Newcastle may have had their ups and downs in recent years, but generally things seem to have been going well on Tyneside lately. After returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking in 2017 by winning the Championship title, the club solidified their top-flight presence with a good 10th placed finish. Having retained the services of popular manager Rafa Benitez, the club have seemed to be back in the ascendancy – and have continued their rise despite possessing what many called a “Championship team”. There have been cracks slowly emerging over the course of the summer, however, and nowadays the fog on the Tyne seems to be descending once again as the club’s internal struggles bubble over into the public eye.
Most recently there have been rows relating to bonuses, and as a result the players have been refusing to speak to the media – including Premier League broadcast rights holders such as Sky. While the first team have insisted this is nothing personal against the media but simply a symptom of their disagreement with the club, it does highlight that things are not all well at St. James’ Park. Of course, 12 months ago things seemed to be heading in a very similar direction, with owner Mike Ashley only reaching an amicable agreement with the players about bonuses shortly before the campaign kicked off. This time they seem to be leaving it even later, however – and some of the quotes coming out of the club relating to the issue seem ready-made for future “Newcastle’s season – a timeline” type of article.
Last time, Lee Charney could not come to an agreement with the board and Ashley had to step in and lay down the law in order to resolve the matter. He negotiated directly with Jamaal Lascelles (the club captain) and things were sorted out. While Benitez holds faith that something similar will happen this time as well, the fact that the issues are so much more pronounced doesn’t seem to bode well. When the media turned up at St. James’ Park for a so-called “open day”, they were met with individuals refusing to communicate with them whatsoever. Sky were even shunned when it came to recording the “walk up” shots which air ahead of most televised games over a formation / tactic background.
Even Newcastle’s own in-house television channel has been met with a brick wall upon any requests for some time with the players. Benitez’s post-match discussions with the press have been incredibly cagey (to use a cliche), on occasion even to the point of being one-word answers. The Spaniard has admitted that he doesn’t know which players will be coming or going before the end of the transfer window, and as a result you would surmise that this makes serious planning for the season ahead an incredibly difficult job to do. Newcastle really are a great club, but sometimes the internal decision making reflects in a bad light and neutrals find room to pick a joke or two. If things continue to go downhill, however, the great support the club has will be all too aware that this is no joke.
Every time the club seems to find a steady footing and get ready to build for the future, something comes along and hampers them. If this issue isn’t resolved quickly, there is a real risk that the Toon Army could be in for a long season indeed. They recently concluded a deal to bring Salomon Rondon in from West Brom, but popular striker Dwight Gayle went in the other direction, both on a season-long loan. Yoshinori Muto has come in from Mainz for around £9.5m, and Ki Sung-Yueng arrived on a free from relegated Swansea. The new faces are coming in, but the question is whether or not they are ready to knuckle down and do battle throughout what could be a tough season on Tyneside.
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