Newcastle favourite Hatem Ben Arfa
When it comes to Newcastle United, the term "never a dull moment" often feels like it was exclusively tailored and fitted in order to sum up everyday life at the club.
Rarely does football’s spotlight deviate from St. James’ Park, and whether they’re battling for a place in Europe or fighting for their Premier League lives, the Magpies are always in the news.
This summer has been no exception, and while activity in the transfer market has been unnervingly static, headlines have been generated behind the scenes that have kept up their very public persona.
The appointment of controversial director of football Joe Kinnear angered many, while the club’s treatment of striker Papiss Cisse in the face of his refusal to tolerate their new sponsors has divided opinion.
All this after United flirted dangerously with relegation from the top flight last term as well as reaching the last eight of the Europa League having finished fifth the season before.
Never a dull moment indeed.
So at a club that has become synonymous with drama off the pitch as well as on it, what can Newcastle supporters expect from their team when the season kicks off in less than four weeks?
Aside from an alarming lack of firepower, on paper at least, the squad retains a great deal of the quality that led the club to their lofty finish a little over 12 months ago.
At the back, their pivotal captain Fabricio Coloccini has committed himself to the United cause for the next year, while efforts to keep Dutch international goalkeeper Tim Krul on Tyneside have been successful so far.
Davide Santon was one of the few who displayed genuine signs of progress last term, while bigger and better things are expected of fellow full-back Mathieu Debuchy now that the Frenchman has had time to settle in the North East.
Add to that the power and flexibility of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Steven Taylor, plus the youthful fervour of the likes of Massadio Haidara and Paul Dummett, and manager Alan Pardew appears well stocked in terms of defensive options.
There is also a healthy supply of holding midfielders, with Cheick Tiote determined to improve on last season’s indifference. Staunch competition from Vurnon Anita and Gael Bigirimana should aid his ambition.
But it is further forward where Newcastle’s shape must improve if they are to put the struggles of last season firmly behind them.
Like many of his teammates, and by his own high standards, Yohan Cabaye suffered a mediocre campaign last time out. But should he remain part of the picture at St. James’ in the face of much transfer speculation, his flair and invention next term could be key.
And another artistic Frenchman also has a vital part to play. Newcastle have a grand tradition of housing entertainers from across the English Channel in their team, and for David Ginola in 1995 and Laurent Robert in 2001, read Hatem Ben Arfa in 2013.
The 26-year-old’s stay on Tyneside has been hindered by injury since he arrived from Marseille three years ago, but during that time his trickery and enterprise—not to mention his goals—have confirmed his reputation as a crowd favourite as well as a game changer.
Width is an area where Pardew may opt to strengthen, with Jonas Gutierrez, Sylvain Marveaux and Gabriel Obertan all failing to shine on a regular basis last season.
But whether or not United dramatically improve will rely on their ability to reinforce their goalscoring department before the transfer window closes in a little over five weeks.
The Cisse saga could see the Senegalese centre-forward move on this summer, with reported interest from Russia according to John Richardson in the Daily Express.
And with Demba Ba’s departure in January and doubts surrounding Shola Ameobi’s future, as reported by the Newcastle Chronicle, it’s not difficult to see why Pardew is desperate to bolster his attacking options.
While Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko both filled in as attackers last term to occasional good effect, their real strengths lie elsewhere.
Luck with injuries and consistency are platitudes that apply to every club before the start of a new season, but if Newcastle are to regain their "entertainers" tag and their place in the top half of the table, a minimum of two top-quality strikers are needed—and quickly.