The overwhelming sound of supporters rummaging in draws and rooting around filing cabinets was all that could be heard in Newcastle on Sunday evening. Geordie supporters embarked on a frantic forage for passports as their beloved club edged close to achieving a feat not a soul clad in black and white could have envisaged in their wildest dreams at the Premier League’s kick off last August. Eight months on and the Magpies are on the cusp of a return to European football for the first time since 2007 when under the stewardship of Glenn Roeder. Current commander Alan Pardew has led the Toon Army on a whirlwind journey into the top six with just nine games left to play. Or nine cup finals as he put it following the 1–0 triumph over Norwich at St James’ Park on Sunday. Pardew has overseen a remarkable turnaround during his 15-months on Tyneside surpassing expectations of a top half finish and assembling an exciting squad that plays an intoxicating brand of attacking football.
With entry to next season’s Europa League now a distinct possibility and fans hysterically scanning their passport expiry dates, the question now posed is would continental competition benefit or hinder Newcastle United?
From a football perspective the outlook does look gloomy. Not to paint myself as a pessimist but, whilst the current crop of players are more than capable of holding their own in Europe, the Magpies don’t possess a squad with the depth to cope with such a gruelling schedule. The demands of European competition have greatly intensified in recent years with teams required to play two games within the space of three or four days with a continental round trip thrown in for good measure. It’s an physically and mentally draining excursion that necessitates the ability to rotate players to ward off fatigue. Fulham and Stoke, both of whom have larger squads than Newcastle, struggled to manage the extra load added onto their domestic commitments. Their league form and position suffered as a result and they find themselves in the bottom half of the table with no hope of a return to the Europa League next season. It was clear that the Toon Army toiled to cover the loss of key players Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor and Cheick Tiote at differing points of the campaign. Now imagine the club trying to tackle a Thursday night fixture in Europe and then a Premier League game on Sunday deprived of one or two players from that list.
Obviously Pardew will be recruiting new faces during the summer. However whoever he brings in will be subsidised by the sale of fringe players and one potentially big name. Tiote has been linked with a move to Chelsea and if £20 million is laid on the table it’s likely that owner Mike Ashley will gobble it up without hesitation. With Dan Gosling, Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands, all of whom are on the periphery of the first team, likely to leave along with striker Leon Best there will be huge gaps left to fill in terms of retaining the healthy complexion the squad currently has. Right now the aim for Ashley is to balance the books so, for example, if five players step through the revolving door at St James’ expect five to step out. Thats how he’s doing business right now. Irrespective of the extra riches that comes with qualifying for Europe or finishing sixth in the league he will avoid splashing out on lucrative transfers. Newcastle can’t compete on the European front with a philosophy like that. Thats not having a pop at the Sports Direct mogul because it if wasn’t for him the club would have died a slow and whimpering death. Ashley’s tightening of the purse strings has put the Magpies’ accounts back into the black for the first time in a long while. But, it’s that prudent approach that prove to be a hinderance.
No disrespect to the players like James Perch, Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson but they don’t possess the talent required to compete at the level Newcastle aspire to reach. There are five or six other players of similar ilk. Couple that with the reliance on youth to provide backup and there just seems no conceivable way how Newcastle can marry the Europa League with their Premier League obligations without suffering a few injuries and the dreaded mid-season burnout. It would prove to be a huge burden on their domestic campaign without the necessary investment. It’s no falsehood that they need to bolster every area of their squad but the likelihood of that happening is slim.
Therein lies a decision for Ashley to make. Whilst a continental adventure will provide a significant boost to the clubs coffers it could only last for one season. What needs to be considered is would it be more beneficial for Newcastle to consolidate in the top half, strengthen the squad bit-by-bit and then make a play for Europe? If they’re going to approach the Europa League with a majority of the current players in tow supplemented by a few additions then it could prove to be a disaster. The best thing for the Toon Army at this current juncture would be to avoid the allure of the European lights and continue their rebuilding process on the home front.
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