Last Monday night at Upton Park, Steve McLaren’s honeymoon period as Newcastle boss came to a crashing halt. The good will bestowed by the fans following a summer of change at St James’ Park, finally expired following a defeat horribly reminiscent of previous seasons.
In an all too familiar Monday night showing, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were once again left bemused by another awful Newcastle performance as they were soundly beaten by West Ham.
Whilst the fixture computer may have been particularly unkind to Newcastle so far this season, the abject and dismal performances, firstly against Swansea, and now at the Boleyn, make for worrying viewing, especially with last season’s shameful demise still fresh in the memory.
With the season still in its infancy, it is of course still far too early to panic, but as Newcastle now sit bottom of the league, Saturday’s home game against Watford is already looking like a must win game. Question is, after just five games, just how worried should we be?
This summer Newcastle finally broke their self-imposed transfer abstinence in a big way. The club made four major signings totalling over £50 million, and had hoped to enter the new season as an unrecognisable side from the god-awful mess that just about spluttered its way over the finish line in May.
Yet whilst this spending spree and backroom overhaul has been more than welcome, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been here before with Newcastle.
When Newcastle sold Andy Carroll on deadline day in January 2011, no replacement was signed (sit down Shefki Kuqi!) and as a result, Newcastle limped to the end of the season without their best player. That summer, the heart and soul of the team was then disbanded as Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique all followed Carroll out of St James’ Park.
As a result, a huge overhaul of the squad was required and a new look line up was soon assembled. Within weeks of the season ending Yohan Cabaye was signed, along with Demba Ba, Davide Santon, Sylvain Marveaux, and the on-loan Hatem Ben Arfa on a permanent deal.
It was a summer that very much echoes the one we are currently witnessing. After leaving the first team squad to rack and ruin over the last couple of years, Newcastle were once again in need of a momentous overhaul. To the surprise of many, this summer we actually got it!
Once again the continents finest young talents have been scoured and the club do look to have pulled off some sound and astute signings. Gini Wijnaldum, Florian Thauvin, Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic all came with glowing reputations, with the objective of adding genuine quality to the substandard Newcastle line up.
It was hoped that Thauvin and Wijnaldum in particular, along with returning long-term absentees Siem De Jong and Rolando Arrons, were to be the solutions for the team’s enormous creative void.
Credit is due to managing director Lee Charnley on these acquisitions, but let’s be under no illusions here, if Mike Ashley hadn’t allowed the first team playing staff to be so badly neglected, then perhaps this huge spending spree wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
Whilst the signings are all highly welcome, as last season’s debacle showed all too clearly, these acquisitions were merely essential just to keep Mike’s asset on the Premier League gravy train.
Such was the shoddy state of the squad, personally, I still don’t think it was enough and more new signings are still needed if the club are to be competitive in the now super-rich Premier League.
The defence is still weak and a quality striker is of paramount importance as Newcastle only have two options upfront. Papiss Cisse, a player who seems a shadow of his former self and who struggles to even control a football these days; and the clearly psychotic, Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Whilst Charnley may have thought he was playing a cute game in the pursuit of Charlie Austin, the decision to play hardball with QPR over the price is something that may well come back to haunt Newcastle if they continue to struggle in front of goal.
Following the overhaul of 2011, Newcastle turned out to be the league’s surprise package and famously finished fifth. Whilst no one expects anywhere near that this time round, the new incomings, both on and off the pitch, did at least bring some renewed hope, as it has felt somewhat of a new dawn amongst fans.
Newcastle being Newcastle however, this renewed hope is already starting to wane. The team are yet to win a game this season, with Monday’s dismal showing an all too familiar performance.
Steve McClaren is no miracle worker and he has no magic wand. With the exception of a few, the squad is still largely the same as last year and it will take a while for the new coaching staff to fully get to grips with the players they have inherited.
Patience is key at Newcastle right now, but as long as it is clear that progress that is being made on the pitch, then we, the fans, will be fully behind the team. Performances like Monday’s display at West Ham do nothing to appease an already jaded and sceptical fan base however.
Whilst many have given credit to Ashley for the purchases and the changes this summer, we with memories longer than three months are fully aware that Ashley’s only real concern is their sell on values and any potential profit. You just have to look at the ages of the players signed this summer to see that.
If by chance Newcastle do once again surprise us and the new boys do start to deliver the goods, then Mike will soon cash in his chips.
If Wijnaldum, Thauvin, Mbemba or any of the others do turn out to be gems, then they will soon be sold on for profit. Just like Carroll, Cabaye, Debuchy and Ba before them. Once that happens, then it certainly won’t be long before the next major summer overhaul is needed.
Make no mistake, the faces may well change, but the club remains the same. As long as Ashley remains in charge, the Newcastle hamster wheel will of mediocrity will roll on and on.