Newcastle United 2011-12: 10 Bold Predictions for the Toon Army Next Season
Life’s never boring on Tyneside. A typically up-and-down 2010-11 season left Newcastle United with a 12th-place finish and plenty of memories, both good and bad.
Last season saw it all, from Chris Hughton’s harsh sacking to the 5-1 demolition of Sunderland, and with Mike Ashley still at the helm, you wouldn’t bet on 2011-12 being any quieter.
There is much work to be done at St. James’. Twelfth is a respectable finish for any newly promoted side but just three points separated the Toon and Fulham, who finished eighth. A few quality additions should see the Magpies climb the table and push for Europe, but Newcastle’s stability could be damaged if the likes of Joey Barton and Jose Enrique depart.
Such uncertainty in the transfer market makes it difficult to know what to expect from Newcastle next season. Financial sensibility and Steven Taylor’s perma-tan are the only certainties, but Toon fans have every right to be optimistic.
The team performed above expectations last year and survived comfortably. Ashley and Llambias, as unpopular as they are, have the club on a sound financial footing and there’s no reason to worry for the club’s long-term future any more. Roadblocks and obstacles will emerge, but Newcastle have shown they have the resiliency to overcome them.
Nobody knows for sure what Ashley’s next boardroom blunder will be or what the first-team squad will look like by September 1st, but here are 10 bold predictions for Newcastle United’s 2011-12 season.
1. Newcastle Will Finish Above Sunderland
Newcastle would’ve finished above their Wearside rivals if it weren’t for their last-day collapse against West Brom. Just a single point separated the two sides in the final league table, a fact that left a blemish on Newcastle’s otherwise successful season.
Who has the bragging rights going into next season is up for debate. Sunderland fans will claim that their superior league position puts the ball in their court, but favourable results in the Tyne-Wear derby (5-1, 1-1) add weight to a Newcastle argument.
Regardless, finishing above Sunderland is second only to winning a trophy on most Newcastle fans’ wish lists and they are in an excellent position to do so next season.
Sunderland’s post-Christmas collapse saw the dream of Europa League qualification slip away. They struggled to cope with Darren Bent’s departure, and their squad will need strengthening further with the impending departures of loanees Sulley Muntari, Nedum Onuoha, Danny Wellbeck and John Mensah.
Newcastle came oh-so-close to finishing above their hated rivals last season; if Sunderland weaken and Newcastle strengthen as expected then the Toon will almost certainly finish above the Mackems.
2. Joey Barton Will Stay
Former Manchester City badboy Barton has finally come of age at Newcastle. The England cap has rebounded superbly from the disappointment of his first three seasons on Tyneside and was one of the Magpies’ most consistent performances last term.
His reputation means he’s never likely to get the international recall his form merits, but there’s little doubt that Newcastle wouldn’t have finished so high in the league if it weren’t for Barton’s form.
Newcastle fans would’ve been glad to see the back of Barton last summer, but the situation is completely different this year. Reborn on the right flank, Barton lacks the pace of an out-and-out winger but his range of passing has been a huge asset to Newcastle. He’s as good a crosser as anyone else in the wing, and his conservative positions have allowed Danny Simpson to get forward and flourish as an attacking fullback.
Barton is a prime candidate to leave Newcastle this summer. His current deal expires in 2012, and it was announced last month that the Toon’s latest contract offer had been withdrawn.
Reports suggest that Barton’s alleged £70,000 p/w wage demands are the stumbling block. Despite his good form, this is a sum that Barton, 28, will struggle to earn anywhere. If Newcastle aren’t going to offer him such an extravagant amount then why would anyone else?
Like Steven Taylor in the 2009-10 season, it’s likely that Barton will realise his situation and reconsider his options. A renewal of his current deal on reduced terms mightn’t seem attractive to him at the moment, but it’s probably the best offer he’s going to get.
3. Newcastle Will Reach a Cup Final
Leicester City, Tranmere Rovers, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Southampton, Millwall, Cardiff City, Portsmouth. Newcastle’s inability to reach an FA or League Cup final since 1999 looks farcical when you consider the teams who’ve made it to Wembley (or the Millennium Stadium) since then.
