I was interested to read the excellent article by Jinky Jim on Wednesday, comparing the current Newcastle United situation with those of the past.
Jinky posed the question: ‘Will it be the biggest crisis in the history of the club if Newcastle United takeover doesn’t happen?’
He compared it to those seasons in the past when the team was struggling on the pitch, times when NUFC were relegated and / or almost relegated, such as in 1992 when Kevin Keegan just did enough to prevent the club sliding into the third tier for the first ever time.
However, I got thinking about another kind of Newcastle United disaster – serious opportunities wasted by NUFC.
Here are five stand out ones for me and no doubt you will think of others.
These are my top five in reverse order:
Nobody saw this coming.
The basis of a team that should never have got relegated in 2009, Chris Hughton then bringing in some excellent signings such as Tiote, Ben Arfa and Simpson, before Graham Carr produced his best ever pair of signings, with Cabaye and Ba signed in summer 2011. Then add in a rare bit of mid-season ambition, with Papiss Cisse coming in for an explosive last three and a bit months of the season.
Newcastle ended up fifth but what a wasted opportunity.
Any normal club would have done everything to build on this breakthrough, Mike Ashley did the opposite.
The NUFC owner refusing to allow any net spend in summer 2012, only the mediocre Vurnon Anita arrived with the likes of Fraser Forster sold to finance that deal.
A totally demoralised team / squad was the result and instead of building on a fifth place finish, Newcastle were almost relegated in 2012/13, only reaching safety when winning the last away game of the season at QPR.
To say that Sir Bobby Robson’s departure from St James Park was badly handled, would be a massive understatement.
After PL finishes of 4th, 3rd and 5th, Freddy Shepherd and John Hall sacked Sir Bobby after two draws and two defeats in the opening four matches.
There had been rumours of the owners undermining the manager and wanting him out that summer (2004) but what a mess.
Hall and Shepherd should have been working with Sir Bobby Robson towards bringing in an eventual successor to take over his legacy and give it new impetus. Instead they thought it a great idea to sack him and bring in Graeme Souness.
A team that needed some fine tuning was instead ripped apart by the useless Souness, a relative fortune wasted on Owen, Luque, Boumsong and others, whilst Robson’s team was ripped apart. What a wasted opportunity to build on those three top five finishes and establish NUFC as a top team.
Laughably, some people continue to claim that Mike Ashley ‘saved’ Newcastle United when buying the club.
The truth is, Hall and Shepherd would eventually have sold the club to somebody and it is very difficult to think that these 13 years could have been any worse under somebody else.
The finances weren’t great at the time but with growing Premier League revenues and Newcastle’s fanbase capable of helping to generate more extra cash than most other clubs, an ambitious owner would have had a great platform.
Much is made of NUFC’s debt to Mike Ashley but that debt was simply part of the price of buying the club.
A major part of that ‘debt’ was the £50m or so still owed on the mortgage to redevelop St James Park to 52,000+, that had been secured on future season ticket sales.
When you consider Spurs have had to spend £850m to build their new stadium, Everton potentially needing £500m to build a new ground, how much others such as Liverpool have spent to increase capacity and corporate facilities. Mike Ashley got an absolute bargain and had a great position to build from.
Instead, he refused to spend a penny he didn’t have to on the infrastructure (Academy, training complex, SJP etc) these last 13 years, chaotic and unambitious transfer approach, the only interest in using the club to benefit his retail empire.
Very similar to 2004 up to a point.
Kenny Dalglish was a far more credible appointment than Souness seven years later but Dalglish wasted the Keegan legacy.
Initially did well as he guided KK’s team to second place again, only to fall to 13th in 1997/98.
Dalglish wasn’t the main part of the problem, it was Shepherd and Hall as they wanted to sell the club.
Instead of trying to build on consecutive runner up spots and NUFC becoming the first to qualify for the Champions League by finishing second in the league, the owners were desperate to improve the balance sheet for potential buyers. Les Ferdinand was sold because £6m was too good to turn down for a 30 year old and veteran free transfers Barnes, Rush and Pearce arrived, as well as a number of other budget signings.
Keegan’s team was ageing but a small number of credible signings under a manager more on the same wavelength as KK, could have kept Newcastle at least top four.
1985, 1987 and 1988
Arguably the biggest wasted opportunity of all.
Three local lads who were all world class, going on to find success elsewhere.
Waddle left in 1985, Beardsley 1987 and Gascoigne 1988.
If Newcastle United had been a better run and more ambitious club, a title winning team could easily have been built around this trio.
Which if that had been the case, why would Alan Shearer ever have felt he needed to leave the area…?