In the vernacular of the tabloid football press, the transfer window “slammed shut” on Tuesday at 6pm and United resisted temptations to make any last minute moves for players and nor were they tempted to sell any either. Personally, I was disappointed not to see a harassed SKY SPORTS reporter grimacing in front of the cameras whilst some giggling delinquents performed in the background with dildos and other pornographic paraphernalia. David Craig and a huge inflatable penis on Strawberry Place at teatime? That would definitely work.
Anyway! That’s our lot it seems until at least January but I’m sceptical about any moves in the winter window because that doesn’t seem to be a favoured shopping time for Charnley and Co..
So, it’s time to reflect upon our lot. Not bad I think. United have made four significant signings in Thauvin, Mbemba, Mitrovic and Wijnaldum as well as Ivan Toney from Northampton for what today is a nominal fee and who I don’t expect to see much of in and around the first team to be honest. Though I thought the same last season about Ayoze Perez 12 months ago!
Concentrating on the positives and I think those four major signings look to have some quality. For me Wijnaldum is the pick of the bunch and his early showings suggest this is a lad who could really make a mark at United and in the Premier League. Already Mourinho has spoken admirably of him and it could be the case he is being monitored by those above us in the football food chain. That’s something I suppose we’ll have to live with. I also like the look of Mbemba and not just in the bow tie and tuxedo. He’s quick, strong and he appears to be allowing Colo to return to form after looking a bit iffy with Williamson alongside him. Thauvin has already convinced me he has a lot more to give than Cabella and seems to have a bit more about him that is more suited for the Premier League. McClaren’s task will be to harness Mitrovic’s enthusiasm and aggression but how we tackle the narrative in the media that he is a dirty player is anyone’s guess because that will unquestionably leak into the heads of match officials as it did with Andre Marriner who gave him no latitude whatsoever.
There had been noises United were keen on recruiting tried and tested Premier League quality but that came to nought and the club once again harvested the best it could from the lesser leagues of France, Belgium and Holland which suggests the obsession with value remains as does the pitch to players to use the club as a stepping stone as others attempted previously.
Contrary to a very credible tip off I’d received, United did not get Charlie Austin and neither did anyone else. QPR have played a very curious game with the lad. At £15m and considering his previous injury problems and age, Austin was massively over-priced by QPR. I’d be confident in saying Austin wanted to leave QPR and that United was a very attractive destination for him. I’m also curious about QPR’s relationship with the Financial Fair Play regulations though perhaps when you see how inconsistently the rules seem to be being applied, maybe I shouldn’t be. Had United signed Austin for a decent fee, I’d suggest around £9m then I think few wouldn’t have been tipping a hat in the direction of Charnley etc. But they didn’t.
I don’t think I was alone in pining for a massive, fast, hard, talented bastard of a centre-half to give us some aerial presence at both ends of the pitch, particularly around corners and set pieces because I think we’ve all seen “Willo, back stick” more times than is healthy really. But we didn’t get that player either. However, there is an argument that with Taylor returned from injury, Dummett developing and Jamaal Lascelles now on the books the strategy appears to be that the club feels it has adequate cover in that position. Personally, I see Williamson as the very last option at centre-half this season. Dummett, Lascelles and Taylor must all be in a position to come into the team if Colo or Mbemba aren’t available for any reason.
There are others who worry about what we have in the full-back positions – certainly we have no time-served right-back to come in for Janmaat when that’s necessary whilst we are even further exposed at left-back. Haidara’s strengths are going forward and I’ve seen positives from him this season but he and Dummett as our left-back options leaves us fragile in that area in my opinion.
Vurnon Anita appears to be working towards some form of salvation in the midfield but I’m yet to be convinced despite a few decent games when he’s been required to do a lot of the water-carrying. When we play an opposition we are expected to take the game to more effectively, I worry about Anita and I’m unconvinced by Colback’s credentials as well to be honest, good, honest trier that he is I’ll freely concede. Where we have to see a lot more is from Sissoko. Moussa was another widely expected to exit stage left this season and its known his agent and his own aspiration was to move on so he can play in the Champions League. I don’t think United would have been too horrified had he received serious overtures from anyone with a load of money they felt like squandering. Sissoko is still here because there are too many areas in his game that need to be improved and not just his first touch and decision making in attacking positions. He really has to work on being a more consistent performer and playing a leadership role on the pitch on account of his seniority within the team. Personally, I’m glad he’s still here and I’ll be really interested in how he performs with better players alongside him. This is his big test.
