Joey Barton Debacle Adds to Newcastle United's Nightmare Summer
Having lost Chris Hughton and Andy Carroll last season Newcastle fans entered the transfer window with some semblance of optimism.
Manager Alan Pardew had promised to get his key players (Barton, Nolan & Enrique) signed onto new contracts and had been told he would have all of the £35million from the sale of Andy Carroll with which to bolster the squad.
While some decent signings have been made with the likes Ba, Cabaye and Marveaux joining the club early in the transfer window, the mood on Tyneside has been repeatedly rocked by bad decisions, bad PR, bad fortune, bad behavior and betrayal.
View the slideshow to see what's gone wrong and what's next for NUFC.
Contracts: The Undermining of Alan Pardew
Alan Pardew claimed at the end of last season that one of his top priorities was getting new contracts for key players Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton.
Unfortunately Joey Barton found there was no contract offer on the table when his agent returned to negotiations, Kevin Nolan could not get the length of contract he wanted and Jose Enrique was offered a 5 year deal but with no pay rise.
This seems like a move by the Newcastle board to reduce the wage bill and suppress a once powerful dressing room.
Where does it leave Alan Pardew though?
The Kevin Nolan Sale
The sale of Kevin Nolan to Championship side West Ham for a fee believed to be in the region of four million pounds was the first staggering and unexpected blow for Newcastle fans.
Captain Nolan was the leader on and off the pitch and had contributed 12 goals the previous season. He was popular with both players and fans and had attained cult status on Tyneside after scoring a hat-trick against Sunderland.
Many understood the clubs reasons for not offering Nolan a lucrative contract that would last until he was 34 but with two years left on his existing contract Newcastle fans had not expected him to leave. The fact that he had been the "poster boy" for the new strip launch added salt to the wounds with many fans already sporting new season shirts with Nolan's name and number on the back.
The damage to dressing room morale and the loss of important goals from a team that had already lost Andy Carroll could be a fatal to Newcastle's hopes next season.
The Pitch Invasion
The first pre-season game of the campaign was marred by a pitch invasion that almost saw the game abandoned.
Over 6,000 fans made the trip down to Darlington stewards, and police were ill-prepared to cope.
It started as playful banter with the reworking of the regular "If Shola scores we're on the pitch" chant for his brother Sammy Ameobi's appearance. However, when Sammy then scored, some fans took the chant a little too seriously.
The scenes that ensued were an embarrassment to the club and a blow to the generally positive reputation of Newcastle's supporters.
As a start to pre-season it was a disaster, injuries to Danny Guthrie and Shane Ferguson only compounded the misery.
The US Tour
Tours of the USA by Premier League teams have become commonplace during pre-season. For Newcastle though it turned into a bit of a disaster.
Before Newcastle even boarded the flight Joey Barton, Nile Ranger and Yohan Cabaye had been denied visas.
When they arrived at Kansas City, while the facilities were superb, the temperatures hampered their ability to train properly. The match itself was a disappointing 0-0 draw with key player Hatem Ben Arfa suffering a bad injury ruling him out for the first few games of the new season.
The trip then moved onto Orlando where Newcastle had to, somewhat controversially, play on a "plastic" pitch. The result was a 1-0 defeat with a very poor performance and an injury to Ryan Taylor.
Newcastle put in a much improved performance against Columbus Crew with a 3-0 win but this game was overshadowed by negative comments about the Newcastle Hierarchy made on Twitter by Jose Enrique.
A final complication came with yet another Visa issue. Cheik Tiote flew from the US to Ghana rather than back to the UK with the rest of the squad to resolve the issue. Details of the problem and Tiote's return date have not been forthcoming and the player has missed a key period of pre-season.
Quite what benefit Newcastle United got from the trip isn't really clear. While Manchester United were banging in goals and entertaining on their tour of the States our relatively poor performances are unlikely to have attracted a vast number of US fans to the cause.
With injuries, interruptions to training due to heat and travel, jet lag and key players being missing from the tour it can hardly be chalked up as a success
Where's the £35 Million?
