Being a Newcastle United fan must be a wild experience. The late 90s and early 00s were filled with Champions League appearances and the 1996 title race remains one of the most eye-popping conclusions to a season in living memory – who could forget the rollercoaster 4-3 defeat at Anfield in which Liverpool sent the league title back towards their hated rivals at Old Trafford?
Heartbreaking though that was, any Magpies fan would swap it for the last few years, during which any thrill-ride has been of a very different kind, between Premier League and Championship. With Rafael Benitez at the helm for the 2017/18 season, and fresh from winning the Championship, things looked positive for the club. Two defeats from the first two games dampened enthusiasm, but were followed by a three-game winning streak which lifted the club into the top four. That position was always going to be tough to sustain, but few people would have expected that by the middle of December, the club would be back in the relegation zone with Stratabet fancying them to lose to West Ham. And yet, here we are.
In football, seasons can take on their own momentum. A club that gets on a losing streak can see belief sap away and before too long, the low mood feeds a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the club are doomed to relegation. Is that the case for the Tyneside giants? It depends on the following factors.
A Change Of Ownership Needs To Happen. Soon.
Although Mike Ashley found the money to fund six new signings this summer, there is a feeling afoot in Newcastle that this was a belated response to mumblings from Benitez that the manager may seek pastures new if he wasn’t backed with transfer money. There is also a sense that it was too little, too late, as long-term underinvestment on the playing side has left a squad in need of greater surgery. Ashley has made no secret of the fact that the club is now up for sale, and has met with potential investors. So deep is the dislike for the current owner on Tyneside that the mere act of the club changing hands would make the atmosphere on game days much brighter – and could lead to an uptick in results.
Benitez Needs To Find His Mojo. Fast.
While long-term underinvestment is no way to build a club, Ashley’s parsimony cannot have been a surprise to Rafael Benitez, and the fact remains that the Magpies boast a more expensively-assembled squad than fellow promoted clubs Brighton and Huddersfield, who have roundly outperformed them up to now. As a manager who has won the Champions’ League and managed some of Europe’s top clubs, it should not be beyond “Rafa” to oversee a battle back from the brink.
However, this depends on him appearing to want to. Perhaps the departure of Ashley would return a spring to his step, but Benitez has seemed distracted and unenthusiastic for some time. He can’t need the money that much, so perhaps he hides his passion well, but that sharp tactical mind that pulled Liverpool back from 3-0 down to win the Champions’ League in 2005 needs to make a reappearance. If it doesn’t, the Newcastle rollercoaster is set for another precipitous drop – and who knows whether they’ll bounce back so fast this time?