AFTER a week spent gawping at the eye-watering excesses of former Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins, it is reassuring to learn that this season’s squad is cut from a different cloth.
The sums squandered by Martins during his frustratingly unfulfilled time on Tyneside – £40,000 of an astonishing £75,000 weekly wage in any single weekend according to a court case that began last week – are a further depressing reminder of the waste that became synonymous with last season’s squad.
With relegation has come a new determination and focus. There are still big earners at United – for the most part fully prepared to roll up their sleeves and restore the club’s former glories, it should be noted – but new recruits are a different breed entirely.
A half-hour chat with one of them – 22-year-old Danny Simpson – proves the perfect antidote to any cynicism that the Martins case might prompt.
Unassuming and polite, there is a sense that Simpson is genuinely grateful to have built “from nothing” a career that has taken him to some of the biggest clubs in England.
“I was born in Eccles, near Salford. I didn’t grow up in a nice area and it had it’s fair share of problems but as I have got older I’ve got away from that,” he said. “Every place has a bad area and that was no different. It makes you the person that you are.
“Coming from nothing makes you appreciate it a bit more when you do become a professional footballer. From nothing to playing in front of 45,000 – it’s a big thing.
“My family were a big thing for me. My mum supported me when I was young and trying to come through and she tries to get to every game that she can. She does make the games near Manchester so she’ll probably be at Preston with my brothers as well.
“It’ll be a big motivation for me. My brothers were all Manchester City fans who gave me plenty of stick about being a United player! But the big thing is they support me and it’s a great boost to have that behind you.”
There is a refreshing modesty about the Manchester United loanee – a refreshing recognition that despite his impressive Old Trafford grounding, he is yet to achieve anything in the grand scheme of things.
He has bounced back from a couple of setbacks in his professional career. Asked to train with the age group below because he was so much smaller than his colleagues during his Academy tutelage at United, it looked as though he might not make it.
He did, but his first Manchester United start against Everton in December 2007 was the stuff of nightmares. Hauled off at half-time after being given a torrid time, he learned from the experience and bounced back stronger for it.
It gave him a greater understanding of what it means to be a footballer, and makes life in the Newcastle “goldfish bowl” that bit more acceptable.
“I’ve been in Newcastle three months and haven’t had a problem with anything. It’s a lovely place,” he said.
“I’m starting to know my way around the place – I don’t need my sat nav anymore! I went to the MetroCentre for the first time this week. I’m not a person for going out so I concentrate on my football during the week but I thought I’d have a look at it.
“As far as I’m concerned you have to do just as well off the pitch as you do on it. You’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to behave yourself and you’ve got to look after yourself too.
“It’s a big part of it and it’s a good lesson if you live in Newcastle. It’s a small city, everyone loves the players and the club and they recognise you as well. You wouldn’t get away with anything round here.
“I do try and stop and talk when fans talk to me. It’s not always easy when things haven’t gone well for you on the pitch or you’ve had a bad day.
“But you’ve got a duty to sign something for them, or say hello. That’s come from Sir Alex Ferguson – the best in the business.
“They tell you when you sign full-time and go to college and do your media training this is the way it’s going to be if you’re lucky enough to make something of football.
“My mates go out and do what normal 20-year-old lads would do but it’s not difficult for me. I know whose shoes they would rather be in.
“I play football for a living – I train with the likes of Kevin Nolan, Nicky Butt, Alan Smith. They’re starting to become my mates so I’m coming into work every day and playing football with my mates for a living. It’s not too difficult to sacrifice that other stuff if it means being able to play football for a living for Newcastle.”
That modesty should not be taken for mental fragility. Having been instilled with a fierce will to win during his Old Trafford days, Simpson embraces the expectation that will follow United this season.
“It was difficult when we went through that period. The lads that we’ve got hate losing, so it wasn’t a nice place to be,” he said.
“When you lose you want it to hurt, and it did. The bunch of lads we’ve got, the morale we’ve got – we bounced back from it really, really well. It says a lot about this bunch of lads.
“We expect to win, we expect to get promoted – that’s the way it is at Newcastle and the way it is at Manchester United as well.”
Although keen to convert his Newcastle loan into a permanent deal, Simpson remains unsure of his next move with Chris Hughton maintaining a poker face both in public and private.
There is something about the collision of Mike Ashley and transfer windows that usually spells catastrophe – but surely even United’s calamitous owner will be able to find the couple of million that it will take to secure Simpson on a long-term deal.
Beyond that, the players believe that extensive recruitment is not required to maintain United’s elevated position.
“Well, we’re top of the league so no I don’t think we need to make loads of signings, not really,” Simpson added. “Whether Chris feels any different, I don’t know. We’re a tight group and that’s working well.
“But we’ve been lucky with injuries – we’ve had one or two here or there but not many – and we’re coping well.
“Maybe after the Christmas period, people will get injured and tired as the season goes on and we’ll need a couple of extra players but we’re doing okay.”