It didn’t take long, following Sunderland’s 3-0 victory over Everton, for Newcastle United managing director, Lee Charnley, to come out and issue an apology. He thanked fans for their support and expressed their devastation at being relegated from the Premier League. If only the club had acted as swiftly when it became apparent big changes were needed during the course of the season, then perhaps Newcastle would not be facing up to life in the Championship right now.
So what went wrong this season at Newcastle United? Before a ball was kicked, many were predicting a top half finish and even the possibility of pushing for a European place for next season. Steve McClaren, was appointed manager in the summer and the season started with a point, at home to Southampton. Despite the away defeat to Swansea, another point was picked up at Old Trafford and there was a convincing win over Northampton Town in the League Cup. That’s where the positives came to an end.
Newcastle won just 1 of their next 9 games in all competitions. However, victories over Liverpool and Tottenham in the build up to Christmas, offered McClaren a glimmer of hope and perhaps if these games had turned out differently, a decision on his future would have been made earlier. As it was, McClaren continued in to the New Year but 7 defeats in 10 Premier League games, led to the former England manager’s demise on the 11th March. Speculation about his future has been circulating for some time prior to this but no action was taken and perhaps those positive results against Liverpool and Spurs, only served to drag out McClaren’s fate.
With Newcastle in the relegation zone and confidence low, new boss, Rafa Benitez was really up against it. Yes, it was a strong appointment by the club, Benitez certainly knows how to set-up a team to get results but could he do it with the threat of relegation looming? His first 4 games in charge brought just 1 point and although things have picked up through April and in to May, with Newcastle unbeaten in their last 5 Premier League games, it has come too late. Something which is a familiar feeling for Newcastle fans, who watched on in 2008/09, as Alan Shearer was made manager with 8 games to play and could not save the club from relegation.
In these situations, the buck always stops with the management first but the players also have to take some responsibility. Prior to the final game of the season, attacking midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum is top goal scorer with 9 goals, 4 of which came in a single match. Strikers, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez, have managed 14 goals between them, with January signing, Andros Townsend on 4 goals. If only Newcastle had a number 9 in the mould of Jermaine Defoe, perhaps it would have made all the difference? Only Aston Villa have scored fewer goals than Newcastle.
Speaking of Wijnaldum, the summer recruit is really the only player who can say he has done well this season. Chancel Mbemba, a young defender, has shown signs of his potential but elsewhere, the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Henri Saivet and Jonjo Shelvey have failed to deliver. Newcastle’s business in the transfer market, can perhaps be best summed up with the story of Florian Thauvin, who joined for £12 million in the summer from Marseille, only to return to the South of France on loan, having failed to score a single goal or provide an assist. Newcastle spent over £70 million in total on players, last summer and in the winter transfer window, with little to show for it on the pitch.
Given their position in the Premier League table, it’s little surprise to see only Aston Villa and Norwich have conceded more goals than Newcastle this season. Injuries have played a part in this of course and since Benitez has arrived, Newcastle have improved defensively but again, it’s a case of too little, too late.
Form against the teams in the bottom half of the table has had a huge impact on Newcastle’s relegation to the Championship. Undefeated this season against Manchester United and with victories over Liverpool and Spurs, Newcastle have some good results to their name but they have also lost, at least once, to every team in the bottom half of the Premier League table, except Aston Villa. That being said, the 0-0 draw with Villa last weekend, was just as bad as a defeat.
So with Newcastle relegated and the reasons behind their relegation clear, what is next for the club? The first thing, is to try and keep Rafa Benitez but will a manager, who has been at Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid, want to spend at least one season of his career in the Championship? It will depend on exactly what Mike Ashley can offer the Spaniard and what other offers come his way, of which there are sure to be plenty. As it stands, William Hill offer 6/5 for Benitez to be at Newcastle for the start of next season and 8/13, he will not. The odds certainly reflect the general feeling in the football world.
On the bright side, Newcastle have immediately been installed as 9/2 to win the 2016/17 Championship and 11/10 favourites to achieve promotion, both with SkyBet. Having been relegated in 2008/09, Newcastle did not waste any time in achieving promotion and did so comfortably the following season, with a total of 102 points. Chances are, it will not be as straight forward this time around but with that relatively recent experience of returning straight to the Premier League, there is some hope. That being said, there are a number of foreign players at the club, some of whom are recent signings, who may not fancy it in the Championship. There is the potential for a high turnover of playing personnel and this could make things difficult.
Another question, which is yet to be answered, concerns the future of club owner, Mike Ashley. Having never formed a good bond with the Newcastle fans, will he decide it’s time to sell the club? It may be difficult to find a buyer, having just been relegated and the price will be not as high as he could command, if they were in the Premier League. However, a trophy seems some way off at the moment and he could be in for a long wait, if it’s his desire to see silverware at the club, before he leaves.
Despite all these questions, there can be little doubt Newcastle United are a great football club, with a good financial base, strong support and plenty of potential. During the last few years, bad decision making, on a number of fronts and slow decision making, when getting things right, have cost Newcastle severely and it’s come to a head this season. Do they have what it takes to return to the Premier League and do so in better shape, than which they left it?