Andrew “Andy” Cole (he wants to be called Andrew) is one of the iconic players of the Premier League, a legend at two clubs, one of which is Newcastle.
Like he needs an introduction from me. If you’re here, you probably know who the hell Andrew Cole is.
With Newcastle having confirmed promotion last week from the Championship, a number of notable personalities have been asked to offer advise on how Mike Ashley’s crew can avoid the yo-yo, stay up top.
Cole’s prescription? Solid, but also indicates he is watching a different Premier League than I:
I am delighted that Newcastle have secured promotion back to the Premier League, and the Championship title too – that on Monday at Plymouth – but I fear that unless they spend some serious cash they’ll be going back down.
Why? Because their squad could not hack it the last time they were in the top division, which led to relegation last year. And that squad was weakened as players were sold off. So why on earth would anyone assume that the players they have now – a good squad by Championship standards – will be good enough to keep them up?
First, I need to acknowledge Cole makes a great point: This squad may be worse than last year’s talent-wise. Why should a lesser team be expected to do what the better team could not, he implicitly asks.
Because Newcastle’s failings were never about talent. Newcastle was a leaderless disaster last season, derailed by the infighting that led to Kevin Keegan leaving the club. Lack of talent did contribute to the Toon’s relegation in the sense that a more talented team could have overcome those failings, but Newcastle was not one of the three least talented teams in the Premiership. Not by a long shot. Hence, their success in this year’s Championship, where they have been better than the “good” team Cole describes. This is a great Championship club.
But the Toon’s talent this year or two years ago is not the point. At best, it’s only half the picture. The Toon doesn’t need to have a more talented team than the Newcastle United of 2008-09. They need to have a better team than three other squads that will be in the 2010-11 Premiership. And that’s where Cole has got this all wrong.
West Ham has been Championship-caliber terrible, but they’re going to survive.
Wigan is poor. They’ll stay up, as will Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn. None of these teams are appreciably better than Newcastle. They may finish higher or lower than the Toon next year, but unless there are major shake-ups, it won’t be because of talent. It will be because of how they play as a team – what they do as a squad to transcend their talent and move away from the drop.
Is Newcastle, as currently constructed, that far behind Birmingham – newly promoted and in the top-half of the table? Perhaps, but the gap is not so big that some Roger Johnson-esque signings can’t rectify. It takes skill to find those players, not money.
And lest we forget West Brom’s coming up, too, as will the winner of the playoff. Newcastle, closing in on 100 points in the Championship, has shown themselves a ways ahead of those two clubs.
If Newcastle were in the Premiership this season, they would already be safe. They would be somewhere between Bolton and Blackburn, right next to … looky here, Sunderland. At least, that’s my read of their team, the Premiership.
And next year, though they will be newly promoted, West Ham will be playing catch-up to United. Will Roberto Martínez’s style have set-in at Wigan? If not, the Latics will be chasing the Toon, as will Wolves, if they don’t bring in some help for Kevin Doyle.
If Chris Hughton keeps this team playing as it has this year, survival will not be a problem.
No, Mr. Cole, e Toon need not reflexively spend money, though we know they have it. Perhaps wait until January 2011 and see how things go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how easy it will be for Toon to stay up.