After City’s good win on Saturday – and it was a good win – I’m loathe to bring up the capitulation on Tyneside, but was intrigued by a stat used by a commentator on last Wednesday’s game. It got me thinking about the different paths both Norwich and Newcastle have taken since relegation.
Rafa Benitez has reportedly ousted 31 players that were part of the disappointing relegation side of 2015/16 and just three players remained from the side that beat us 6-2 last season. In contrast to this, eight of City’s first eleven in Wednesday’s fixture were part of the side that lost that game.
Last season, when Norwich were struggling down the bottom end of the table, it became an all too familiar scenario because our squad had barely changed from the last time we found ourselves there. Our marquee signing, Robbie Brady was also poached from a side, Hull City, that had been relegated.
I am less confident commenting on the subject of transfers because it is becoming more obvious that it’s a market where there’s less authenticity than Del Boy’s latest get-rich-quick scheme but we are at a point where our squad is littered with players that have suffered relegation on more than one occasion (and under different managers).
The obvious answer is that they’re not good enough.
Fans will always form attachments to their favourite players and would hate to see them leave the club but there is seldom any loyalty that runs the other way. If a player knew he could get a better deal elsewhere there are perhaps only rare examples of where he would rather stay at their current club – that’s football.
The way the game works is every man for himself and loyalty is just a word – agents, players, managers all know this and most will always be on the look-out for a better deal.
So what could we have achieved if we have sold a bulk of players and reinvigorated the team?
In all reality, this season it won’t make a great deal of difference. The Newcastle game underlined our defensive woes when Timm Klose isn’t in the side and put Alex Neil’s game management tactics into the spotlight but over the course of the season our players will be absolutely fine.
As Rafa says, they’re comfortable being the “head of the mouse”.
It was last season where the problems lie. Again, we are beginning to see how the transfer market is a more complex area to navigate than we perhaps thought but when we failed to breathe new life into a squad that had already been relegated two seasons previous we were setting up to fail.
This year, in an almost a carbon copy of the last time we came down from the Premier League, we have one of the strongest teams and should find ourselves pushing for promotion come the end of the seson. Yet that seems to be the limit for these players – the head of the mouse. Not the tail of the lion and nowhere near the body.
City will not progress as a club and solidify their status as a Premier League club until they replace the Seb Bassongs, the Russell Martins and the Alex Tetteys. They’re all players that can look great in the Championship – and fans with short memories will begin to believe in them again – but they can’t be retained if we get promoted again.
We need to create a team environment that doesn’t look over the shoulder; that doesn’t know what relegation feels like; that doesn’t know what it’s like to throw away games throughout the season and not have the ability to bounce back.
Reading this it will come across as wholly negative but the key point I’m trying to make is that long-term, the management of the squad over the past few years has failed.
We can clearly beat most sides in the Championship and with the squad at hand there’s no doubt they will be pushing for promotion, but there’s something about the current set of players that can’t make the transition into competing in the Premier League.
Rafa was more than happy to clear out the squad and create a winning environment. There’s the short-term problem of losing a few games as the players have to learn their team-mates strengths and weaknesses and the tactics and style of Benitez but the long-term benefit is that Newcastle will be much better off if they get promoted. They’ll have a team ready to compete from day one.
Promotion is a long way off as yet and at the end of the season it might not come but it’s time now to kill off that relegation culture that resides within the squad and reinvigorate a club that should at the very least be the tail of the lion.