May 29 2012

A Second French Revolution – NUFC

What better way than to begin my time as a sports blogger on The North East HUB than by writing about the club that I love and suffer more than any other?


I write, of course, of Newcastle United FC. For years the basket-case of the Premier League (and briefly the Championship…), who are now the 5th best team in England, qualified for Europe and with a playing-style and a Graham Carr-led, French-focussed transfer policy the envy of much of the rest of the league.

What an amazing transition. A true French Revolution (Newcastle-en-Seine FC now have nine French-speakers on the books!). One built on common sense and a carefully thought-out plan of action. Not two things that you famously associate with this club…

And, by the look of it, this will not just be a one-season wonder either. This week, the club announced the signing of Romain Amalfitano, a 22-year old attacking midfielder, on a free transfer from Reims in France. Once again, this follows the club’s policy of picking up highly-regarded younger players (and Amalfitano has an excellent reputation) for sensible amounts of money (in this case, not a penny!)

This policy, under which Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon, three of last season’s best players arrived at the club, is a masterpiece of sense. All were bought for less than ‘market’ value in the Premier League (in particular, Cabaye looks a steal at £4.5m) and all are young enough that they will improve and, if the time comes for them to move on, then money will be made on them. Graham Carr, the chief scout has been rightly lionised for his work.

The issue of thinking about selling players before they are bought in is one that the club is right to be considering and prepared to address. Newcastle are not a big club. They are a selling club, who, if an undeniable bid comes in for a player (see Andy Carroll and the madness of the £35m Liverpool stumped-up for him…), will sell and then re-invest. Too many clubs refuse to accept the reality of the transfer market, where players should be seen as a source of revenue and sustainability to smaller clubs.

And let’s be honest; it’s a rare player who will stay at a smaller club when one of the big-hitters dangles a big contract and promises of European success in front of them? The days of player loyalty (which I sometimes wonder whether they were all that they were cracked up to be…) are gone and most players, aware of the brevity of their careers and with an understandable desire for success and proving themselves, will want to move on.

I have always said clubs should not fight it if a player wishes to leave. What’s the point in keeping a disgruntled player, whose attitude can only undermine the team and damage dressing-room harmony? Better to cash in, sell them and use the money to bring in someone else.

The Toon have already shown the benefits of this strategy. The sales of Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton (key players in the club’s promotion and Premier League survival) raised money for the club, allowed other players to flourish and led to a much better way of playing football. Plus, it got Barton out of the club. Joey Barton being, of course, the Twitter-philosopher and convicted violent criminal, who was recently banned for 12 games for his shameful actions against Manchester City, where he assaulted one player, head-butted another and had to be dragged off the pitch.

Indeed, everything at the club’s on-pitch operations points to a sensible, well-ordered team. They play excellent football now; Alan Pardew has shown himself to be an astute tactician, changing systems to get the best out of his team and the club, which once leaked like a sieve with rumours and back-biting is now quiet.

Much praise has been given to Pardew and it is well-deserved. I was sceptical when he first arrived, not seeing him as an improvement over the admirable Chris Hughton. However, he has done a splendid and sensible job. Never-better was this shown in his handling of Ben Arfa, a strikingly-talented footballer, but one with a reputation for being difficult. Having left several clubs under a cloud, I was fearful about what he would be like at Newcastle, especially early in the season, when he wasn’t playing regularly. But, under Pardew’s control, he is working harder than ever, fitting into the team and his performances have been so good as to warrant his return to the French national team.

After many years of shame, I am now genuinely-proud to admit to being a Newcastle United fan. Even before their unexpected, but thoroughly-deserved league success, I was proud of this happier, well-run and ‘adult’ football team, which is living within its means and trying to be sensible. I am very proud.

Now the trick is going to be continuing this Second French Revolution. And making it a better-success than the last one…

© 2012 Mark Tindle

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