It’s been 56 years since the Magpies’ last major domestic triumph and Alan Pardew is well aware of the Toon Army’s lust for silverware.
Pardew has made no secret of his desire to bring a trophy to St. James’ Park. Achieving this goal will be a stern test for a manager with such a modest track record and Newcastle’s squad will need strengthening, but a cup final is definitely a realistic goal.
The League Cup is probably Newcastle’s best bet. The bigger teams will typically field weaker teams in this competition, meaning the path to the final isn’t quite as competitive as in the FA Cup. Having already confirmed he’ll field first-teamers in all competitions, Pardew has identified his most likely avenue for success, but he would do well to learn from Birmingham’s mistakes last season…
4. Gervinho Will Sign
Constantly linked with an English switch since starring at the 2010 World Cup, Gervinho will surely end up in the Premier League sooner rather than later.
Liverpool and Arsenal have been mentioned as possible suitors for the Ivorian before, but Newcastle and Everton are the only two English clubs to have made a bid (if the Daily Mail are to be believed).
With Everton’s €10 million having been rebuffed, Newcastle currently lead the race to sign the talented wideman. This may change if a bigger club steps in with a larger offer, but no such offers have been forthcoming thus far and Gervinho is currently weighing up his options back in France. The ball is well and truly in Newcastle’s court.
Signing Gerinvho would be a massive coup for the Toon, similar to Hatem Ben Arfa’s signing last summer. The Ivorian would add some much-needed pace to a pedestrian frontline, and would feel immediately at home with international teammate Cheikh Tiote and Lille colleague Yohan Cabaye on board at St. James’.
Newcastle’s bid for Gervinho perfectly demonstrates the ambition Mike Ashley needs to help push the club forward.
5. Newcastle Will Qualify for Europe
Let’s be honest, Newcastle aren’t going to finish in the top five next season. It’d take a multi-year plan for the Magpies to reach Europe via league position, especially if they stick to Ashley’s goal of breaking even by 2015.
A poor disciplinary record born from their robust playing style makes finishing top of the Fair Play league an impossibility, leaving only one other way: the cups.
If Newcastle reach the FA or League Cup final then there’s a good chance they’ll meet a top-five side at Wembley, guaranteeing European qualification regardless of the result. If they meet a “lesser” side? Well, they’ll just have to win the damn thing…
European qualification is the most unrealistic item on this list. It’ll take several quality signings and retaining the likes of Barton and Nolan, but Newcastle have every chance of a good cup run (and reaching the Europa League) with the right focus. Whether they can do this without sacrificing their league form is another matter altogether.
6. Mike Ashley Will Have a Quiet Season
Mike Ashley’s time on Tyneside has been marred by more PR blunders than you can shake a stick at.
From undermining Kevin Keegan to firing Chris Hughton and abolishing St. James’ Park’s popular Level 7 singing area, Ashley has done very little to endear himself to the Geordie faithful. Not a season goes by without the Sports Direct millionaire doing something to incite the Toon Army’s wrath, but something tells me 2011-12 will be different.
Regardless of his misdemeanours, Ashley is an astute businessman known for squeezing every last drop of profit from each of his business ventures. He and the Newcastle board drew up a five-year plan to help Newcastle break even and ease the club’s huge debts.
Andy Carroll’s January departure upset many, but the £35 million Newcastle received will go a long way to building their long-term future.
Ashley’s goal is to ensure Newcastle secure a top-10 finish every season from here on out. If they are to do this then he must realise that his meddling ways have got to stop.
Newcastle are certainly much better for the financial stability he has brought to the club, but he needs to cut out the gaffes if team spirit is to remain intact. My bet is that 2011-12 will be the season Ashley finally sees the errors of his ways.
