It’s perhaps an understatement, but last season was somewhat of a disappointment for Newcastle and it’s legion of fans- they found themselves relegated after months of turmoil under the guidance of Steve McLaren, but with Mike Ashley managing to draft Rafael Benitez into the club late into the season, the Toon Army had their long term faith well and truly restored for the club they love. Many expect the Geordies to bounce straight back up to the Premier League, but will it be as clear cut as many assume?
The Championship isn’t the walkover many may deem it to be- teams such as Birmingham City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, Sheffield United and many more have found themselves languished in the said division (or even worse, League One) after suffering the misfortune of Premier League relegation. There are multiple problematic factors that this league presents sides with. Firstly, sides can lose their key players in the transfer window, purely down to the fact that they don’t see themselves playing in a lesser division. There’s also the fact that many clubs have relegation clauses inserted into their players’ contracts which could result in them suffering a loss of earnings until the club are back in the Premier League, thus effecting the morale of the squad. The sheer demand of the amount of fixtures a Championship campaign presents to them is important to note too- the Premier League season typically lasts for a modest 38 games while the Championship boasts a larger number in the form of 46.
How could this effect Newcastle? Well, certain players have already left the club. Steven Taylor hasn’t had his contract renewed, meaning the veteran defender was available on a free transfer as of the 1st of July, and Andros Townsend officially signed for Crystal Palace earlier in the month. In terms of the rumour mill and deals that could be concluded in the very near future, Georginio Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko are both wanted men, with Liverpool said to be extremely close to Wijnaldum’s signature and Juventus keen on Sissoko. It will be interesting to see whether or not Mike Ashley will gift manager, Rafa Benitez, with the total sum collected from both Wijnaldum and Sissoko.
Will Benitez be able to spend the money from these rumoured sales? Only time will tell- but it certainly seems Mike Ashley has loosened the purse strings as of late, with Newcastle signing Dwight Gale and Matt Ritchie for a rumoured £10 million and £12 million respectively, along with Matz Sels, Isaac Hayden, Jesus Gamez and more recently, the Scottish Captain, Grant Hanley. This hints to me that Benitez is convinced the season will take its toll on his players, hence the signings of so many squad players as of late. With that being said, it also strikes me as a manager that knows more players will be set to leave the club in the near future.
The reality is, with so many players leaving Newcastle and so many arriving, it could take weeks, if not months for these players to bed in, get to grips with tactics and gel. Time Newcastle don’t have if they are hoping to bounce straight back into the Premier League. Ironically however, this is a situation Benitez has found himself in before, but perhaps to a lesser extent. The Spaniard arrived in Naples to manage Napoli at a time when Edison Cavani had moved to Paris Saint-Germain for a staggering £55 million. Benitez, was then given the freedom to spend much of that rebuilding and strengthening the squad. Dries Mertens was the first in the door, quickly followed by Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol, Faouzi Ghoulam, Kalidou Koulibaly, Pepe Reina and Gonzalo Higuain. The players gelled quickly and in a demanding season, Benitez led Napoli to 3rd place in Serie A and a respectful finish in the Champions League group stages. His signings are also proving fruitful for Napoli as a club to this day, with Gonzalo Higuain being linked with a move for over £60 million and Kalidou Koulibaly being touted as a £50 million Chelsea target.
Ultimately, this season is a no win situation in my eyes- that’s perhaps a tad harsh, but many people regard Newcastle as firm Championship favourites, despite there being several other impressive sides in this extremely tough division. Newcastle are expected to win the league with ease and if that happens, the praise will be limited- it will purely be a case of ‘mission accomplished’, whereas if Newcastle find themselves languishing in the play-off positions come May, they could just become another relegated Premier League club. The pressure is on, and this all sets us up for an extremely tense and exciting Championship season!