegation in 2009 Newcastle have yet again been involved in another relegation battle. Though the strange thing about newcastle is that next year could well be a very different story. The curious state of affairs at newcastle is that every so often they seem really quite good. For example in the race for the top four in 2012, or even the start of this season where Alan Pardew had them winning game after game, few would have predicted a relegation scrap come the end of the season, but out of nowhere they collapsed again. Its the story of a group of players who are very talented, but who just don’t seem to gel. Whether its due to manager’s like John Carver, or something else, something just isn’t working. This isn’t something new either, this has been going on since Bobby Robson left the club, and consequent managers have not been able to get them going. The likes of Graham Souness and Sam Allardyce with great players like Michael Owen, Fabricio Coloccini, and Obafemi Martins all at their disposal have produced nothing, and it begs the question on whether the problem comes from the top. Specifically Mike Ashley.

Mike Ashley bought Newcastle in 2007, he is a newcastle fan, he wanted to do it well, on paper he seems like the ideal owner. However things haven’t quite gone to plan. Since Mike Ashley has taken over many fans have grown progressively distant, and in the past season it hit breaking point, with games being boycotted due to the owner’s supposed lack of investment. As shown below, fans are bored.

Newcastle protest

But i cant help but feel they are maybe a bit out of touch. I get that its important to entertain the fans, but Newcastle’s golden era of Alan Shearer playing with the likes of Bellamy and Laurent Robert was built on debt. The club invested millions in the time of endless money, but then it slowed up, look at Portsmouth, and i think Newcastle fans need to ask what would they rather? Have won the 2008 FA cup and now be in league 2, or be in their current state as a mid table premier league side. I think most would not choose the former, and those who argue Newcastle are too big for that, just look at leeds. Mike Ashley has balanced the books and this era of mediocrity is sadly the product of an over investment to make a go at the big time, it didn’t work, and now Newcastle are paying the price.

It may seem harsh, but there is little to suggest Newcastle are more than a provincial club. The club has a huge following, but its not a brand like the other big clubs, there are very few fans out of the north and foreign players dont grow up wanting to play there. This is a club that has won the same number of trophies as Wolves and \nottingham forest so realistically i hink they need to aim for cups. Mike Ashley has finally balanced the books and with his claim that they can win a trophy are we likely to see some long awaited investment? His appointment of Steve McLaren is a signal of intent, and he will surely give him some money to bring in his own players. Also his incredibly bold statement of going for a champions league place (no matter how unlikely) means they are surely going to give it a go. Maybe Newcastle will finally come out of their shell and have something to shout about. It’s a weird club, few have a whole city behind them like newcastle do, but then again few who have such large stadiums yet don’t win things. With some good buys and good management they could do alright this year and push for the europa league in the future.

But then again its Newcastle, so i’m pretty sure no one knows how they’ll do.


The rise of Francis Coquelin is nothing new

Lets just get one thing straight, and that is that Francis Coquelin has always been a great player. He was never Charlton quality, and he has always been every bit as tenacious and astute in the tackle as he is today. All he was missing was an opportunity. The pundits on sky sports acting like he’s a man reborn clearly never watched him as a 21 year old, being Arsenal’s best player against tottenham in 2012, or being the only guy who had a good game when we lost 8-2 that time. Coquelin has always been a good player, and I have a good feeling that he will be for a very long time.

Francis Coquelin has a gift which very few have at the top level, and that is an innate aggression in the way he plays. Just look at this vine of how quickly he snaps at Stephen Quinn. He’s terrifying.

He clearly isn’t a teddy bear but then again you don’t want him to be. In a way Francis Coquelin is just like Lee Cattermole, but luckily he can kick a football significantly better. Arsenal have been accused of lacking steel for years and I think they finally have it. In fact Coquelin in some ways is almost an exact replica of the Mathieu Flamini that arsenal so foolishly let go in 2008. Not the one that is a shadow of him former self still at the club, but the one that gave Arsenal a title challenge before he left, and I think Coquelin will do exactly the same. With Coquelin at the base of their midfield Arsenal’s attacking players can have a license to roam, and unlike the ageing Arteta, or Flamini,Coquelin has plenty of pace to make up ground. Something that can give him the edge over other more traditional defensive midfielders who arsenal may be trying to sign.

