Newcastle United can be considered without doubt the surprise package of last season’s Premier League campaign, finishing above Chelsea and Liverpool, and running Tottenham and Arsenal all the way for a spot in the Champions League next season. By anyone’s standards, let alone a club that three seasons earlier had experienced relegation and the loss of their talismanic (at the time) striker, Andy Carroll, the North East club exceeded all expectations and entertained supporters across the country in the 2011/12 season. But with that now in the past, Pardew must look forward not back. With expectations this season much higher than the last, and with the Toon Army back on the road again in Europe, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘How high can the Magpies finish next season?’.
Like all sides in the summer, Newcastle will be looking to strengthen in some areas to improve on last season’s fifth place finish. One of the first areas they will be addressing will be the right back position. Despite a good 2011/12 for Danny Simpson, rumours are he is set to leave Tyneside as player and club are unable to agree on a new contract for the former Manchester United player. This has led to speculation that the club are in the market for French right back Mathieu Debuchy, (who is also a target for European Champions Chelsea) and defensive midfielder/left back Vurnon Anita of Ajax.
It has already been reported that Lille have rejected a £4 million offer for Debuchy, with coach Rudi Garcia, laughing the offer off, claiming Newcastle must have bid for the wrong player. As for Anita, the Magpies have yet to have an official bid accepted but it is estimated he would set them back around the £8 million mark. Assessing these targets we can see Newcastle are planning to continue with their recent transfer policy of scouring the French and Dutch leagues which are seen to represent good value for money; lest we forget Cabaye cost a mere £4 million from Lille last summer.
However it is not only a full back that Pardew has on his mind this window. The Magpies have also been heavily linked with a move for FC Twente striker Luke De Jong. Whilst at first it may seem strange the club are looking to sign another striker when they have already Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, the rumoured clause in Ba’s contract looks certain to be exercised at some point over the summer, and Luke De Jong at the age of 21, would represent a solid investment with a sizeable sell on value. However the bad news for Toon fans is that Twente boss Steve McClaren has declared that only ‘an offer that can’t be refused’ would take De Jong to the Sports Direct Arena.
Perhaps though, the success of Newcastle United next season will depend on who they keep as opposed to who they get.
It is no secret that after his eye-catching goals and explosive form, Papiss Cisse will be on the radar of Champions League clubs over the coming season, and the same can be said of captain Fabricio Coloccini, whose solid displays at the heart of the Toon defence were rewarded with a place in the PFA Team of the Year last campaign. Add to this the performances of Dutch keeper Tim Krul and midfield maestro Yohan Cabaye and it is no surprise to see the spine of Newcastle’s side being linked away from the North East. Thus perhaps it is fair to conclude that Newcastle’s success in the future depends more on resisting the overtures of ‘bigger’ clubs rather than signing more players themselves.
Often for promoted teams which survive Premier League relegation with ease in their maiden top flight campaign, the phrase ‘second season syndrome’ is mentioned with reference to how difficult it can be to build on last season’s achievements; similarly in music, if an artist has a best-selling album, they often talk about the tricky second album. With regards to football though, whilst some sides can rise to ‘second season syndrome’, such as Stoke City did when they reached an FA Cup final and establishing themselves as Premier League regulars, others struggle with the expectation or having been ‘found out’ by their opponents. Although Newcastle should have no fears of relegation in 2012/13 I can’t help but feel second season syndrome will definitely hit the Magpies and a place in the top 7 should therefore be considered a good season. It remains to be seen how Liverpool and Tottenham will perform with new managers, but the sizeable outlay by Roman Abramovich at Stamford Bridge, means I cannot see the Toon sneaking into the Champions League next season or even retaining their fifth placed position.
In addition to the strengthening of their rivals, Newcastle will suffer more from fixture congestion, with the Europa League requiring they play on Thursdays and Sundays and those trips to Kiev and Istanbul won’t do much for their Premier League aspirations and Pardew is going to have to use his resources wisely if Newcastle are going to remain competitive on both fronts. On a more positive note, should Newcastle prioritise winning the Europa League I don’t see anything stopping. Like all cup competitions luck is the money-can’t-buy asset, and having seen Fulham and Middlesborough reach the final in the past, I see no reason why Newcastle cannot at least reach the final in Amsterdam in May. However as mentioned previously, should they target continental competitions it is inescapably going to lead to a weaker performance in the Premier League this time round.
In short, should Newcastle invest wisely this summer as they over the past 12 months as well as keep their key players, it is not unreasonable to expect them to lay the foundations to establish themselves as one of the biggest clubs in England over the coming years. Mike Ashley’s prudent and at times unpopular ownership has over the past couple of years at least paid dividends for the Magpies and has seen them return to European competition despite playing in the Championship just over 24 months ago. However due to the heavy investment in Chelsea, Arsenal (heavy by their standards) and the new managers at Tottenham and Liverpool, coupled with the expectation, I cannot see Newcastle finishing any higher this season as they did last season, however a fruitful campaign on the continent is more than realistic.
If the 2011/12 season is anything to go by, predicting the performance of the Magpies next season is going to be anything but a simple challenge.
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