After a credible 12th placed finish in the Premiership, £35 million in the bank and, at long last, a strong sense of stability at the club, one could be forgiven for thinking that the only way is up for Newcastle United. Yet their pre-season has been hampered by speculation that their star players from last season are on their way out of St. James’ Park, having failed to agree new contracts with the club.
Club captain Kevin Nolan, Newcastle’s top scorer last season, is the first high-profile player who looks set to leave the club, with recently relegated West Ham on the verge of signing the former Bolton midfielder for an extremely modest fee of around £1.5 million. The club have apparently failed to meet Nolan’s terms, prompting his potential departure from the club. As well as this, there is also strong speculation that other players, including Joey Barton, Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez have also failed to agree new contracts and could be leaving the club over the summer. Barton was arguably the Magpies’ best player last season, but again, contract negotiations with the board have broken down, suggesting that he too could be on his way out. Jose Enrique staked his claim as one of the best left-backs in the Premiership last season, but with huge interest from Premier League and European clubs, there is very little guarantee that the Spaniard will be at St. James’ Park next season. The speculation surrounding Gutierrez may only be minimal, but the rumour is that the Argentine has developed a close friendship with Enrique and may be influenced by a move away if his demands are not met.
All this talk of players leaving the club may not be official for now, but the fact that there is a lot of speculation, and it seems to involve no fewer than four players, is of huge concern for the club going in to next season. Ironically, this talk of a mass exodus was not as strong when Newcastle were relegated two seasons ago. It seems peculiar that the club were able to hold on to several of their players back then, but unable to do so now that they are back in the top flight. The biggest worry is that the board cannot seem (or do not want) to meet the players’ requests, yet none of the players in question have expressed a strong desire to leave the club. In fact, Joey Barton has said in the press that he wants to stay at St. James’ Park indefinitely. This leads to two very imposing questions: Is the stability at the club weaker than we all think, or are the board simply not very good at negotiating?
In response to the first question, the reality could well be that the club is still counting the cost of being relegated. Even with £35 million in the bank following the sale of Andy Carroll, Mike Ashley and his board will insist that whatever money the club has is invested wisely and not simply wasted on excessive wage bills. On the flip side, Ashley would be wise not to make himself even less popular than he already is. Having already overseen the departure of two very popular managers on Tyneside, allowing the club’s most influential players to leave purely because his board are too stubborn meet their demands will not be tolerated by the Geordie faithful.
Newcastle have already spent in the transfer window, having captured the services of promising French midfielder Yohan Cabaye and no doubt there will also be plenty of new faces at the club over the coming weeks. Aside from the players in question, they still have a squad full of potential. Players such as Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote and Fabricio Coloccini will undoubtedly be vital as the club endeavour to push for European places next season. But that dream simply will not come to fruition if the demands of the star players are not met, and for them to leave the club at prices like Kevin Nolan’s would be nothing short of humiliating. Perhaps it’s time for Mr Ashley to realise it was the players that got Newcastle United to where they are now. Without them, the club would have seriously struggled to stay afloat last season. Maybe it is time for him to reward them with the deal that they deserve and, more importantly, keep the fans happy.