Misplaced optimism at Newcastle?
Here’s just some of the defenders who have graced Newcastle United down the years: Titus Bramble, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Claudio Cacapa, Marcelino; at times they’d have been better off putting a tin of baked beans at the back instead. Its marking might have left something to be desired, but at least it wouldn’t have given away any goals with dodgy backpasses.
With that in mind, their fans would have been encouraged this week to hear of the signing of a player dubbed the “new Paolo Maldini”. As introductions go, it’s up there.
Admittedly Davide Santon, signed from Inter, hasn’t actually done much in his short career to justify comparisons with one of the greatest defenders of all time, but his arrival fits the mould for the sort of player Newcastle have targeted this summer - young, foreign, relatively cheap and unheralded and with something to prove.
As ever it has been a turbulent transfer window on Tyneside, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique mouthing off about the club’s apparent lack of ambition. Crucial elements in the side last season, both have been allowed to leave, Barton going to QPR on a free transfer because Newcastle were so desperate to be rid of him.
Newcastle’s business since their return to the Premier League last year has raised eyebrows. Not only have Barton and Jose Enrique gone, but Kevin Nolan, their influential captain, was also allowed to join relegated West Ham United, while Andy Carroll was sold to Liverpool for £35m in January. Alan Pardew has barely been able to reinvest a penny of that money into the squad, leading some to suggest that odds of 7-1 for Newcastle to go down didn’t look so bad.
Three games in and Newcastle are unbeaten, winning two - including a 1-0 victory at Sunderland - and drawing at home to Arsenal, although given recent events, that may go down as something of a missed opportunity.
Since Chris Hughton’s sacking and the appointment of Pardew last December, plenty have been predicting Newcastle’s demise, yet they keep on confounding expectations. It may just be time to give them a bit of credit. It may not always look that way, but there may be a chance Newcastle actually have some sort of plan, rather than making it up as they go along.
The players signed this summer are surely cause for optimism rather than scepticism. Yohan Cabaye, an elegant midfielder with a certain swagger about him, was a big part of the Lille side that won the French league last season and once he settles in England, he may give Newcastle a more cerebral feel.
Alongside the tenacious Cheik Tiote, it is a midfield that mixes brains and brawn, power and panache. Gabriel Obertan was also signed and if he can make good on his undoubted potential, he could have a huge impact; his ability is not in question, only his mentality. Up front, Demba Ba has not really shown what he can do yet, but his performances in a dreadful West Ham side last season demonstrate his threat.
Selling Barton, Carroll, Nolan and Jose Enrique may seem like the usual self-sabotage from Mike Ashley and chums, but Barton and Nolan in particular were on big money and were getting on. There was also a tendency for Newcastle to favour a direct style last season, especially when Carroll was there, and Pardew, who has always favoured fast, exciting football with a young team, obviously wants to play more expansively, something that may now be achievable.