A season beyond the fans’ wildest expectations could have one glorious gift still to give for Newcastle United. Defeat to Manchester City has dampened expectations, but the chance of Champions League football once more is still there. And it would be a fine end to the season if it could be achieved, though plenty of obstacles remain, not least the possibility of Chelsea winning the Champions League and taking away the 4th place entry into the qualifiers (and pushing third down that road instead). But for Newcastle, there is added pressure in securing that Champions League slot. It is not just about the excitement of pitting yourself against Europe’s premier teams. The added incentive is keeping together your team.
Alan Carr is a comedian with his own chat show, who feared telling his dad Graham that he wasn’t going to follow him career-wise down a footballing route. Graham Carr is a success in his chosen career, but any mention of him is always done by association with his famous son. But Graham Carr is a massive factor in Newcastle’s resurgence. As chief scout at Newcastle (once Dennis Wise had moved on), the Newcastle supporter’s eye for a good player and detailed scouting of foreign talent has helped transformed the side into a potential Top Four side, and all on an admirable budget. It involved a lot of hard work along the way – Carr, who has scouted for Manchester City and Spurs amongst others (following Sven Goran Eriksson for many years), watched Tiote for four years before concluding he was worth the risk. But this is a trick he may well have to continue for many a year, as predictably with any team that breaks through and exceeds expectations, the vultures are already circling.
This is the problem with doing well. You need to keep doing well, to really excel, or you will be picked off by the stronger animals in the pack. The Champions League revenue is there for a reason, to protect the status quo, to allow certain teams to dominate and take their pick of players. This is partly why Manchester City have upset many as it has broken the cartel, and their wealth means their players can’t be picked off. So if Manchester United want Wayne Rooney off Everton, they will inevitably get him. If City want Gareth Barry off Aston Villa, then likewise. Not that you can blame the players of course. Players may be portrayed as money-grabbing mercenaries, but they want to win things too. The Manchester City of old, or the current Everton or Aston Villas of the world have no chance of long-term success through prudence as the power of the “big” clubs will always see them off eventually. They may have their moment in the sun, but it will barely colour their skin.
Or perhaps Newcastle will prove otherwise, and buck the trend. It would be nice to see Newcastle make the Champions League for this reason. It would be good to see the team stay together for at least one year, interesting to watch how much further they can go with a couple more additions. They are guaranteed to be playing in Europe next season one way or another, but would the Europa League be enough for Newcastle’s most talented players?
Well probably. You would think that these players would want to continue the progress, as a matter of pride. They must surely have enjoyed their season, and would have little desire to leave. Cisse has only just joined anyway, so won’t be going anywhere. Ba may be more of a problem, with a reported (low) release fee in his contract. Ben Arfa must be happy to be playing again, and at the peak of his potential. The likes of Cabaye, Santon and Krul will make Newcastle a force next season should they remain.
Whatever happens on the final weekend of the season, for many Alan Pardew will be the Premiership’s manager of the year. As a victim of his own success though, he will now be under extra pressure next season. But extra pressure will come in rebuffing bids for his star performers. Already, the early summer gossip has mentioned that Arsenal are plotting a double raid for Ba and Cabaye. In what should be a summer of excitement for Newcastle fans eagerly awaiting bold new signings and wondering what the next season will hold, will be tinged with the anxiety caused by the inevitable transfer stories linking moves away for some of their players. Let’s hope the team can stay intact, for the sake of the fans and for the competitiveness of the Premier League, as now Newcastle have a great springboard to progress even further.