Our attacking resources are now – Mitrovic, Cisse, De Jong, Perez and Toney. Personally, I think we lack quality and I don’t think we have enough goals in the team to get anywhere near Ashley’s top eight or top six target and win a cup this season.
But for all of that there have been telling moments this season that hint at progress. Janmaat wasn’t assured of an instant return to the team following his sending off at Swansea following Mbemba doing a more than decent job at Man Utd and Taylor can feel justified in feeling a bit put out he was absent from the starting line-up for Arsenal. Having had a bench with De Jong, Cisse and Perez on it also suggests a stronger pool this season and hopefully that will translate into greater competition for places, better performances and of course, more points.
Obviously our current league position isn’t great and we need to win a game soon. West Ham will be tough but if we are going to take a step up we need to get points at places like the Boleyn Ground and Watford at home is simply a must-win. If we haven’t got a win after those fixtures then McClaren may start feeling the heat from a few different directions.
Although United don’t seem to have any problem getting e-mails to me selling their shite tat and punting tickets, I didn’t get the missive in the week from Charnley and relied on a second-hand one from a Liverpool fan as it happens. This is a new thing United appear to have adopted this season as they attempt to bypass traditional media channels and speak directly to supporters. It’s not a bad idea but it’s not a replacement for TV appearances, interviews and access for bona-fide independent minded journalists who may from time to time piss them (and indeed us) off. This fanzine has provided its own analysis of the financial doings at United over the last few seasons and we’ll continue to do that in future. We’ll soon be looking to scrutinise Charnley’s claims about money invested in players etc. We’ll put all of that into context and provide you with our opinion. News on how we’ll do that soon.
Nevertheless, it’s positive that Charnley is attempting some form of communication, even if it is a bit narrow and clumsy. I don’t know how many times someone at United has given it the mea-culpa about piss poor communications and promised to improve them but we had another one last week. It’s probably better for the club to just change its behaviour rather than make promises it doesn’t keep.
But if we take the club at its word that it does want an improved relationship with its support there are a few things it could do to signal that intent.
The first would be to make a move to remove the name of a loan-shark from its shirt. It’s a sponsorship which I would imagine has damaged replica shirt sales and it has definitely had a detrimental impact upon its image. The club will have a contractual obligation with the loan shark company but it could set out when that ends and make a commitment to not renewing that relationship going forward.
Secondly, United could start taking down a sizeable proportion of Sports Direct advertising that is completely out of control at St James’ Park. I’d suggest as a token it removes the signage from the front of the East Stand and the Gallowgate End rooves. A simple club crest on the front of the Gallowgate roof (as we had on the Leazes pre-extension) would have a major impact upon the whole look and feel of St James’ Park. They could also remove the Sports Direct logos from the tunnel to the pitch too. Someone needs to grow some balls and have a conversation with Mike Ashley and tell him how well this would go down with the supporters but how much it pisses many of us off.
The current arrangements with regard to the Fans Forum and Supporters Liaison Officer are completely inadequate. There are is one organisation that should have a permanent seat on the Forum and that is the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association who represent a certain interest that I don’t think anyone has any serious objections to being represented to the club. There is an argument that as the only democratic and properly constituted supporters’ organisation (that is actually active and doing things) that is associated to the Football Supporters Federation and within the Supporters Direct umbrella, the Newcastle United Supporters Trust should also have a permanent seat on the forum. Certainly no other so-called fan bodies with risible aims and objectives, no formal mechanisms for decision-making, democracy, transparency or accountability to a membership if it had one should be let loose amongst the tea and biscuits. Supporters participating within the Fans Forum should not be hand-picked by the Supporters Liaison Officer. They should be elected by season ticket holders and those within the club’s membership scheme. It happens at other clubs so I’m at a loss why it doesn’t at United. Or rather, I’m not. And neither are you.
That’s not to suggest those on the Fans Forum don’t have the best of motivations or talents but they should participate within the Forum with a mandate from supporters and not at the whim of the club.