7. Shane Ferguson Will Make 20-Plus Appearances
Geordie hopes are high for the Northern Irish prospect. Recently tied to a five-year contract, Ferguson surprised everyone with a series of all-action displays at the end of last season. A jet-heeled trickster who can play anywhere on the left flank, Ferguson has proven to be a capable deputy for Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez.
He’s looked perfectly comfortable in the Premier League and hasn’t allowed himself to be bullied by bigger, more experienced opponents despite his slight frame. Already a full international, Ferguson's future looks bright and he provides valuable cover for Newcastle's thin left flank.
It'll be a while before Ferguson is ready to establish himself in the first XI, but he'll surely get more opportunities this coming season. Never once looking out of place in his nine appearances last season, Ferguson has won plenty of admirers on Tyneside.
Expect Pardew's confidence in Ferguson to grow as he continues to impress in the black and white shirt.
8. The Ameobi Brothers Will Start a Game Together
Shola Ameobi has been at Newcastle for so long that he's become part of the furniture. The definition of a confidence player, Ameobi has often frustrated the Toon Army over the years but he is a valuable role player for Newcastle and one of the most under-appreciated players in the Premier League.
For better or worse, Ameobi will be at Newcastle until he retires. It's almost impossible to imagine him playing for anyone else.
Sammy, Shola's younger brother, made his first-team debut as a late substitute in May's 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Though only on the pitch for a few minutes, Sammy displayed good close control and pace as the Magpies pushed for an equaliser. He's still very much an unknown quality, but look for Sammy to make more appearances this term after an encouraging cameo against Chelsea.
Newcastle are in the market for a striker or two, but with Nile Ranger set to leave and Peter Lovenkrands fading, look for the brothers to combine at least once next season. If Newcastle are drawn against lower league opposition in the League Cup...well, stranger things have happened.
9. Tim Krul Will Establish Himself as No. 1
New a full Netherlands international, Tim Krul is far from the finished article. Continuing a fine tradition at Newcastle, Krul looks uncertain when claiming crosses and his flapping cost Newcastle a goal or two last season.
His decision-making clearly needs work and he could certainly benefit from operating behind a more organised defence, but Newcastle have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Krul's development.
For a start, Krul is an outstanding shot-stopper. His reflexes and agility are second to none, especially compared to the fading Steve Harper. Krul simply saves shots Harper wouldn't be able to get to, and that alone warrants his chance between the posts.
Sure, his decision-making is poor, but that's what you'd expect from a keeper of his age. Krul is only 23 and has made just 69 career appearances.
Time will make him a more assured goalkeeper. Eventually Krul will learn when and when not to come off his line and how to command his box. With Harper on the way down and Fraser Forster not really impressing at Celtic this season, Krul will only have himself to blame if he isn't the Magpies' No. 1 by this time next year.
He is a fine young keeper with good potential, and if he continues his development he can be Newcastle's No. 1 for years to come.
10. Alan Pardew Won't Last the Season
Of all the managers to sit in the St. James' Park hotseat since Mike Ashley's takeover, Chris Hughton is the only one who's lasted a full season.
Ashley is notoriously cutthroat with his managers and usually they're gone at the first sign of trouble. He disposed of Hughton, a man who carried Newcastle with dignity and did an excellent job in taking the club up from the Championship, quickly and mercilessly. Allardyce barley got a look-in, Shearer was never invited back, Keegan felt so begrudged by Ashley that he dragged the club to court and Joe Kinnear...well, the less said about him the better.
Pardew and Ashley may be friends, but it's hard to imagine the former West Ham boss being at Newcastle if Ashley's expectations aren't met. Pardew, in truth, hasn't done much wrong since joining the Magpies, but his inability to close out a game has cost Newcastle plenty of points since the turn of the year.
Like Hughton before him, Pardew appears to be learning from his mistakes, but how much time will he get?
Not much, if recent history is anything to go by. He might have a five-year deal, but Pardew won't be on a high salary so disposing of him shouldn't prove too costly. Though he deserves a chance to build Newcastle in his own image, there's little on Pardew's resume to suggest he can make the Toon successful again. Expect him to be gone by January.