Predicting what Mike Ashley has got in store for Newcastle United is a dangerous game to play. During his reign, the Magpieshave seen Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew and currently John Carver in the Newcastle hot-seat.
In all likelihood, the hierarchy at Newcastle will be looking for a new permanent head coach once this season ends. Names such as Rémi Garde and Christophe Galtier have been linked with the position and it’s easy to see why they may be favored by the board of the Tyneside club. The pair are relatively young coaches with respectable track records who can fit into Newcastle’s structure.
However, there is a coach currently operating in Ligue 1 whose name has been linked to the Newcastle job recently who could be just right for the Tyneside club. His name is Jocelyn Gourvennec, the coach of Guingamp, and his work at the Breton club has been nothing short of remarkable.
Guingamp is located in Brittany and has a population of just under 8,000 inhabitants. Bizarrely their home ground, the Stade du Roudourou, can hold just over 18,000 spectators. It’s fair to say Guingamp aren’t the biggest of clubs.
Enter Gourvennec who took over the reins of the Breton club in 2010. The former Nantes midfielder had previously been coaching an amateur team La Roche Sur Yon before being offered the head coach role at Guingamp. When he took over the club were in the Championnat National, the third tier of French football.
Under his guidance they won promotion into Ligue 2 and then to Ligue 1 two seasons later. He also delivered silverware in the form of the Coupe de France last season defeating Rennes in the final 2-0.
This season they had a creditable run in the Europa League too reaching the round of 32 and going further than any of their French contemporaries: Lyon, St Etienne and Lille.
From a Newcastle point of view Gourvennec is a potentially enticing option. He has demonstrated the ability to extract the maximum from limited resources, is committed to playing entertaining football but is pragmatic enough not to let pure aesthetics cloud his judgment. If Gourvennec can fit in line with the club’s vision and practice then it could prove to be a fruitful relationship.
The issue is and it is the rather large magpie in the room will the Newcastle board help or hinder Gourvennec’s ambitions? He does seem destined to go on to bigger things but are Newcastle the right club for him?
David Conn outlined in his article for the Guardian that the Magpies are a football club that is in a kind of ‘zombie’ state. Though the club announced an £18.7 million profit for 2013/14 the feeling amongst fans is that the northern giants are “half alive, half dead, going nowhere”.
Newcastle United under Mike Ashley’s ownership retaining Premier League status is the main if not only priority. At a Newcastle United Fans’ Forum last year Managing Director Lee Charnley detailed that cup success didn’t figure highly in the board’s thinking.
For any follower of the Tyneside club that is a bitter pill to swallow so what would any coach hoping to win trophies think about the board’s attitude to on-field success? Charnley in an interview with The Chronicle claimed that the club had received about 80 applications for the role of head coach but which ambitious coach would truly be willing to work within the constraints of the Newcastle model? The man currently in the hot-seat, John Carver, is there by default and unlikely hold the position beyond the summer, his predecessor Alan Pardew jumped when a better opportunity came along, Chris Hughton was not much more than a stop-gap, Alan Shearer was a gamble that failed, Joe Kinnear’s tenure was just plain bizarre and Kevin Keegan was a populist appointment.
If Ashley and Charnley want to recruit a decent coach, let alone a top quality one, they will need to readjust their model to match the ambitions of any potential candidates. The current model only appears to encourage mediocrity and that could lead Newcastle United into a downward spiral if the board are not careful.
No reasonable football fan expects Newcastle to challenge for the Premier League title any time soon but a good cup run whilst maintaining their status in the top flight shouldn’t be beyond them. Since Mike Ashley took over at the Magpies in May 2007, Newcastle have not gone beyond the fourth round of the FA Cup or the quarter-final of League Cup.
It’s clear that all sense of romanticism is lost on the hierarchy at Newcastle but what they do understand is the bottom line. The new Premier League TV deal will no doubt boost the coffers when it kicks in in 2016 but their current transfer policy of buying players at a reasonable price and selling them on at a profit will only work if there is some form of tangible success on the pitch be it good league position or proper cup run. If Newcastle are still stuck in their current morose state then none of their playing personnel will appreciate in value, fans could stay away (and they are threatening to do so) and sponsors will not want to spend their money on a brand (as horrible a word as it is) that appears to be lifeless.
The Magpies do need resuscitating on the pitch and that can only truly be done with a proper football vision. Gourvennec is a coach who thinks about the game, gets his teams to play attractive football and looks to lay down long term plans and strategies. He’s not a person hamstrung by ego having experienced the highs and lows in his football playing career:
“I have seen it all, from the very high to the very low. I’ve played in all the divisions, for big clubs and for small clubs. I was unemployed for four months, I overcame a serious injury. I was an idol at Rennes and Nantes, and then I was an outcast. I played for two teams that were relegated from the second division to the third.”
L’Equipe have reported in recent days that Newcastle are interested in bringing the Guingamp boss to St James’ Park in the summer. He’s already worked his magic on Sylvain Marveux who is currently at Guingamp on loan from Newcastle. There’s no doubt he is a talented coach with a potentially bright future.
However Mike Ashley and the board will need to readjust their current on-pitch focus, back the man in charge in the transfer window and set their sights higher and aim for cup success and not completely focus on just retention of Premier League status. Admittedly, Newcastle are on a financial sounder footing but success on the pitch and off it are not mutually exclusive.
If, and it’s a big IF, the Newcastle United board can convince Gourvennec that he can achieve his ambitions at Tyneside, get him to buy into their model and more importantly assure him that he will receive their full and complete support then the Frenchman could quite possibly be the one to bring better times back to the long-suffering Geordie faithful.
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