The moment that summed up Newcastle United’s sorry season for me came on Saturday as the team trudged around a half-empty St James’ Park for a supposed lap of honour.
Alan Pardew was nowhere to be seen as the team walked around the pitch but Hatem Ben Arfa was there, soaking up the applause. He has fallen out with the manager to the extent that he’s watching the games from the stands but there he was on a pitch that his manager wouldn’t dare to tread on for fearing of getting booed or jeered by the supporters.
That isn’t right but it says so much about the situation at Newcastle at the moment. It’s turned into a bit of a comedy up there in the last few weeks – but no one who cares about that club is laughing at the moment.
There were a few pundits saying on Saturday that Newcastle’s supporters had let their club down by walking out on 69 minutes but I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. They have every right to make their voices heard and I thought it was a really, really powerful message that they sent to the owner and the manager.
Walking out will not have come easily to those supporters because the club means everything to those supporters. The alternative would have been to completely boycott the game and for the team to walk out into an empty stadium but I just don’t think that your average Newcastle supporter could give up on the team so the 69th minute walk-out was an effective way to show how unhappy they are with things.
I fully support their right to protest and anyone at Newcastle who is unhappy with it should look at the reasons for it before condemning them for walking out.
I think that the crowd reaction has made it almost impossible for Alan to continue as Newcastle manager. He is not daft and he will know that he can’t be in charge of a team when the fans are walking out on 69 minutes. He will never walk out because he has a contract at Newcastle and it is a big job but at any other club in the world he would have been sacked by now and that is a fact. The only thing keeping him on is Mike Ashley and how he runs the club.
Alan’s defence will be that he delivered a top ten finish but that shouldn’t fool anyone.
With this same group of players, the same manager and the same atmosphere surrounding the club next season Newcastle United will be relegated. There is nothing surer than that.
The noises in recent weeks from Alan have been that he will stay on and he wants to rebuild and if that is true then he has to be backed. Mike Ashley cannot have it both ways – if he wants to keep Alan in charge then he can’t hang him out to dry again this summer.
Newcastle need four or five signings in the close season and for me, they have to go for players who know British football. They have moved totally away from that recently and I think the limitations of it have been shown up.
To be quite honest, the players have got away with it in recent weeks and that shouldn’t be forgotten when Newcastle try to assess where they should go in the summer. I would like to see a dressing room next season that has more experience in it, and more people who know what the Premier League is all about and are able to react when things start to go wrong.
Newcastle could probably get that for £20million. I’d look at Joleon Lescott of Manchester City, who is a fantastic defender on his day.
Then I’d look at Tony Hibbert at Everton who might be available this summer – and Gareth Barry too, who has proved his critics wrong at Everton this season.
Some fans might turn around and say they’re too old but look at the success of Everton. It’s about getting a balance and Newcastle already have some of that flair in there in players like Ben Arfa, Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote. It’s about helping them about with a few players who know their way around the division.
I’d also like to see some wingers in there too. Someone like Andros Townsend would be a good fit and then you’re looking at a midfield of Hatem Ben Arfa on the left, possibly Jonjo Shelvey and Cheick Tiote in the centre and Townsend on the right. That’s a good, young midfield with a decent balance and plenty of players who can create something in there.
The most important thing is that they do something. Four or five players is a minimum as well as rooting out those who aren’t contributing anything or challenging the first team. Newcastle need to make their players feel a bit uncomfortable again.
If you know you’re going to play week in, week out you do drop a level. Too many of those players have known they are going to play every week and you can see their performance levels drop.
The Ben Arfa situation is an example of why Alan’s situation is pretty much untenable.
Under this manager, Ben Arfa has to go because he will be poisonous in that dressing room now.
He won’t play and can you imagine him on a pre-season tour, taking calls from his agent about teams being interested in him? He is a real problem for Alan who can’t afford to play him because he will look weak if he brings him back into the squad after everything that has been said and done in the last month of the season.
If Alan goes, suddenly the picture changes and Ben Arfa is like a new player for Newcastle next season. He will be involved again, he’ll be playing and you might see him shift that weight and really start to turn it on next season again.
If that happens, Newcastle have suddenly got a potential world beater in their squad and the job they have to do over the summer changes. They have some big calls to make.