I wouldn’t say that arsenal don’t need a defensive midfielder as they do, but with Coquelin there I don’t think this Arsenal side are necessarily as weak as some would believe.

Coquelin was playing for Charlton in the championship. But just 6 months later has won an FA Cup medal.

Coquelin was playing for Charlton in the championship. But just 6 months later has won an FA Cup medal.

Is there any way back for the SPL?

When I was growing up, there was a league in Scotland that was respectable, it was pretty great in my mind i used to wake up on saturdays and watch the highlights from the week and i loved every minute. The clubs would buy premier league players and it wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary. The likes of Tore Andre Flo who scored 50 goals for Chelsea in the late 90’s was bought for £12 million in 2000 by Rangers, the equivalent of which would be around the £25 million mark, and the fact that this is so unimaginable now shows the leagues decline. It wasn’t even just at Rangers where there was an abundance of talent. The likes of Motherwell had young stars like James McFadden. Strikers such as Henrik Larsson, Mark Viduka, and Paolo Di Canio populated the dressing room of Celtic, and around the turn of the millennium there were midfielders like Gennaro Gattuso, Mikel Arteta and Barry Ferguson at Rangers. These players moved to clubs where they could compete for the highest of honours and champions league sides.

Craig Gordon sold for £11 Million from Hearts

Craig Gordon sold for £11 Million from Hearts

Fast forward to now, and what has happened?! The same players who are successful in Scotland move to the championship, and even then some don’t make it. The likes of Kris Boyd, the 2010 SPL’s top scorer moved to Middlesborough and flopped. How has the league, which produced such great sides as the 1967 European cup winners, the Aberdeen side which won the Cup winners cup under Ferguson, and produced the Old Firm derbies dropped so low. As recently as 2003 Scotland had a team in a major European cup final. So what has happened and how can it be brought back to its Hay day.

The issue many quote is the money, put simply the money left Scotland. When there were big money moves and players with flair who were coveted by Europe’s finest, TV revenues were high. However in an era where with all due respect Kris Commons is the most exciting player, Sky sports aren’t going to pay up. This has left clubs struggling for funds so much that even Celtic, a club with a 60,000 seater stadium has the equivalent spending power of a good championship side. The wages of a Celtic regular are now roughly 20,000 a week with key players reaching 30-40,000 but in Modern day football this simply isn’t enough, and at the smaller clubs the situation is far more dire. Celtic now rely on signing promising youth prospects and developing them such as Virgil Van Dijk and previously Fraser Forster, but such a large club is better than this.

The other key reason is the collapse of the big clubs, there is the obvious case of Rangers but also the Edinburgh clubs decline is a tragedy for the Scottish game. When Rangers went down, fans flocked to see Hearts play Hibernian in the absence of the Old Firm, but now even that is gone. With these clubs in the first division Scottish attendances have plummeted, particularly due to Rangers who still despite 3 years in the wilderness bring in more than anyone else bar Celtic, and who’s return is the first step on a road to improvement. The league needs its traditional powerhouses, and though i wouldn’t normally support it, i do wish someone would come in and financially dope one of the teams. For too long Celtic and Rangers have dominated, and despite Romanov’s attempts to get Hearts going there hasn’t been a winner other than these two since 1985. Maybe a wealthy owner could help spice things up and get the league going.

I would love to say this could be a low point of the newly formed SPFL, but I cant see it being so. Despite Celtic’s strong showings in the champions league in 2013, and the chance for some smaller sides to grow like Inverness recently winning their first trophy. Scotland needs money, it needs its big clubs back at the top, Celtic needs Rangers and that means Scotland do too. There is no money because there is no TV, and there is no TV because it’s not exciting. The clubs need to unanimously adopt a policy of finding good young players and they need to ignite their famous rivalries once again.

If the SPFL fails to do this, and keeps its course, it may decline indefinitely.

Turn of the century saw real talent at celtic

Turn of the century saw real talent at celtic