Newcastle United’s return to the top-flight last season was largely enjoyable for Toon fans. The Magpies humiliated their closest rivals Sunderland, produced a stunning comeback against Arsenal and, most importantly, stayed clear of the relegation dogfight.
The influence of both Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton certainly aided the Magpies in, once again, making the Premier League their nest. Joey Barton added steel in the Newcastle midfield, whereas Nolan often linked up with the forwards. As a result, ‘Super Kev’ was Newcastle United’s top scorer last season with 12 goals.
However, to the surprise of many, Kevin Nolan was sold to Championship side West Ham United earlier this summer after negotiations over a new contract broke down. Speaking for The Guardian, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew refused to give him a new five-year deal reasoning, “My opinion is that we couldn’t give Kevin a five-year contract, because if Kevin isn’t playing first-team football, he isn’t going to be the leader we want, I’m convinced of that.”
Understandably, many Toon supporters are still extremely disappointed with the decision. It is not only the fans in St. James’ Park that have questioned Alan Pardew’s conviction. Anyone who watched Newcastle United last season witnessed the leadership skills that Nolan possessed.
Therefore, it seems like a double-whammy for the Newcastle faithful to learn that Joey Barton is also to leave. However, the bitterness of the blow is that he is allowed to leave for free. Despite the controversy that surrounds Barton, he was an accomplished player at Tyneside and many recognise his talent. Consequently, teams such as Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Stoke City are now linked with his services.
Giving Barton the boot has attracted plenty of criticism. Willie McKay, Barton’s agent, has expressed his shock stating that allowing his client to leave on a free transfer is “suicidal”. Moreover, former Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd believes the 28-year-old is a £6million player and is destined for a bigger club. Barton himself has also spoken out by tweeting, “One day the board might realise, what the shirt signifies. HONOUR and PRIDE.”
For the Newcastle board, relieving Barton of his duties is like pulling a thorn out of their backside. Joey Barton hasn’t exactly been a saint this summer. With the use of Twitter, he has been alongside Jose Enrique in criticising Newcastle United’s transfer policy. Barton was baffled by Nolan’s exit and echoed the Spanish left back’s more recent judgement that Newcastle “will never again fight to be among the top six again.”
These criticisms of the Newcastle board have fractured the relationship between players and directors even further. Both Barton and Enrique have been slapped with fines for their outbursts and the former is now training alone. These arguments can’t be good for overall team morale.
It is not only the players that have voiced their concern over the running of Newcastle United. Mike Ashley, the owner of the club, is certainly no angel of the north. The Toon Army is increasingly growing disillusioned under Ashley’s regime. The departures of Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan and the most likely exits of Joey Barton and Jose Enrique have left fans almost melancholic.
However, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, the managing director, have stressed the importance of adding younger and hungrier players, which have a sell-on value, to the Newcastle squad. Subsequently, Newcastle United have bought players such as Demba Ba, who had a successful loan spell at West Ham United, Ligue 1 winner Yohan Cabaye and ex-Rennes midfielder Sylvain Marveaux this summer.
Such experimentation is extremely risky. Newcastle United have replaced two midfielders with plenty of experience in the Premier League with two midfielders that have never played in England before. Furthermore, there also now seems to be a lack of leadership on the field. Who is going to be the man to rally his troops?
As a result, doubt lingers around St James’ Park like a bad stench. With the success of last season, relegation wouldn’t have even been considered for this upcoming campaign, but, with Newcastle’s best players of last season leaving the club, the memories of the 2008/2009 season seems like a recurring nightmare as fans fear that the club may be heading down that road again.
It may not be so catastrophic, but a difficult season could certainly lie ahead. Newcastle United fans would have hoped for a satisfying summer after seeing their team reach 12th spot last season, but, yet again, the club is in the newspapers for the wrong reasons. Are the problems within Newcastle United going to have a detrimental effect on next season’s performance? Past experience suggests that it is.