A season that started so promisingly is turning into a grind. Our form is awful, the hopes of a takeover being completed in time for some urgently needed re-strengthening in January look distant at best and there are signs of the supporter base becoming fractious over exactly where blame lies for our current position in the bottom three.
Looking back on 2017, you’d have to say that overall it has been a positive year for United – promotion, Rafa still here, full houses and more wins than losses. However, looking forward to 2018 there are serious problems lurking just below the surface.
Despite generally being a glass half full sort of lad, I seem to have done nowt but empty glasses over the festive period, largely containing overly strong beers and porters so I’ll start with the fears. The greatest fear is clearly that after having the potential takeover dangled in front of us, that it is not going to materialise at all. I hold two views on this and it is important to say that the first is that in order for United to avoid implosion, we must be rid of Mike Ashley at the first available opportunity. The club has regressed in the years of his ownership and it will continue to regress, at an accelerated rate with him in charge.
However, my other fear and one I have expressed on a number of occasions surrounds Amanda Staveley and the money behind her bid. I can’t see why anyone would unquestioningly trust any owner of our football club – for me, that trust needs to be earned but when I see reports of friendships with the likes of Richard Desmond, read glowing articles on a previous relationship with the odious Prince Andrew and am reminded of the provenance of funding from the Gulf in excellent articles like those by Nicholas McGeehan https://medium.com/@NcGeehan/the-men-behind-man-city-a-documentary-not-coming-soon-to-a-cinema-near-you-14bc8e393e06 then my heart is not filled with hope and joy. Maybe my fears are misplaced, maybe I am naive to expect any other form of ownership in modern top-flight football but let’s wait and see.
The other major fear I have more immediately is around our ability to avoid relegation and I’ll be brutally honest here, with our current squad of players we’ll go down. Alarm bells started ringing for me after Bournemouth and they have simply amplified since then. Putting aside the farcical and childish polls that the Chronicle have been running, it would be churlish to absolve the manager of any blame in this regard through what would be blind loyalty. Some of the purchases have actually weakened the team and in that regard, shouldn’t have been brought into the club, regardless of the price tag. Joselu is every inch the £5m centre forward – it’s not his fault. That aside though, however meagre the transfer kitty was, I struggle to see the logic of spending £12m of it on a fringe player who has been played out of position in his rare appearances. Going by the logic that a £12m striker would be better than a £5m one, there were some poor pieces of business conducted.
That said though, by quite some considerable distance, our main hope lies with Rafa Benitez. I have no doubt and nor, I think it’s worth saying, do the overwhelming majority of our fans that given reasonable backing, Rafa will bring improvement and Premier League stability to the club. I don’t think that it’s any secret that he is hanging around to see through a takeover that he has played a major part in orchestrating and presumably he has had assurances of the level of investment needed to turn what is a reasonable Championship squad into a competitive top-flight outfit.
In terms of that investment, if I were writing a shopping list for Christmas, I would ask for (in order of urgency) a striker, a goalkeeper and a right back. Don’t get me wrong, of the current first team I only really think that Lascelles, Merino and maybe Ritchie are good enough for a side looking at mid-table in the Premier League, but I think that three solid purchases in the positions listed above would give us just about enough to stay up this season, which has to be the sole focus, although to contradict myself slightly, I would hope we would at least make an effort in the FA Cup, especially given that we start with a home tie against a fourth division club.
Do you know what my overriding hope for 2018 is though? It’s not that we spend £500m to propel ourselves into the promised land of a regular 8th place finish. No, it’s just that Newcastle United make strides towards being a club that we can truly be proud of at the centre of the community, making sensible investments on players that we are pleased to see in a black and white shirt. The foundations are there – one thing that can’t be argued about is that Rafa has bought ‘good lads’ and the only knackers (Shelvey, Mitrovic) hanging around were nothing to do with him. The other key hope is that we finally start to place a priority in the Academy and start to see some progression for our young players into the first team squad after an absolutely dismal record in the last decade.
Is that too much to ask? Is it deluded? Well, if you can’t ask Santa for something nice, then who can you?
All the best.
GARETH HARRISON – FOLLOW GARETH ON @Haz_TF@truefaith1892
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