Ever since I’ve been watching professional soccer, I’ve always thought Newcastle United were one of those “nearly” teams. Personally, I’m a little young to remember the clubs successful period in the early part of the twentieth century, but I can certainly remember them challenging the top teams consistently over the last 20 years.
I was fortunate enough to watch Kevin Keegan take them tantalizingly close to the 1995-96 league title where they came within a whisker of becoming champions. Had Keegan not presided over a spectacular collapse at the back end of that season and surrendered a 12 point lead to Manchester United, then Newcastle would have done something even Liverpool haven’t been able to manage: win the Premier League title.
This was a Newcastle team bristling with quality in the form of Faustino Asprilla, Les Ferdinand David Ginola, and the recent £15 million acquisition of Alan Shearer. Newcastle, so it seemed, had the world at their feet.
Unfortunately, Keegan resigned in September 1997, citing that he had taken the club as far as he could take them. His replacement, Kenny Dalglish, only succeeded in getting Newcastle eliminated from the Champions League, the FA cup and bestowing a 13th place finish on them.
Since then, a succession of managers in the forms of Graham Souness , Glenn Roeder and Bobby Robson have come and gone yet Newcastle have struggled to mount a serious challenge for either competition.
In 2007, Freddy Shepherd sold his shares in the club to Mike Ashley who, despite being vilified by some supporters, has actually stabilized the sinking ship that was Newcastle and implemented a new transfer policy. This new policy involved buying players for modest fees and rewarding them with improved contracts if they were successful.
As a result, Newcastle have begun to show glimpses of the form that carried them into last year’s Europa League. Provided Newcastle can prolong this recent philosophy and keep the positive energy flowing through their players’ veins, then the future for the Toon Army looks like it could be extremely gratifying.
I do think that although Newcastle have struggled for consistency this year, they are starting to show some green shoots of recovery and their current squad is capable of competing with most teams in the premier league.
Alan Pardew is a no nonsense manager who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Couple this with the recent influx of French imports and possibly the addition of a striker in the summer, and Newcastle may yet surprise the doubters with a sustained push for a Champions League place.
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