Pre-season 07/08 and 15/16

As another penny-pinching pre-season under Mike Ashley comes to a close, enthusiasm for the new Premier League campaign remains fairly low across Tyneside. We have grown used to our miserly owner refusing to stick his hand in his pocket and attempt to bolster the playing squad in the off season. Perhaps this year he has an excuse due to the pandemic and none other than the usual suspects have splashed the cash.

However, there was a time when the local press pack gathered in the arrival’s hall of Newcastle airport with interest as Newcastle United were linked with a host of British and foreign stars. None more so when back in the summer of 2007 when 9 new players pulled on the black and white shirt. Sports clothing tycoon Mike Ashely had just completed his takeover of Newcastle United and had backed new manager Sam Allardyce handsomely in the transfer market. Proven Premier League forward Mark Viduka was first across the line, arriving in June on a free transfer from Middlesbrough.

The Australian was soon joined by talented but troubled midfielder Joey Barton, arriving from Manchester City. England international Alan Smith also arrived from League champions Manchester Utd. Allardyce then went after defenders and young Czech centre back David Rozenhal was signed from PSG along with Brazilian Caludio Caćapa.

Premier League winner and former Real Madrid utility man Geremi joined from Chelsea, along with hotly rated Spanish right-back José Enrique from Villarreal. Transfer deadline day deals were secured as Abdouaye Faye and Habib Beye were signed. There was a positive feeling on Tyneside as the playing squad had been heavily bolstered with well-known English and international stars.

Newcastle had performed strongly in pre-season, defeating Celtic, Juventus and Sampdoria and losing only once at Hull City and the Premier League season started well with an impressive 3-1 victory away at Allardyce’s former club- Bolton Wanderers. Draws against Villa and Middlesbrough and a home win against Wigan saw us head into the first international break of the season in positive form.

However, in inevitable fashion we were brought back down to earth with a 1-0 defeat to newly promoted Derby County in front of the television cameras on the 17th September, a game in which new defender David Rozenhal was given a torrid time by Derby goal scorer Kenny Miller and fans were left questioning whether the Czech international was up to Premier League level. We did win 3 of the next 4 games, but a rotten autumn spell, the 4-1 home defeat to Portsmouth being a particular low point, a game in which another new defenderCaҫapa was left brutally exposed by the pace and physicality of the Premier League.

The brief love affair with Allardyce’s NUFC was over and we were left questioning to what extent the new arrivals had the heart for the black and white shirt. Sam Allardyce was sacked in January 2008 and the squad he built would be relegated from the Premier League in May 2009, with most of the previous summer’s signings jumping ship that summer.

The mood on Tyneside was positive in June 2015 as John Carver’s dreadful spell as Newcastle manager was brought to an end. Carver was replaced by Steve McLaren. The formed England manager was given money to spend, brining in 6 new players on hefty transfer fees. Dutch playmaker Georginio Winjaldum arrived from PSV Eindhoven. Forward Aleksander Mitrović and defender Chancel Mbemba were signed from Anderlecht. The arrivals of highly rated youngsters Ivan Toney and Florian Thauvin brought the summer spending to nearly £50 million.

The Mike Ashely transfer model appeared clear- sign young, relatively unknown foreign players in the hope that they command big sell on fees in the future, but in the moment that wasn’t at the forefront of supporters’ minds as we appeared to have a strong squad heading into the season. A fairly dismal set of pre-season results, including a tour of the United States, was followed by a difficult start to the Premier League, including defeats away at Swansea and at home to Arsenal and Watford.

McLaren’s summer signings began to show promise as Winjaldum netted in the home draw with Chelsea and bagged a hat trick in the emphatic 6-2 home win against Norwich, with Mitrović also on the score sheet. However, the season was quickly derailed with a 3-0 defeat in the derby at the Stadium of Light coming in the next game.

Mitrović couldn’t seem to keep his temper in check, Winjaldum was performing inconsistently and Mbemba and Thauvin didn’t seem up to Premier League level. Thauvin departed on loan to Marseilles in January. We were never able to pull away from the relegation zone and McLaren was sacked after a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in March. Rafa did his best to save the season, but it was all in vain as we suffered our second relegation in the Ashely era.

So, as we await another Ashely season with no new arrivals, we can reflect on the fact that spending money in the off-season does not necessarily bolster the squad in a positive way, particularly when the arriving players lack Premier League experience have very little desire to pull on the black and white shirt. Credit must be given to Joey Barton, Alan Smith and José Enrique who stayed with the club after the first relegation and likewise Mbemba and Mitrović who did the same in the summer of 2016, but arguably if we had carried out better due diligence on our signings in the summers of 2007 and 2015, we would not have found ourselves in the Championship in the first place.

Adam Morrison