Better late than never. After a momentary post-Wembley hiatus, the weekly TF editorial is here, and Stephen Ord (@smord84) has a few things to get off his chest…
So it’s here again … that feeling of being so close and falling short. We play the plucky underdog so well, and I’ll be honest I hate it. I love the fact that we have a team that tries, that we have a cohesive thought-out process and we aren’t going around breaking financial rules every window. However, the circumstances that have led to us feeling the same as in 1998 and 1999 are not too dissimilar.
The weekend was a real marker point from where we were, to where we are and to how much further we need to go. The club is at pains to point out that the target this season was a top 10 finish. Whilst that looks likely, if we were to fall out of Europe to eighth or ninth, how would that sit with the fanbase? Or some of the players? Is it a missed opportunity?
Our next step is to arrest a worrying downturn in our form. The reality is that since Leicester on Boxing Day we’ve only really dominated against Southampton, which, when they’re the worst team in the top flight, isn’t saying all that much. This weekend at the Etihad is likely to be a lot of hard work, and if the rumours are true and Bruno’s injury (which looked bad in real time) is unfortunately going to keep him sidelined, then it’s likely we are going to have a few more tough weeks.
Another issue which came up at Wembley, before and then after was the issue of ticketing. I think the club largely got the policy right, but even if they did the opposite, they wouldn’t be able to please everyone. However, there were some things that struck me as odd about some of the groupings in Level 1 on Sunday. Firstly there were a number of fans in that area who were not fans of Newcastle United. One fan on the way in who was clutching a bag from the Chelsea store at turnstile N1 seemed a bit surprised that Newcastle fans were questioning his allegiances. The Carabao merchandise on show from him and his fellow match goers pointed towards this being sponsors’ tickets in our end.
In addition, I was pleased to see a number of our ex-players in our end. I’m not sure how many loyalty points James Perch has, but if he was in bracket 1 as a fan then the club should explain how that is the case. I find it odd that tickets were changing hands for some eye watering amounts of money, yet the club and Wembley seemed to have very little control of this. If this happens in the corporate end that’s one thing, but in the areas reserved for fans you would hope for some better systems in place.
However, that’s been and gone now, time to look forward.
The owners have come out with a statement today saying they want to win the Premier League and the Champions League, admirable statements but easy to be shot down at. How will that happen? All the other clubs of ‘the big Six’ will spend again in the summer. Chelsea surely can’t be this bad again. It would be good if, instead of talking about the top prizes, we were just going about our business. We don’t hear from the Arsenal ownership – they might win the league this season.
The next step has to be looking at spending money in the right areas, whilst revenue comes in from new streams. We obviously decided that we couldn’t spend beyond Anthony Gordon and young Ashby in January, but we knew that, unbelievably, Forest had agreed to give us a big wedge back for Chris Wood (up there with Silvio Maric for me as best deals the club can have made). Could we have made more of that money and investment, or was Gordon the only player we were likely and able to get?
So if we don’t make Europe, the FFP amount we can spend considerably decreases. Could we be left in a position of having to sell one of our better players to allow future investment? Have we already reached a point in the cycle where we need a refresh to complete our goals?
I will also admit that I wasn’t that bothered by the owners saying we are great fans and we will be back. Sure we heard the same thing in 1998 and 1999, people say this is us building for the future, but I see a team running on empty and no back ups available of the same quality. Spurs and Liverpool will both catch us in my view. Therefore sixth would be our best possible final position.
Whilst disappointment was to be expected after this result, the weeks ahead allows us to question certain things. Some people seem to think the club and everyone in it are above any sort of criticism. I disagree – Keegan got it for selling Cole and was ultimately judged differently when Ferdinand and then Shearer arrived. Have we got a plan B? Is it the 4-2-3-1 formation we saw when Isak came on? Have we got a plan C, or is it always inverted wingers? Are some players now reverting to their mean? I don’t think I can question any of their effort, but I do wonder for example what is happening with Callum Wilson? Why doesn’t he look anything like the player we had pre-World Cup?
This week should be a time for reflection – how far we have come should be applauded, but how much we have to do should not be sugar coated. We are a long way off the top teams, Eddie will know that. I’ll judge him, the owners, and the executive team on what they do next to adapt and to push us on.
Stephen Ord @smord84