Congratulations to Lee Charnley on getting the MD role at the club. Proof that if you kiss enough backside and Jumbo Soccer ballkeep your opinions to yourself you can make a good career for yourself at SJP nowadays. From a reserve team secretary, a man who fills in team sheets, to the top job at the club. To be fair to him, he must have a very solid knowledge of the workings of the club, and be by now fairly capable in this role, but it is hardly inspiring and in essence, with Ashley joining the board, has anything really changed? Certainly judging by his first press release the answer would be no. If anything, it was possibly even less inspiring as it put into words what most fans already thought. One or two players a season? We will be losing at least 4/5 from the squad that began this season, so how is this progress? Or is it one or two plus replacing outgoing players? I don’t believe we will be targeting just one or two ‘signings’ (no indication if permanent or loan in the statement) but I do think that if we signed 3 or even more, then we would be told of how wonderful the administration are. That they are really demonstrating their ambition by signing ‘X’ amount of players, going against their model.
Also coming from the PR babble released, the definitive statement that top 10 would bring bonuses. To give credit to the players for agreeing to this is just embarrassing! They have virtually achieved top 10 already and have barely bothered since the turn of the year. In my mind bonuses should be paid out for surpassing the ability you have, and performing to your best. Not, as it is in this case, for doing a mediocre job with the talent and ability at your disposal. Aim for 6th, 7th, 8th, that is where we should be with what we have (if used properly). Why any of them should get a single penny for this second half of the season is beyond me, the results have been awful, but worse than that have been the performances; the lack of intent, application, creativity, solidity, tactics and – Pardew’s favourite word last week- resilience.  When your top striker is out then you have to adapt – did Martinez cry and give up when Lukaku was out? I have a vague recollection of Pardew telling us this was the strongest squad he has had at the club earlier in the year – just last week he backtracked and said they weren’t good enough. The same happened last year with the kids who came into contention. Alan, maybe, just maybe, you should a) either stop towing the party line and say the squad is ill equipped from the off, or b) take a long hard look in the mirror and ask why do the players look poorer as your tenure goes on? Has he ever come out and said he got it wrong? I can only remember excuses, injuries and blaming of players – we can (laughably) add the media to his ever growing excuse list.
That brings me nicely back to one of my favourite topics, Hatem Ben Arfa. Now, I haven’t been quiet with my opinion of him on this blog, or anywhere else for that matter, but the fact he is getting remonstrated with and blamed for all and sundry at the moment is laughable. The poor bloke seems to be taking all the flak for an entire team under performing and a lack of style, philosophy and tactics from the sidelines. Yes, he does lack work rate, but he was berated for not tracking back, why do we want him tracking back? Yes, he definitely needs to press more, but higher up the pitch, winning the ball in dangerous areas, or forcing a mistake, not coming back with their full back constantly. He will be off in the summer, as I have said since November, I have absolutely no doubt on that, the most recent dressing room bust ups have all but confirmed it. It will be a shame to see him go, but he hasn’t developed, or put in the hard yards to make it work, and his dressing room bust ups and fallings out aren’t a symptom of the rot at NUFC. It is the same as with Pardew, if something keeps happening to you at several clubs, rather than claiming everyone else is the problem, it may well be time to look at yourself.
Looking forward to the remaining games, I think we can probably write off the trips to Emirates and Anfield – I’m very worried about the latter, it could become a cricket score if we don’t improve and they are celebrating or need a win to secure the title! But for Cardiff and the Swans I’d like to see some of the younger squad members given game time. Bigi is back fit, Aarons, Arma, maybe even big Lubo or Streete as well. It honestly can’t get much worse, and at least if we bring some of those kids in it gives the fans the opportunity to get behind something. Not starting them all in both, but maybe giving one or two a start, and then giving others 20-30 mins at the end, instead of the same tired changes we have been making. Although they must play in their actual positions, no more of this putting our young strikers on the wings, a la Campbell last year, and Arma against Stoke. Pardew talks about protecting them, I think we need to protect them from Pardew more.
Still, at least the fans had something to celebrate the other week. It was good to see an open top bus parade rightly celebrating what a good (financial) position the club are in last weekend, although there was no mention or footage of it over here in Malawi. Shame, as the week before when Man U fans flew the plane over, they spent a good 20 minutes discussing that pre game, showed the plane during the match and again at half time. I’d mentioned it to a few of the lads I watched the match with hoping that we would get even a little bit of coverage but no joy. Still, it seemed to get a bit of coverage back in the UK and that is a good thing.
While watching football is becoming more and more of a chore, at least the playing side is going well. I’ve now managed 5 goals in my last 6 games, including one from just past the halfway lobbing the keeper, and a free kick whipped round the wall with my left foot and into the corner (I’m right footed). Not bad for someone who played 4 of those games at centre half and the other two as the holding midfielder. I did get a chance for a hat trick in one, left foot free kick, right foot shot, and then I went to score a header near the end and pretty embarrassingly fluffed it from about a yard out… funnily enough the goals seemed to get forgotten about, and only the header was remembered in the bar after!
If only the rest of Malawian football was doing so well! Following on from the violence, and the insufficient funding for both a youth team and senior side we now have an age cheat scandal. Obviously FAM deny any of this, and as yet, it is just allegations made against them by their own journalists and Botswana but CAF are set to investigate the issue, for which the punishment would be the U20 side would be kicked out of the Africa Youth Championships. A national paper in Malawi claimed that almost half of the players were over age, including the goalscorer in the recent draw with Botswana, Khumbo Ng’ambi (younger brother of Malawi star player Robert Ng’ambi). This should all be fairly easily resolved, with FAM claiming that all have passed Magnetic Resonance Imaging tests when they were in previous squads. If that is the case though, you have to wonder why CAF are set to investigate – surely it would be an open/shut case? I guess if you were to look for the silver lining, if they were to be thrown out it would solve the finance problems, although quite possibly set them back as players.
Anyway, with Easter coming up I have a week off from playing, and I’m heading up north to Livingstonia, I haven’t been up there before, but it is meant to be a beautiful area. Sadly/luckily (both apply at the minute) I doubt I will be able to watch the match, or even follow it online this weekend. The place I am staying at is fairly remote so I doubt there will be much internet coverage. Knowing my luck, having watched our recent capitulations, this will be the time when we finally draw level with Sunderland for goals at SJP in 2014….. Fingers crossed!