THERE was a rumbling of discontent in the Newcastle United boardroom recently.
Surveying newspapers packed with almost uniformly positive coverage of the club and its hierarchy, a senior figure apparently uttered that he was sick of people blowing smoke up his posterior.
It was – I am assured – a comment made with tongue wedged firmly in his cheek. But the point is a valid one – in the decade since Sir Bobby Robson’s employment was terminated, United have probably never known such sustained good Press outside these city walls.
With United assured of a top-five finish for the first time in almost a decade, even Mike Ashley’s name is no longer being taken in vain on the terraces.
An online Evening Chronicle poll carried out this week put his approval rating above 70%.
The problem is, it can’t last. Not if Newcastle are to continue to employ the business model that has brought them to this point, anyway.
For United’s hierarchy have got to this point by making the sort of decisions which have put them into direct conflict with the club’s supporters – and that means we should be braced for some big and potentially unpopular moves this summer.
It is a big close season for United – and a tough one too.
Until last season, chief scout Graham Carr’s handiwork had passed under the radar, but now Newcastle’s approach is being thrust forward as the model for all Premier League pretenders.
One foreign journalist told me with a chuckle last week that Carr’s appearance at a Dutch game in March had prompted an avalanche of requests from scouts elsewhere in the Premier League.
Whereas before they were battling with Wolves and West Brom for Cheick Tiote, now their presence is a green light for Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham to muscle in.
Those clubs will continue to have deeper pockets, even though United’s finances are no longer a cause for concern.
Ashley’s investment will be prudent – and dreams of him dipping into his personal wealth to fund moves for the next big thing are surely no more than wishful thinking.
Having seen his big idea bear fruit, why would he change course now?
It places a burden on Alan Pardew, who knows next season will be even tougher than this one.
He will get away for a bit in the summer, but he knows that players must not be allowed to drift into the comfort zone.
Similarly, he is aware that he needs to convey a realistic message to the supporters through the media too.
He doesn’t want to temper the enthusiasm generated by United’s stellar season, but an injection of realism is required. Another top-eight finish – plus a run in one of the three knockout competitions they’ll enter – would represent another successful season.
Supporters, hopefully, have heeded that message – and expectations in the transfer market must be tempered.
My information is that Newcastle have already got a couple of players ‘in the bag’ – but with key power brokers at the club desperate to keep identities under wraps, it is difficult to ascertain whether they are the blue-chip arrivals Tyneside craves.
More likely, one is Romain Amalfitano – the 22-year-old winger who will check into the club’s Benton Park training base with little reputation and a point to prove.
As for the other, people keep throwing defensive names at me but it would be most unlike United to sign a player ready to go straight into the first team unless the established name he is replacing has already gone.
Think about it: Newcastle brought in Yohan Cabaye when they knew Kevin Nolan was on his way.
But they didn’t sign a left-back until Jose Enrique had inked a deal with Liverpool – a delay that saw them miss out on two or three priority targets.
I will acknowledge that Europe requires a bigger squad, but if it is Europa League rather than the Champions League the gaps will be filled by those already in the squad. Pardew has already said that Sammy Ameobi, Haris Vuckic and Shane Ferguson will get more game time – while Mehdi Abeid will be expected to rev up progress that has stalled since the turn of the year.
Before then there is the not inconsiderable matter of scrapping for a top-four place on Sunday.
I feel United can sneak into that bracket – but Chelsea’s old-timers could equally wreck it all by turning back the years in Munich. It’s just the sort of cantankerous thing they’d do.