Fans of Newcastle United put up with a lot. During the summer, after basking in the glory of a fifth-place finish, supporters were looking forward to more success in the coming season.
European football had been secured, which of course meant more games. In order to maintain success, it would be necessary to maintain momentum. The increase in fixtures brought with it the need for strength in depth.
While Newcastle had a great deal of talent, there was no denying that they got lucky with injuries in 2011-12. Players peaked at the right time, and the arrival of Papiss Cisse in January gave the team an extra spark.
Fans knew this and were understandably nervous.
If there were to be any injuries in 2012-13, it was obvious that the squad would be stretched. The stage was set for some new signings in the summer window.
Of course, we know the rest.
The reasoning at the time was that the deals weren’t right at the time, but managing director Derek Llambias recently admitted to The Chronicle that the club stuck too rigidly to their business model at the expense of the football.
Signings in January bolstered the squad and the team looked much more promising. Newcastle’s scouting network, led by Graham Carr, has always been a point of pride for the club. The players who arrived performed well, again a testament to Carr and his team.
What's the most important element of this year's summer window for Newcastle?
After admitting last season’s mistakes, surely Llambias and the club wouldn’t allow the same thing to happen in 2013?
Speaking to The Sun, Llambias was quick to address any questions regarding summer investment:
We can’t compete with the giants. There is still money available and there is a budget to spend. But our transfer policy remains the same – no trophy buys. We have to be realistic. We do not have some sort of oil well under our pitch. We have a bit of coal which we can’t dig up and we don’t have the revenues of Manchester United.
What we will be doing is trying to play entertaining football.
Obviously, there are two ways to read this. While The Sun is keen to paint it in a negative light, shoehorning the quote into an article that warns fans not to expect a spending spree, at no point does Llambias say that there would be no players brought in.
Indeed, when talking to The Chronicle, Llambias insisted that there will moves made in the summer to strengthen Alan Pardew’s squad.
This is a positive sign, because Newcastle are not a complete team by any means.
It’s been widely reported that team captain Fabricio Coloccini wants to move back to Argentina, and there should be steps made to replace him. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa may have been brought in to fulfil this purpose, but the squad is still thin in defence.
Mike Williamson is a serviceable squad player but is consistently targeted by quick wingers and shouldn’t be the first option. Coloccini’s departure has been coming for a while, and it would be negligent of the club to ignore it. Defensive capitulations like the one experienced at Arsenal can destroy entire seasons, and the team needs a strong presence in the centre.
While there has been an increase in goals, the team also still lacks a decent striking partner for Cisse. Demba Ba never gelled with his Senegalese teammate, and it was sometimes difficult to watch them make the same runs as they were forced to play together.
Cisse relies on good service from midfield, and with Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa injured, he was left alone and frequently offside as long balls were punted his way. Of course, the team now has Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran in support of Cisse, but even Gouffran hasn’t escaped the injury curse that has stricken Tyneside.
In addition to worrying about new signings, Toon fans will face that other summer fear: losing their best players.
The rumour mill will start churning up stories about Cabaye and Ben Arfa moving on, without any real evidence to support the claims. Luckily, Ashley has taken steps to set minds at ease by claiming he will reject all offers for Cabaye—via The Mirror—and placing an automatic £25 million price tag on all his players.
These are the sorts of things that are essential to Newcastle’s progress, and it’s comforting to see them being put into action. If the Magpies can hold on to their creative midfielders, bring in a central defender and another striker, there’s no reason to think they can’t repeat their top-five finish of last season.
Toon fans haven’t had much except hope in recent times, yet they remain among the most loyal fans in the world. Now that there’s a chance for that loyalty to be repaid, it’s down to the front office to hold up their end of the deal.
The early signs are good.