When Andy Carroll was sold on the last day of the January transfer window Newcastle fans were assured that the money would be re-invested in the team. Fans expected a busy and exciting summer but were nervous based on Mike Ashley's track record - he rarely lets a transfer window go by without turning a profit.
So far Newcastle have brought in Abeid, Cabaye, Ba & Marveaux with only Cabaye commanding a transfer fee - rumored to be around £4.5 million.
With the £35 million from the sale of Andy Carroll, the £4 million from the sale of Kevin Nolan and around £2 million about to be received for Wayne Routledge there should in theory still be around £36.5 million available.
Both Alan Pardew and Derek Llambias have been keen to point out that free transfers cost money in signing bonuses and agents fees and are actually quite expensive - as quoted in The Telegraph in July.
It is hard to believe though that those fees can possibly exceed £10 million in total for the 3 free transfers. Attempts to factor in wages as an extra cost seem underhand when Campbell, Kuqi, Nolan, Routledge and now probably Barton and Enrique have been removed from the wage bill.
Around £7 million has been earmarked for a striker but this still leaves a sizable chunk of the Carroll fee, OK there have been training ground improvements but the figures still don't add up, surely there should also be additional funds from TV, season tickets and shirt sales?
The suggestion that all Newcastle need is one more player is ridiculous with the squad arguably weaker than last season, claiming otherwise simply further undermines Alan Pardew's reputation with the fans.
The Inevitable Departure of Jose Enrique
Jose Enrique has seemed unhappy at Newcastle since the sale of Andy Carroll. After originally stating he would sign a contract when Newcastle were safe from relegation his disillusionment with the way the club is being run seems to have convinced him he would be better off elsewhere.
His Twitter rant seems an engineered step to push the board into selling him. While Newcastle fans will be disappointed to see the talented Spaniard leave it will probably the least surprising departure from Newcastle this summer.
The main concern now is that a suitable replacement can be bought, with Shane Ferguson injured there is no real cover at left back.
The Joey Barton Debacle
It has been clear all summer that there has been trouble brewing between Joey Barton and the Newcastle hierarchy.
With the withdrawal of his contract offer in the summer it would appear that Mike Ashley was keen to see the back of Joey Barton.
Barton may not have helped his cause with his comments on Twitter but in truth Mike Ashley is intent on removing high wage earners and powerful characters from the dressing room. As such Joey Barton was probably top of his hit list.
Joey wanted to stay, there was a genuine feeling that he wanted to repay the loyalty shown to him by Newcastle fans during his troubled times. Newcastle fans have lost another hero and a player who was arguably the clubs best player last season.
More Still to Come?
What's next? With Mike Ashley in charge, I wouldn't really want to guess. Most of the surprise moves Newcastle have made do at least remain consistent with his business plan. Unfortunately for Mike and for the Newcastle fans, football isn't played on a balance sheet.
Colloccini and Gutierrez are both high earners at the club, and Cheik Tiote is probably the most saleable asset. To expect all three to still be at the club next summer would be foolish.
Newcastle fans are running out of heroes at the club and will have to hope that the new signings start well, that Ben Arfa can stay fit, and that somewhere amongst the new additions, Graham Carr has found another gem.
Where Newcastle will finish next season is anyone's guess. On paper they have a good first 11 as long as Enrique is replaced and another striker is brought in. However if Newcastle make a poor start, they will miss the grit, determination and dressing room resolve contributed by the likes of Nolan and Barton.
There is talk among Newcastle fans of further protests against the Mike Ashley regime. They are unlikely to make much of an impact on the thick-skinned billionaire, but a bad defeat in the second game of the season away to rivals Sunderland could see things turn very nasty, very quickly.
Fans no longer have anyone to trust: the owner and the board have betrayed them too often, Alan Pardew is increasingly seen as little more than a puppet manager, and even the local and national press have come under fire for failing to challenge the powers that be at St James' Park.
I'll leave you with one of Joey Barton's more poignant tweets:
"One day the board might realise what the shirt signifies. HONOUR and PRIDE. Thanks for your continued support.......#toonarmy"