Today promises to be yet another stormy day in the troubled recent history of Newcastle United, with the publication of Kevin Keegan’s autobiography. Keegan’s story will read like a road map of four decades of English football, from his glory days at Liverpool to troubled times with England and his metamorphism into Newcastle Messiah; first as a player in the ’80s and then as a manager who took them so close to the Premier League title in 1996.
However, it’s the final few chapters of Keegan’s book that will likely make uncomfortable reading for hierarchy of St James Park, as it will likely dish the dirt on Keegan’s troubled second spell as Newcastle manager in 2008, that lead to him successfully suing the club for constructive dismissal. The serialization that trailed Keegan’s memoir included the revelation that he sneaked into St James Park for a private party of a lifelong fan in disguise to avoid dealing with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley or any of his posse . It’s certainly a sad state of affairs that someone who did so much for Newcastle United felt the need to take such measures when returning to the ground, but it increasingly feels par for the course at Newcastle. Since buying the club eleven years ago, Ashley’s only popular move was to bring back Keegan, but the unravelling of their relationship within a year proved the start of a troubled reign that has become synonymous with fan protests and a failing team.
Tough times on Tyneside
Current manager Rafa Benitez enjoys a similar rapport with the fans that Keegan previously enjoyed. In saying that, Newcastle currently sit winless in the bottom three of the Premier League and are already out of the League Cup. Benitez has grown increasingly frustrated and like the fans he’s made it abundantly clear where he believes the problem lies- the lack of investment in his squad.
Benitez took over a sinking ship from the hapless Steve McClaren in March 2016 andwas brought in too late to avoid relegation. Benitez got Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first attempt and engineered a surprisingly good 10th place finish last season, but now Newcastle look doomed to a return to the Championship at the second time of asking.
Last year Ashley granted a rare interview in which he stated he couldn’t compete financially with Manchester City. He as ever missed the point, nobody expects Newcastle to compete financially with City’s bottomless pit of money, the problem as was proved again this summer is Newcastle aren’t even competing with the likes of Fulham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.
Newcastle were one of only two clubs to turn a profit on their summer transfer deals this summer, with loanee Saloman Rondon and £4million goalkeeper Martin Dubravka the only signings adding significant quality to the team. Meanwhile Newcastle sold misfit striker Aleksander Mitrovic to Fulham for just north of £20 million, after a successful loan spell in West London. Mitrovic thus far has scored 5 goals for Fulham in the Premier League this season, one more than the entire Newcastle squad combined. This was all after Ashley publicly stated at the end of last season that he would give Benitez all the support he could muster, as Newcastle legend Alan Shearer retorted at the time “Copy and paste!” in reference to similar unfulfilled promises Ashley has made to his managers.
The lack of investment isn’t just in the first team, Newcastle’s academy which Keegan and former owner Sir John Hall dreamed of mimicking that of Ajax is in desperate need of investment. Newcastle fans have even taken to social media to show the appalling state of the toilets at St James Park, although the club maintain this was an isolated example and not evidence of under-investment in the stadium infrastructure, it again exemplifies the division that exists between Ashley and the Toon Army.
Hope for the future?
There appeared to be some light at the of the tunnel last season, when businesswoman Amanda Staveley seemed primed to buy the club. No deal materialised and despite claiming he wants to sell the club, Ashley appears in no hurry to do so. Last week former Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon was reported to be pulling together a new consortium to buy the club. I would advise Newcastle fans to treat such stories with scepticism, the ownership crisis at Leeds United dragged on for a decade, reports of prospective investors came and went each season, with only Ken Bates, David Haigh and Massimo Cellino actually buying the club- the words ‘fat’ and ‘frying pan’ often sprung to mind, before they finally found a credible owner last summer.
For now, the Toon are stuck with Ashley and must hope Benitez persuades him to loosen the purse strings in January. Newcastle’s league position is a fair reflection of the quality of their squad and even a top class manager like Benitez can’t keep pulling rabbits out of the hat indefinitely.
Newcastle’s position is made more precarious due to the shake up in the middle of the Premier League, last season below the top six the teams looked very closely matched with n obvious relegation candidates. This season the likes of Bournemouth, Watford, Wolves, West Ham & Leicester looking significantly stronger and already separating themselves from the relegation pack. Of the three teams directly above Newcastle all have more firepower in attack in the likes of Mitrovic, Andreas Schurrle, Glenn Murray and Danny Ings. Newcastle’s position has been made worse by a tough run of fixtures whilst one bright spot is the return to fitness of playmaker Jonjo Shelvey. The creative midfielder has been in and out of the side with a thigh injury and he will be crucial if Newcastle are to avoid the drop.
Keegan’s new book should rekindle some fond memories for the Toon Army, but Newcastle is a club whose fans deserve more than nostalgia.
Picture Credits: The Mag, Sky Sports, BT