HARRISON, N.J. (AP) – Finishing our look at the 20 clubs making up this season's Barclays Premier League, FOX Soccer's Jamie Trecker looks at the discontent on Tyneside. What should we expect from Newcastle United?
Most seasons on are defined on the pitch. Not Newcastle's wasn't. Their season was defined on transfer deadline day: January 31, 2011. Newcastle sell their star striker, Andy Carroll, to Liverpool, setting a record transfer fee for a British player and a short-lived overall transfer record. Good, no?
No. Newcastle, somehow managed to overlook the fact that they didn't have a replacement. The remainder of the transfer deadline day was made grimly amusing as Newcastle cast about frantically, trying to find someone - anyone - who could kick a ball into the net. They couldn't, and although the Magpies lived to fight another day (or season, in the Premier League), the gamble was unbelievable reckless.
Now, the team is near collapse. They were in bad shape before they sold Carroll and only got worse.
Let's start with their owner, Mike Ashley, who seems to have the worst characteristics of George Steinbrenner yet less sports knowledge. At one point, Ashley was trying to sell the club, fed up with the abuse he was taking from the fans. He couldn't find a buyer and is now even less popular. He inexplicably fired manager Chris Hughton last season after a string of halfway decent results, hiring a man with a reputation for killing morale in Alan Pardew. Newcastle went deep into May flirting with relegation, but managed to finish 12th. This would be more impressive had they not lost 3-0 on the final day, which kept them from finishing ninth.
Have we mentioned they sold Andy Carroll?
A number of key players have followed Carroll out the door. The biggie is the departure of captain Kevin Nolan, who joined relegated West Ham United. Also about to be let go in a shock: Joey Barton, who has cleaned up his act and had been last year's MVP. The latest departure was left back Jose Enrique, one of the league's best left backs last season, who was bought up by Liverpool.
Why did Newcastle let these guys go? Good question. Enrique was among those asking, sending out a tweet last week disparaging the club for that, saying: "This club will never again fight to be among the top six again with this policy." Is it any coincidence he was shown out of St. James' Park days later?
Enrique was heavily fined for the outburst, but he's not the only one. Newcastle players have made a habit of using Twitter to complain about the club on it. Barton left because he tweeted: "If only we as players could tell the fans exactly how it is, without them above fining us lots of money. There will be a time and a place . . . If it wouldn't effect [sic] team morale and cause unrest within the dressing room, am certain Jose's comments would be the tip of the iceberg."
Nile Ranger revealed more tensions by tweeting: "Most used sub in the prem last season. Now I'm struggling to even get a preseason game. haha. #laughORcry what a joke."
Looking at who they've brought in will lead some folks to wonder if Arsenal relocated north. Pardew made a French-heavy transfer swoop this offseason, picking up some intriguing parts but only one finished product. That would be Demba Ba (French-born, but a player for Senegal,) who was West Ham's top scorer last season. This doesn't sound impressive until you consider Ba only made 12 appearances with the club and scored seven goals in that short span. Yohan Cabaye is the only player Toon had to pay a transfer fee for, a reasonable $7.5 million considering the midfielder was an integral part of Lille's championship side last season. Sylvain Marveaux spent his entire career at Rennes and the left-sided winger can be potent but is likely to face a steep learning curve. Gabriel Obertan has just completed his apprenticeship with Manchester United. The most interesting signing is that of 18-year old Mehdi Abeid, a highly rated youngster at Lens who will initially join the Newcastle reserves. The French U-18 midfielder has a silky touch and is a solid stopper.
Newcastle still needs another striker to pair with Ba. Pardew would like PSG striker Mevlut Erdinc (again with the French connection) but the Turk's asking price may be too dear. Jermain Defoe is said to be a backup option, and what a deal that would be for Spurs. Anyway, if Newcastle doesn't get another striker, the unconvincing quartet of Shola Ameobi, Nile Ranger, Leon Best and Peter Lovenkrands will make up the numbers.
Nolan and Barton's exits leave other big holes. Does Jonas Gutierrez have anyone to pass to? Cabaye is likely to slot in immediately with Cheik Tiote next to him as Hatem Ben Arfa continues to struggle with fitness. If Jose Enrique leaves, then new captain Fabricio Coloccini has even more ground to cover back there alongside Mike Williamson. Tim Krul gets the nod in the nets.
The prognosis is not great. The morale of this team is in the toilet and losing Nolan, Enrique and Carroll have further alienated one of the most passionate and engaged fan bases in all of sport. To their credit, the Toon have a ton of pride and some genuinely decent parts. What they lack is the ability to steer a game, get the ball upfield and score goals.
Ashley is likely to find St. James a real nasty place to hang out at this coming fall.