Tuesday 19 November 2019

Magpies brought to the brink by a barrage of mistakes

It should never have come down to today's struggle for Newcastle

John Carver has urged his players to cut themselves off from distractions
John Carver has urged his players to cut themselves off from distractions

Jason Burt

When the wounds are so horribly self-inflicted as those at Newcastle United, then was it right to show the players expected to rescue them that the cuts could go even deeper yet?

John Carver, the caretaker manager, trooped backroom staff into a team meeting this week in the 'strategy room' at the club's Benton training ground. It was to remind the players of what was at stake, of the faces of some of those who would lose their jobs should the club drop out of the top flight and the real cuts begin.

Last week, Carver spoke of how, in 2009, he had sat speechlessly in a pub for an hour having watched, on television, as a fan, Newcastle's relegation from the top flight when they had a better team than the one he might have to cajole into getting a result at home to West Ham today.

Carver then spoke of how he urged the Newcastle players to cut themselves off from the internet, social media, outside distractions and concentrate on preparing for the game. Fans will argue there has been too much of a disconnect for too long.

Those three pieces of information, the conflicting approach and message, sum up the confusion at Newcastle.

And there was more. This was a week of all weeks which started with Carver bemoaning the "hot, warm climate" as his team slid to a demoralising defeat at QPR, then the club released pictures of their new kit which included a now-outdated sponsor's logo. Then it emerged the sponsor, Wonga, was considering pulling its deal, Carver had to defend himself from taking part in a charity golf day, the club had to deny a training-ground bust-up between striker Papiss Cisse and defender Daryl Janmaat. And Carver has to decide whether to recall Mike Williamson who is free from suspension after being accused by the manager of getting himself deliberately sent off.

"I can't believe it has come to this," said Carver, and the brutal answer is that it should never have done so - even if the signs have been there for a very long time simply because Newcastle have pursued such a flawed, soulless strategy.

Newcastle will go down as the good-news story that never allowed themselves to be that. The club that were bought on a whim by their bullish owner, Mike Ashley, who then declared he wanted to "have fun and win some trophies", but never showed any sign of achieving either but who was seen, for a while at least, with a desire to sink pints with fans.

Much was understandably made of the apparently progressive structure Ashley put in place, of working cleverly to bring in new talent, of the skills of head scout Graham Carr and the training ground nous of manager Alan Pardew allied to a hard-nosed business approach.

But cynicism took over. Players were sold and not replaced with those of the requisite quality - when Yohan Cabaye went without being replaced, Newcastle won only five more matches before the end of the season. They lost 13.

They failed to win any of their first seven league matches this season and the sense of frustration and anger, the air of protest, grew with the focus centring far too intensely on Pardew. The pressure on the manager was intolerable and he was left high and dry by the hierarchy while being remorselessly targeted by the fans.

But Pardew is a good manager and he would have kept the club afloat and kept them clear of relegation. By late November, Newcastle were actually fourth in the table. Now they are fourth from bottom having collected just one point from 10 matches. They were in 11th place when that sequence began.

So many mistakes have been made - mistakes in recruitment, lack of investment, failure to plan. But, above all, mistakes in a loss of identity and vision and drive and anticipating that the Premier League is a division where you can simply get away with it.

That is what Newcastle tried when Pardew left for Crystal Palace and they turned to Carver who was third on a three-man shortlist, which they are apparently considering again, headed by Steve McClaren and former Lyon coach Remi Garde. Carver was grateful for the chance and did not push for desperately-needed reinforcements in the January window as Pardew wanted to.

In announcing record profits of £18.7m this year, the club did little to counter accusations that they value profit over ambition.

There has been substantiated talk that, finally, Ashley understands it has gone too far. Significant investment in the playing squad is planned, apparently, and there is also a realisation that the club need to soften their stance and improve their lines of communication and engagement with the fans. Quite whether this will be implemented if they are relegated remains to be seen. Quite where it leaves Newcastle will be a mystery also. It does not appear conceivable that this squad of players will be able to mount a promotion challenge.

Moussa Sissoko, Cisse and Cheick Tiote's agents are all believed to be looking for new clubs for their clients come what may. There are doubts about whether goalkeeper Tim Krul and right-back Daryl Janmaat will still be at the club next season.

It may be that Newcastle survive but few fans will doubt the motivation of West Ham under their manager Sam Allardyce who is popular among the players and is leaving after the game.

In another one of those twists, turning the knife again, Allardyce was the manager Ashley inherited - and then sacked - at St James' Park when he took over. Whatever the result against West Ham there will be another fans' protest after the match. It is all so unhappy.


The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport