A new football season is a time for optimism, and this year there is no reason why it should not extend to St James’ Park.
There are still issues to be resolved, but with 18 days’ trading still to go, time to put many of them right. An opening-day game against Manchester City can rain on any parade but after a miserable second half of last season, things are starting to look a lot more cheerful. They could scarcely not.
The squad has been infused with exciting youngsters and – in the case of Siem de Jong and Daryl Janmaat – proven talent. There is a vibrancy and zest about Newcastle United which was lacking earlier this year. The signings of Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles – both loaned back to Nottingham Forest – have already guaranteed next season’s squad will have some fresh blood too.
The club and its manager remain alienated from its fans. Their refusal to take cup football seriously is a major issue unlikely to be resolved.
But the reaction to the deaths of John Alder and Liam Sweeney as they flew to New Zealand to watch their team in pre-season has bonded a club divided by the walk-outs and protest matches of the previous campaign. The tragedy was a timely reminder of priorities.
And at least owner Mike Ashley has been prepared to reinvest some of the vast amounts of money he has creamed off his club. In an ideal world Newcastle would be treated to a steady stream of investment rather than shopping sprees a window too late, but this transfer window feels more positive as a result.
The Magpies have lost one of the best right-backs in the Premier League, yet there has scarcely been a murmur. Perhaps – hopefully – learning the lessons of January, the club did not rubber-stamp Mathieu Debuchy’s move to Arsenal until his replacement was secured.
At around half the price of Debuchy, Newcastle have bought a player of comparable quality.
Janmaat may not have been tested in Europe’s top leagues – just as his predecessor was not when he belatedly arrived in January 2013 – but it is only a matter of weeks ago the 25-year-old played in a World Cup semi-final for the Netherlands. De Jong is also a Dutch international and, although his form was not good enough to make the plane to Brazil – he did, in his defence, have Wesley Sneijder for competition – he looks a much better addition to the squad than his unconvincing brother Luuc was in the previous window. De Jong was Ajax’s captain, and reproduced his domestic form on the Champions League stage.
The Premier League is a different challenge, but he looks a good vice-captain and a capable replacement for Yohan Cabaye in the No 10 role. Remy Cabella was earmarked for that in January, but with Marseilles fighting relegation and Newcastle over a barrel, the Magpies were unprepared to pay the premium which would have brought him then. Better late than never.
With De Jong in the ranks he may have to learn his trade out wide, which is probably no bad thing.
Jack Colback is not a glamorous addition, but the free signing from Sunderland is a tidy midfielder and – not to be sniffed at – a Tynesider. Emmanuel Riviere, Ayoze Perez and the on-loan Facundo Ferreryra are classic Ashley signings – young, hungry and cheap. It would be a surprise if all three forwards were a success, but at a combined cost well short of £10m, one would represent a satisfactory return, two a bonus.
Such make-do-and-mend signings are no substitute for proven class and Newcastle are still to adequately replace Loic Remy. They have not stopped looking, though, with Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette high on their list.
Assessing any club’s chances before a new season is a perilous job with so much capable of changing until the transfer window closes. Take away Cheick Tiote without adequately replacing him and the squad will take on a different look.
But the chequebook might not be the answer to Newcastle’s goalscoring problems. The Papiss Cisse of his debut season can make light of Remy’s absence. Last season’s pale imitation will only compound it. Likewise, 18-year-old Jamaican winger Rolanda Aarons has had the sort of pre-season to suggest he can have a big impact in the coming months.
While he can hardly be classed as home-grown, having been signed from Bristol City a few years ago, it is always pleasing to see a teenager come through. His potential is another good reason to get excited.
Pardew needs a good start to the season. He is lucky to still be in the job after the poor results and even poorer behaviour with which he ended the previous one.
With so many players new to the Premier League, hitting the ground running will be difficult – moreso when your first game is against the champions. But hopefully the positivity the new faces engender can make up for that.
When St James’ Park is happy and united, it can carry the Magpies an awfully long way.