Thursday saw the sale of Newcastle United captain, top goal scorer and fan favourite Kevin Nolan to West Ham United, a move that left the Toon Army shocked and hurt once again. Although Kevin Nolan wasn’t a spectacular footballer, he was a player who had that rare instinct to be in the right place at the right time — and with two years left on his contract, as well as Newcastle’s search for a ‘top goal scorer,’ it raises questions as to why Nolan was sold considering what he brought to the team.
In any case, no Newcastle United fan can deny that Kevin Nolan will be missed, and although there were some games in the season where he was somewhat ineffective and almost anonymous, his goals helped not only to promote the club from the Championship, but secure the club’s place in the Premier League. One of the most distressing aspects of this move, for myself personally, is the fact that the squad spirit and personality that the club possessed from our time in the Championship appears to be almost dead and I truly fear that we will once again have a side full of soulless mercenaries who have no rapport with the fans.
If you’ve been a Newcastle fan for the past decade or so you will understand exactly what I mean. It’s no secret that modern football is less about passion for playing the game and more about the money involved, yet that doesn’t mean to say that the fans can’t grow an attachment to a particular squad that they feel has a good atmosphere. It’s understandable that the club needs to grow and progressively improve, yet the side that took Newcastle up from the Championship was something special and one that actually felt like a squad as opposed to a team of individuals. They may not have been the greatest players in the world, but many of the fans felt that the squad actually had a personality and their close-knit relationships showed on the pitch as the side could keep their heads up regardless of any setbacks. It was a far cry from the days of Joe Kinnear or Graeme Souness, where we may have had a talented bunch of individuals, but they couldn’t work together with the same fluidity and felt like lifeless beings who just played football for the club (obviously excluding the odd one or two).
Even players like Leon Best, who had a shaky start to his Newcastle career, was somewhat adored by many fans and despite not being a groundbreaking striker, he was always spurred on by large sections of the supporters and felt like a player, and person, the Toon Army were happy to call one of their own. However, Best is one of a number of players who have been told that they are “surplus to requirements” and it appears, like Nolan, he will be plying his trade elsewhere. Alan Smith and Nile Ranger have also been told that they can leave the club, and you’re more than likely aware of the Joey Barton situation, who himself claimed that Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez could also be on their way out soon. Once again, they’re not the greatest players in the world, but I liked them, felt like they really added something to the squad and were happy to be part of a football club I love so much. The sacking of the wonderful Chris Hughton was the start of this revolution and the change appears to be gathering pace. Obviously in the case of Barton, I went on record to say that the club shouldn’t entirely cave in to his contract demands, yet I hope the issue is resolved. Jose Enrique clearly wants to leave now, which is disappointing, and Jonas Gutierrez has expressed a desire to play in Italy. Within the space of a few months, a group of players I, and many other Newcastle fans, loved so much could be completely erased from the squad.
This is the way of modern football though. Udinese of Italy is a great example of how the game has changed and is becoming more of a business rather than a game. Udinese are only a small team, yet their squad has managed to have a great season and qualify for the Champions League from Serie A. In actually fact though, the squad that got them that far won’t be competing for them in the Champions League next season, as the “big clubs” have circled them like vultures and are looking to take their players. Sanchez, Zapata, Inler, Isla and Handanovic could all leave the squad this summer and it really makes you question the credibility of “passion” in the game. Acts of loyalty can sometimes seem surprising to people these days, as they’re often portrayed that way in the media. Sampdoria, also of Italy, were relegated this season which was a shock to many considering they qualified for the Champions League the previous season. Like Udinese, their squad was dismantled by the elite squads, yet it was great to see captain Angelo Palombo (who is an Italian international and a great defensive midfielder wanted by a lot of teams) say that he loves the club and wants to stay with them in Serie B. It’s just a shame that we don’t see players acting with their heart more often.
Obviously I am aware that my attachment to many of the Newcastle players is because they were the guys who stuck with the squad when we went down. Albeit, that was probably in some part due to the fact that they were on a lot of money. Yet many up in the North East knew that they were playing with pride of the club and were proud to play in black and white.
I know it’s not a new phenomenon that football is all about money in the 21st century, but it appears to be getting a bit out of hand and every season it appears like there is less passion and loyalty from the people who play the game. That’s why I’m so sad that this squad is being broken apart, as it actually felt like they were proud to be part of Newcastle and the attributes they brought to the club really made them stand out as personalities. To me, they were one of the last bastions of footballing passion and maybe I am just a romantic for these things, but football should be all about the love for the game and not about how much profit a club can make. It’s just like Bob Dylan sang: ’Money doesn’t talk, it swears’. For all I know, the new side could be great and I may get attached to them for other reasons, but it is hard to replicate what I felt for the squad that made us proud and helped a club, and a city for that matter, bounce back from the despair of relegation. Change is never easy, but this particular one hits home a little hard considering it is happening so fast.
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