Newcastle are in big trouble. Fact.

Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez. Photo by Ronnie MacDonald http://www.flickr.com 

Rafa’s back. Steve McClaren’s reign as Newcastle boss didn’t last long and it yielded few points. Newcastle find themselves in the relegation zone with nine matches left to play. The final two games of their season are at home to Tottenham and Manchester City so that makes April a rather important month for Benitez.

The Spaniard’s recent career trajectory is Real Madrid – Napoli – Newcastle. Or to put it another way Ronaldo – Higuain – Mitrovic. That’s the sort of downhill momentum that a luge team would be pleased with. I hope Benitez has topped up his tan in his previous two gigs because as Gazza memorably sang, it’s mostly “fog on the Tyne.”

The sun doesn’t shine much in Newcastle at the best of times (though has there ever been a set of fans more inclined to attend matches half naked? Ha way the tops) but there seems to have been a persistently dark cloud hanging over St. James’ Park for a long time now.

Newcastle fans are among the most loyal anywhere but their club is going nowhere. Boardroom bungling has certainly been a factor as Newcastle have lurched from one crisis to another.

Owner Mike Ashley has been summoned to appear before Parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills select committee to give evidence about the treatment of workers at his firm, Sports Direct. A recent BBC investigation raised concerns about ‘the treatment of low paid workers and enforcement of the national minimum wage.’

In response, Ashley invited MPs to visit the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, an invitation that members (honourable and otherwise) appear to have declined. He did not invite them to visit St. James’ Park, where the average wage must be considerably higher than the minimum. The effort some of those players are displaying in return for their wages could be described as minimal though.

Had MPs visited Newcastle’s ground on Januray 12th this year they would have seen a banner unfurled by supporters that read: ‘#SportsDirectShame’. A protest isn’t really a protest these days if it doesn’t include a hashtag.

What those supporters have witnessed on the pitch has been pretty shameful and I wonder if any have written to their local MP. That would be Labour’s Chi Onwurah, who happens to serve on the Business, Innovation, and Skills Committee that are so keen to make the acquaintance of Mr. Ashley. Perhaps they will be conducting an investigation to see if there’s any evidence of business, innovation or skills at Newcastle FC.

The committee are probably more concerned with assessing the implications of a potential Brexit from the EU. Newcastle fans fears revolve around the Nexit question: will Newcastle exit the Premier League this season? I doubt they spend very much time contemplating Europe at the moment.

Benitez is a manager whose career is on the way down and I think he’s just taken charge of a club on the way down as well.

In my view, Villa are already long gone, and Swansea I expect to be safe so that leaves two from Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland. Newcastle v Sunderland this weekend is a huge game. The home side will be hoping for a Benitez bounce as without it they are likely to soon be tumbling through the relegation trapdoor.

Rafa specialises in making teams hard to beat and Newcastle could certainly use a little of that right now but the air of defeat that lingers around the club is as thick and smothering as the Tyne fog.

Newcastle fans must now be used to flirting with relegation but this year I think they will consummate that relationship. The facts of life for those supporters cannot be denied; their club is in big trouble.

Advertisements

The Monday Post

newcastle

Newcastle. Photo by Nigel Taylor, http://www.flickr.com

Today we’ll take a quick look back at a few things that happened in the world of football this weekend. This may become a more regular feature (part of the purpose of this Blogvember challenge is to try out some different kinds of post) so if you like it, don’t hesitate to say so.

All (kind) comments shall be gratefully received.

I watched two and a bit games this weekend – Newcastle v Liverpool, the Manchester derby, and a bit of Napoli v Roma (see yesterday’s post for why I love Italian football).

As a Liverpool fan, Saturday’s game was painful viewing. Suarez was always going to be tough to replace, and Sturridge being injured has hugely compounded that problem, but the current issues at Anfield seem to run a bit deeper.

I have written elsewhere on this blog in praise of Rodgers but I think his summer transfer policy raises serious questions. Most of the attention is understandably focused on Balotelli (when has that ever not been the case in his career?) but I actually think he was a gamble worth taking at £16 million.

The early signs have not been great but he’s still adjusting to Liverpool’s style of play, he’s hardly played in partnership with Sturridge, and the team as a whole is struggling. His performances have been mixed to say the least but he’s been working hard and has largely avoided controversy (one overly-eager jersey swapping incident aside).

I’m much more concerned by a defence that appears shakier than last season despite some considerable investment in it and a midfield that is nowhere near as commanding as it was last season. The sparing use of Coutinho baffles me.

Rodgers spent some big money in the summer and the side appears stronger as a result. Southampton’s side that is. We took three of their best players and we now sit seventh in the table, behind Swansea and West Ham. Southampton are second.

Lambert, Lallana and Lovren are all decent players. Lambert has not yet had much of a chance (wrongly in my view), Lovren is quite elegant on the ball but lacks authority as a centre half (authority is in short supply across our whole back four and our goalkeeper Mignolet has never had a deep or lasting relationship with the concept), and Lallana looks a little overawed and a lot overpriced.

The Real Madrid – Liverpool game starts at 3.45 am on Wednesday morning in Malaysia. I don’t think I’ll get up for that one.

The Manchester derby was an intriguing game that sparked on several occasions without fully igniting. I predicted in Saturday’s post that City would win and they deserved to. Smalling proved once again that he’ll soon be playing on a smaller stage and van Gaal described him as “stupid.” It’s certainly true that the next club he joins is not likely to be Mensa.

Manchester United actually performed very creditably with ten men and Blind showed that he’s a truly class act. It’s been a very bad start to the season for the red devils but I still expect them to comfortably finish in the top four. There’s so much talent in that squad and despite the desperate start, van Gaal is the real deal.

Roma lost 2-0 in Naples and face a Champions League trip to Bayern Munich in midweek. Bayern beat them 7-1 in Rome a few weeks ago so they’ll probably travel with all the confidence of Mignolet coming off his line at a corner.

The happiest sight of the weekend for me was that of my beloved Dundee United at the top of the table in Scotland. Well played boys.

We also have a league cup semi final against Aberdeen to look forward to. The other semi final will see the reuniting of some firm old friends in Glasgow. Ally McCoist has sensibly appealed for calm ahead of the return of Celtic v Rangers for the first time in almost three years. He might get his wish and I hope he does but I suspect it’s about as likely as Liverpool winning at the Bernabeu this week.