Newcastle’s rise this season has been impressive, to say the least. Show me a person who claims they knew Newcastle would have this good a season and I’ll show you an opportunistic liar. I include all of the staff at St. James’ Park (or whatever they’re calling it this week) when I make that assertion; surely none of them thought the season would go this well?
The club started the season in much publicised disarray with players attacking the club, fans frothing at the mouth due to the lack of financial re-investment in the squad and the media’s vultures circling over what they deemed the weakest member of the herd.
Who would have thought The Magpies could outsmart the vulture? Who would dare guess that they actually would?
I write this as someone who’s not actually all that impressed with Newcastle this season. I think the media’s been so begrudging in its praise that it’s not really looked at the club properly — it’s just reacting to a rich vein of form. Strong analysis is ellusive in English football and Newcastle’s season has yet to buck the trend. In the early months of the season the club was run by an incompetent idiot, managed by a smug cockney idiot and had failed to put any of the Andy Carroll money to good use. Or so the media said. I’ll hold my hands up and say that, while I never succumbed to the hyperbole, I didn’t quite see this coming.
Coming to the present day we find a club run by a shrewd businessman, managed by a solid candidate with admirable experience and that has used its money in a strikingly competent fashion. Or so the media says.
Like I said, I’m not all that impressed. What I don’t understand is why our opinions of the club need to match the famed striped design — black or white, with no in between? While praising The Magpies and their quest for European football, why must we focus solely on the club and nothing surrounding it? I’m not referring to the ownership but the other top teams in the Premier League this season.
For possibly the second season in a row, the Premier League has seen competition increase as the bubble bursts for many clubs. Chelsea’s aging squad is finding life post-Mourinho ever-more difficult while Liverpool are nothing more than a small dot in the rear-view mirror of the top teams. The classic “Top Four” is but a distant memory, or so it feels, as other clubs have broken the monopoly and pushed the old guard aside. Football is about cycles and it certainly feels like many top-flight clubs are in transition at once. The net result is a lack of competitive edge from many of the old runners.
In the mid-noughties, the aim was to squeeze every last bit of talent out of a squad in a highly competitive league; a race to reach top gear first and then keep accelerating. Since the turn of the decade, things have been different. The aim of the game now is to simply hold everything together, spend wisely and hope to weather the storm; the ability to maintain a steady cruising speed. To put it another way, stability is King now. Long live the King.
That, for me, is what Newcastle have done so well this season. Since the perceived early-season troubles I can think of only two unhelpful headlines– when Mr. Ashley decided to rename the stadium and Nile Ranger’s behaviour. The former, while disappointing, was a wound that would heal with time. The latter was dealt with my pushing the player to the fringes. Unlike City’s Balotelli pantomime, Newcastle identified the clown in their midst and decided not to entertain his every whim.
I’m not saying that Newcastle’s season hasn’t been spectacular. I’m saying that it’s been spectacular because everyone else has been more than unspectacular. If you lock 20 people in a room and arm them with a gun each, it’s likely the cleverest will stow the gun away and stay out of trouble. Newcastle have spent this season trying to avoid the crossfire — successfully, I hasten to add.
While the media, tails firmly between legs, rush to overrate The Magpies as way of compensation, many are still aware of the big questions that surround the club. This is, to all intents and purposes, an average squad. Pardew has, over the course of the season, shown his abilities as a reliable manager. If Chelsea, for example, hadn’t imploded over a player-led revolution, would Newcastle have stood a serious chance of finishing above them in the league? In my opinion, the answer is no.
Newcastle went through their crises not too long ago. They took notes and learnt their lessons. In a season where the clubs around them are finding out the same lessons the hard way, Newcastle are chasing European gold. Slow and steady might not win the race for Europe but Newcastle are proving that solid and reliable do.
Magpies are said to love shiny things. Everyone’s heard a story of a magpie or two slowly amassing an impressive collection of jewelry. We don’t hear about the reckless magpie who, drawn in by the shiny grille of a car, flew in head-first. Coincidence? I think not.