In truth, Newcastle’s 2013/14 season ended when their creative midfield talisman, Yohan Cabaye, was sold to French giants Paris Saint-Germain, a move that signalled the start of a dreadful run of form for the Toon Army. They were to win just four of their final 16 games, ten of which they failed to find the net in, on their way to a still-respectable 10th-place finish in the Barclays Premier League.
However, the numbers tell only some of the story, as the Newcastle faithful grew increasingly impatient with the behaviour of manager Alan Pardew, whose ill-judged clash of heads with Hull City’s David Meyler cost him a place on the touchline for the remainder of the season. He was lucky to keep his job.
That he didn’t was down more to the near-decade-long contract he signed in September 2012, a subject of some acrimony among Newcastle supporters, than it was to any progress his team was making on the field. Owner Mike Ashley’s faith in Pardew seems limitless, but his refusal to spend any meaningful money on players since the January 2013 French influx riles Toon followers a great deal more. Regrettably for Newcastle fans, much of the talk surrounding the four walls of St. James’ Park has revolved around farcical management, epitomised in the decision to instil Joe Kinnear as Director of Football. That ill-fated stint incurred the relentless mockery of outside quarters after Kinnear was heard on radio struggling to pronounce the names of Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, among others.
Thankfully, Newcastle’s summer will conclude in positive fashion. Despite losing Mathieu Debuchy to Arsenal, Ashley has identified the need to improve the squad, and a host of European talent has arrived on Tyneside. What’s more, a successful pre-season in which they have won four out of six games, including a 3-1 victory over German club Schalke, has fans cautiously optimistic ahead of the new Premier League campaign, and attention is finally on what Newcastle can produce on the pitch.
Every club’s fans keep a keen eye on the transfer market during the off-season, none more so than Newcastle’s. Having endured 18 months of inactivity, a period in which Loïc Rémy’s arrival on loan from Queens Park Rangers last summer is the only talking point, the Toon Army can finally relish the chance to see some fresh faces strut their stuff in the north-east. Emmanuel Rivière outshone Radamel Falcao at times last season in the red and white of Monaco, while Rémy Cabella, who Newcastle have had interest in for a number of years, finally sat down to sign on the dotted line. Cabella is seen as Cabaye’s replacement.
With Mathieu Debuchy making the switch to Arsenal, Newcastle acted fast to bring in reinforcements and Feyenoord’s Daryl Janmaat was that man. The Dutchman was on display at the World Cup this summer, and he will bring a composed passing game and a strong tackle with him. Jack Colback has made the controversial switch from Wearside to Tyneside on a free transfer, Argentine forward Facundo Ferreyra has signed on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk, and Siem de Jong, an unused participant in Holland’s 30-man preliminary World Cup squad, adds creativity and goals to Newcastle’s ranks having arrived from Ajax. Newcastle have also added highly-rated English duo Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles to their books, although they have been loaned straight back out to Nottingham Forest, whose manager Stuart Pearce has expressed his grave disappointment at losing the pair.
Through the exit door go a number of youngsters deemed surplus to requirements, as well as Dan Gosling to Bournemouth, and Shola Ameobi, whose 17-year affiliation with Newcastle ended when he was released this summer.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Newcastle have always had an eye-catching player or two to drool over. From David Ginola to Faustino Asprilla and Alan Shearer to Yohan Cabaye, they have never been short of flair. This season should be no different, particularly if Rémy Cabella settles in to Premier League life in quick time. Newcastle’s desire to delve into the French market has reaped some rewards in recent times, and they expect Cabella will offer them something positive too. He is certainly a positive player. Running with the ball and key passes are his strengths, and he often finds himself in pockets of space in which he is able to show off his creative ability. His defensive contribution is sound too, and he will only get better with time.
A club like Newcastle, despite mis-management from higher powers, should be aiming high. The infrastructure, the prestige, the fanbase; it all points towards European football. To finish mid-table without showing the desire to achieve more is not good enough. Having opened their cheque book on several occasions already this summer, you would suspect they realise that too, and a push for the Europa League should be on their mind. The idea of a good cup run should not be abandoned either, especially when you haven’t won a major domestic trophy since 1976.