Why Newcastle United Are the Premier League's Reply to the Tampa Bay Rays
As the Premier League's most impressive team of the 2011-12 season, Newcastle United have really turned some heads under Alan Pardew and company.
Emerging now as a genuine top five team, Newcastle have regained their place amongst England's great teams, and the future is looking very bright indeed.
One parallel that can be drawn against Newcastle's rise this past season is that of the Tampa Bay Rays in baseball a few years ago.
From management to transfer policy and even to the surprise factor of the arrival of both teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Newcastle United are a great cross-sport comparison.
I'm going to take you through the main reasons why this is the case.
As I alluded to in the introduction, the surprise factor of the emergence of both teams is the most striking similarity.
The Tampa Bay Rays had never made the playoffs in their 10-year history before their fairy tale run to the World Series in 2008, and not a single person expected it to happen.
The Rays had simply been dismal for their entire existence and had never even recorded a winning season, nevermind winning their division.
That all changed when they completely revamped the franchise, changing their name from the Devil Rays to the Rays and unveiling a new uniform with a new colour scheme.
As for Newcastle, no-one could have expected a team who had so recently been promoted to the Premier League to compete for a place in Europe so soon, but the Magpies somehow managed to do this.
Newcastle's revamp, so to speak, came with their promotion, when they switched uniform providers from Adidas to Puma, changed the name of their stadium and came back into the Premier League with an almost completely different squad to the one they had had before relegation.
Both clubs are famous for their policies with signing players - picking up players on the cheap and making calculated moves in the offseason.
Just last offseason, Newcastle picked up a star trio of players in Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Davide Santon for a grand total reported to be only £9.3 million—an unbelievably low figure in football terms to bring in such talented players.
The Rays, unlike Newcastle, had been a low-spending team for their entire history (mainly due to the size of their market) and actually increased their payroll quite a bit ahead of their 2008 emergence, but their overall team salary of $43 million that year still managed to rank in the bottom two in all of baseball, ahead of only the Florida Marlins.
Still, Tampa managed to bring in Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Tony Percival on relatively good deals, as well as signing pitcher David Price (although they did end up paying him the third-highest guaranteed salary in MLB Draft history).
Beating out Higher Spending Opposition
Not only did both clubs spend very little money themselves to fund their success, but they also beat out teams which have had virtually unlimited financial resources at their hands to get where they are.
Chelsea had only recently purchased Fernando Torres from Liverpool for £50 million and Liverpool—using those funds—brought in Andy Carroll from Newcastle for £35 million in January, as well as going on a reckless transfer spree in the summer.
Liverpool's combined expenditure on Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing actually added up to a value higher than that of Newcastle's entire squad put together, and still Newcastle finished 13 points clear of them.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay constantly have to face the world-famous spending of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox (whose owner John Henry unsurprisingly also owns Liverpool) in order to compete for the AL East title.
In 2008, when the Rays ended up as division champions, both Boston and New York had total payrolls ranking in the top three in baseball.
Letting Go of Star Players
As part and parcel of having little money and high spenders surrounding them, both the Rays and Newcastle have had to try and stay competitive despite losing star players to other teams.
The Rays have a ridiculously long list of star players who they've lost via free agency and in trades, including Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, Aubrey Huff and even a young Josh Hamilton, who was the AL MVP in 2010 and is a leading contender for the award this year.
Despite all this, the Rays have stayed with it, and as of right now, they sit only two games behind first in the AL East.
Up until their relegation, Newcastle had been one of the Premier League's highest spenders and an attractive option for big name players, but since 2009 they've lost Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Damien Duff, Sebastian Bassong, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, Jose Enrique and on top of that, fan favourite Andy Carroll and have still managed to qualify for the Europa League in 2012.
Good Youth/Minor League Systems
In order to survive this mass exodus of players, both teams have needed to bring in and produce great young talent, and both have done just that.
From Evan Longoria to David Price to Matt Moore, Tampa Bay has always unearthed great talent to keep them competitive.
Perennially having high draft picks up until recently has been a major contributor to this, but you really shouldn't discount their eye for young talent and their developmental system in the Minor Leagues.
The Toon have done their fair share of developing young players as well, with Tim Krul, Steven Taylor and the Ameobi brothers all playing a huge part in Newcastle's recent successes.
Last, but not least, both teams have benefited most prominently from their brilliant managers.
With 500 career wins, Joe Maddon has long been considered one of the best managers baseball has had to offer, and his time with the Tampa Bay Rays has proved this.
Maddon won the AL Manager of the Year award not once, but twice, in 2008 and 2011, to go with his four consecutive winning seasons between those years.
It's a slightly different story for Alan Pardew, who was much-criticized upon his arrival on Tyneside as nothing more than an average manager, but he's proved all of his doubters wrong with his most recent campaign with the club.
Pardew became this year the first English manager to win both the LMA and Barclays Manager of the Year awards in a single season.
The foundation of both teams is undoubtedly their award-winning managers, and as long as they stay in place, both the Rays and the Magpies will stay at the top of their respective sports for years to come.