Saturday, August 7, 2010

Relegation Fodder (Newcastle United)

Newcastle is a big club in many ways. They have a lot of money and a large, rabid fan base. They have also been hopelessly mismanaged over the last several years. Unrealistic expectations on the part of supporters as well as ownership groups has led this club to opt for big names past their primes and frequent manager firings instead of systematic team-building.

Newcastle came right back up after one season in the second division of English soccer. They did so with several of the same players who had been relegated the season before. And that is a problem. Kevin Nolan, Danny Guthrie, Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez, Steven Taylor, Steve Harper, Jose Enrique, Andy Carroll, Alan Smith,
and the like are just barely good enough to finish 17th. Unfortunately, that list is very close to what Chris Hughton will run out as his starting XI every week.

I actually like most of those players, and they are not without talent. But the hard truth is, they are complementary players on good teams, and squad players at best on top level clubs. Take Kevin Nolan for example. I love Nolan, and he was a great servant to Bolton Wanderers when he was with them. When Nolan was surrounded by the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo, Gary Speed, and Nicolas Anelka he looked great. He had a well-defined job on the pitch involving tasks he was well-suited to complete, and he did so with aplomb. But when those players left and he was asked to lead the club on and off the pitch, his flaws were exposed. Nolan had a great season in the Championship, scoring 17 goals, starting every week, and leading the Geordies to promotion. But it is ill-advised to expect him to do the same thing on a much higher level.

Do I think Newcastle will go right back down? Probably not, but I have a hard time seeing them finishing higher than 15th. Especially considering they have a very inexperienced manager whom a large portion of the support do not have any faith in. St. James Park will be packed to the gills every week, and a few big home wins in the latter stages of the season (they host Everton in March, Wolves in April, plus Birmingham and West Brom in May), should lift them into the 40 point range and keep them safe for another season.

No comments: