Another day, another fresh jab in the ribs for Newcastle United’s bruised supporters.
Alan Pardew’s 116-word prepared statement was never going to answer the fog of confusion that has settled over St James’ Park.
The implied defence of Joe Kinnear was curious and the implication that Newcastle’s “strong squad” is a cause for “optimism” flies in the face of the public messages radiating out of the manager’s office over the close season.
But it was an indication of the route forward for Newcastle: cobbled together consensus. At a club where the powerlines are fractured, it is probably the only way.
Whatever accusations you want to level at the manager, at least he is constantly subjected to scrutiny. In the search for answers, two men stayed silent yesterday and one – the owner – has more questions than most to answer.
Into the inevitable vacuum tumble a set of theories about Mike Ashley’s intentions. The most popular is that he is preparing the club for a sale but a source close to Ashley gave that very short shrift yesterday.
The Mag fanzine published an email from a contributor claiming a Ukranian billionaire – Mikhail Fridman – was preparing a bid. It was shot down instantly by someone with knowledge of Ashley’s intentions.
Those willing to mount a public defence of the owner were in short supply yesterday, but those same knowledgeable sources have suggested that it was not a lack of intention that prevented Newcastle from buying.
Supposedly a green light was offered to the club’s transfer team after their summit aboard Ashley’s yacht with moves sanctioned for at least three senior players. Pardon the sailing pun, but the decks were cleared for a striker arrival and a left winger – as well as two ‘for the future’. None arrived but money was most assuredly available for “real quality”.
The evidence proferred for this is that the owner financed bids for Patrick Aubameyang, Bafetimbi Gomis and a sprinkling of younger players. There was also talk of a left-winger coming in as Pardew begins to look at life after Jonas Gutierrez.
Kinnear was a major complication and the fault for that is traced back to Ashley because it was his decision. Newcastle insiders, however, talk of an unexpectedly tough trading conditions for their preferred targets that muddied the waters even further.
An extra complication, for example, was wages. Newcastle were staggered by the requests of some of their targets and the club did not want to jeopardise the chemistry of the dressing room by offering new arrivals upwards of £20,000-per-week more than the next biggest earner.
A source said: “Some of the stick the owner has been getting is not really warranted.”
There are promises of January business but Newcastle supporters would be forgiven for pointing out that business was needed now. The other problem is that the club is riven by factions, with the addition of Kinnear creating rather than salving problems.
The director of football’s position looked almost untenable after he stumbled through the summer, but we awaken to an even more worrying poser this morning: just what will Kinnear be doing now?
Upon his appointment he talked of casting a neutral eye over every aspect of the club, from recruitment right through to the Academy and reserve teams.
It must be said, the club probably needs something like that. Too many young professionals at the club have stagnated in recent years and Ashley’s concerns are traced back to the period when Pardew first came in when Newcastle were casting around for a centre-back in the wake of injuries to Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor.
When Ashley pointed out that the club had young professionals who could play that position on their books, he was told they weren’t good enough.
That point seems to have stuck with him.
Kinnear could have done these things but he has spent precious little time in Newcastle. He even cut short a visit last week that was meant to extend through until Monday – catching an early Friday train and skipping the Fulham match. Without knowledge of the first team – or even reserves – how can he proclaim himself an authority on the club?
What Kinnear seemed to do throughout the summer was to position himself as a head of recruitment. The problem is Kinnear is not a scout and will never be one, as he found out to his cost when putting players into the management team.
There were one or two suggestions yesterday that he himself had been surprised by the way the game had changed since he’d been away. While other scouts and agents knew every player inside out, Kinnear was catching up on the hoof. Recruitment is a complex business these days.
The problem was that Ashley never defined the role.
Kinnear’s experience in the game bought him time in Ashley’s company and a certain amount of trust that he has not repaid.
The only way he can possibly make this work now is through hard work.
Painstaking, grinding and meticulous planning and preparation would be a start: running an investigation into the way every single footballing operation is carried out. That means starting from the Academy coaching and working right through to recruitment.
Not interfering but just integrating himself so that he has actual authority and knowledge of the football club he is employed by.
It will require incredible effort, a toning down of his ego and almost certainly mean a full-time move to the North East.
It is the least a club of Newcastle’s stature requires. If he can’t offer those assurances, he should say his goodbyes.