CHRIS Hughton believes Newcastle United will come back into the Premier League a much better team than the one which left it.
With few changes since last season, and owner Mike Ashley’s transfer restrictions tying Hughton’s hands this summer, the Magpies squad which resumes life in the top-flight next August is not expected to be drastically different from the one relegated in May 2009. But while the faces may not have changed much, Hughton believes the likes of Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith and Fabricio Coloccini will be much improved for their Championship sabbatical.
Nolan is yet to show the form which catapulted him to the fringe of the England squad as a free-scoring midfielder with Bolton playing Premier League football for the Magpies.
Similarly, Smith and Coloccini looked anything but former Manchester United and Deportivo La Coruña players respectively when they last played top-flight football at St James’ Park.
They are by no means the exception to the rule, with the likes of José Enrique, Jonás Gutiérrez, Danny Guthrie and Shola Ameobi all massively improved during Newcastle’s title-winning season.
The negative view is that they have “found their level” in English football’s second tier – but unsurprisingly, Hughton takes a more charitable perspective. “I genuinely feel we will be better for this season (just gone), albeit at a lower level,” the manager insisted.
“I think the confidence generated from this season will stand us in good stead.
“What we have had this season is a team playing with a lot of confidence. We know we’ve been doing it at a different level but you would rather have that bit of confidence and momentum than not.
“Now we want to build on it. We’re aware it’s a tough league we’re going into and we’ll have to strengthen in some areas.”
For many newly-promoted teams the
emphasis is on infusing their sides with those who have been the course and distance in the Premier League.
But after relegation 12 months ago the Magpies gambled on keeping their squad largely intact and it paid off, giving Hughton a slightly freer hand in terms of the experience of the players he looks to recruit.
“I think the fact we have plenty of Premier League experience in that dressing room is something in our favour,” he acknowledged. “They know how tough it is going to be next season.”
If there are doubts about winger Gutiérrez’s ability to transfer his not inconsiderable talents to English football’s biggest stage, Diego Maradona does not appear to share them.
The Argentina manager seemed to show his hand ahead of the World Cup, strengthening the already widely-held view that Gutiérrez (pictured far right) will be in his starting line-up against Nigeria on June 12.
With the exception of star player Lionel Messi, left on the sidelines to nurse a knee injury, the side which beat Canada 5-0 in Monday’s friendly appeared to be Maradona’s first-choice XI.
Gutiérrez played the full 90 minutes in a midfield featuring Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano and Maxi Rodriguez.
The latest player to be linked with Newcastle is out-of-contract Bayern Munich midfielder Hamit Altintop. While the Turkish international seems happy to leave the Allianz Arena after Franck Ribery this week signed a new contract with Bayern, it is hard to imagine the Magpies being prepared to match the 27-year-old’s wages, further inflated by his free transfer status and appearances in the Champions League semi-final and final.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s official website has cautioned the London club’s fans: “There will be lots of transfer speculation this summer, and take the Steven Taylor rumour (that the defender will join the Gunners from Newcastle) with a pinch of salt.”