As has been well-documented, the club decided to unilaterally ban the Newcastle United Supporters Trust from the Fans Forum ostensibly for a breach in protocol regarding publication of the minutes of a meeting. That was at the first ever meeting of the Forum and it’s been a pretty unedifying situation thereafter. The Trust has written to United seeking a clarification for the reasons but has never had the courtesy of a reply. And neither has the Football Supporters Federation who have been similarly ignored. So, the reasons for the NUST ban has never ever been explained by United. So, who knows for certain why Charnley banned the Trust. It can’t have been anyone else and no-one has owned up to it.
This kind of situation cannot continue if United is sincere in wishing to establish positive relationships with supporters. NUST is an organisation that is funding football training schemes for youngsters across Tyneside, has established a Credit Union for supporters, formed a political dialogue with a range of local MPs to progress supporters’ interests within the political sphere, has a city councillor on its board and is one of the most active and connected groups within football nationally. That it is ignored and treated so poorly by the club is an open sore that the club must salve if it is genuine about improving the atmosphere around United.
The same applies to the media. Newcastle United has banned more journalists than any other club in the country. It creates an impression of small-mindedness and mean-ness of spirit. Its treatment of the media at SJP on match-days with regards to refreshments etc. isn’t in keeping with how we see ourselves as Geordies – warm, hospitable and friendly. These continual bans are damaging to the club’s image and are a magnet for more criticism and act to maintain grudges over many years. Confucious he say, man who wants revenge, should dig two graves – one for his enemy and one for himself. Ancient Chinese proverbs in TF eh? Who’d have thought it?
The club has a fractious relationship with the local political class too. The Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah was treated poorly following her offer of a meeting to Mike Ashley whilst we have read former Managing Director Derek Llambias ranting, raving and swearing at the City Council Leader, Nick Forbes at his office in the Civic Centre. This is just not good enough. The club does very well out of its city and the club has a great potential to contribute more to the economic, social and cultural life of the city and should wake up to its responsibilities in that regard. Those relationships need to be mended.
The two most significant living legends in the club’s history are currently Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan. Both are pretty much persona no-grata at St James’ Park. Shearer and Keegan could be working for Newcastle United and be part of the club’s strategy to grow its brand (I really do apologise) nationally and internationally as its two most recognisable and favourite sons. That they are in a form of exile is a tragic loss for the club. Some big men need to look in the mirror, step forward and put the situation right.
But back to the football. I think I’m starting to like Steve McClaren. I like the cut of his jib. He appears to want to have a
good relationship with us, the supporters and I appreciate his instructions to players at the end of games to remember to acknowledge the support they have received, win, lose or draw. That is a positive. It is early days but he hasn’t started talking shite like Pardew about everything under the sun and pissing us off by dedicating big wins to Ashley and ascribing failures to supporters.
More importantly I think he has already had an impact. We were very well organised away at Man Utd and at home to Arsenal where we know we aren’t going to enjoy much possession. Over those two games we didn’t concede a clean goal and were only undone at home to The Gunners by an unfortunate own goal. That’s not bad going. I don’t know what has happened to Tim Krul but already he is improved and appears far more confident and looking like the keeper of a few years ago – the one we worried was about to be plucked from us to replace Buffon at Juventus. His kicking is still a bit iffy but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
As ever, we’ve been busy in the TF bunker with all kinds of doings and this last week we were delighted to meet with The Times’ canny lad NE football correspondent George Caulkin who was our guest on the true faith Podcast. You can get at it here.
This is a picture of George resplendent in his Sir Bobby Robson – wise words – t-shirt too. All of the profit from the t-shirt is to be donated to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and our aim is to raise £1000 from the t-shirt and make that donation at the end of the season at the latest but hopefully earlier. The t-shirt is being promoted with the full knowledge of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and is registered with them and all the rest of it. Everything is completely above board, transparent etc. All of the risk with the t-shirt rests with true faith, so if it tanks we won’t be asking anyone for any money to square it off. Obviously we are confident it won’t tank and with sales doing canny we think we’ll hit the £1000 target but to do that we need you to buy one of the fellas. All sizes are available and all you need to do is click here and you will be taken to the true faith online shop where the t-shirt is there for your buying pleasure.
That’s it for this week – we moved this column from its usual Sunday / Monday spot to later this week in order to accommodate the end of the transfer window but going forward we’ll be taking it back to its usual spot.
Have a great weekend and a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On ….