One of the biggest questions in English football is just how Newcastle United have reversed their turbulent fortunes. Their best players – Enrique, Carroll, Barton and Nolan – were sold and replaced with seemingly inferior French non-entities. Newcastle’s unexpected subsequent success built around low profile French acquisitions has gone as far as to merit an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Soccer’s Cut Price Revolution.”
The current state of affairs is a far call from the trophy signings of the Freddie Shepherd era, when Newcastle became a dinosaur’s graveyard for the likes of Patrick Kluivert and Michael Owen. High fees and astronomic wages resulted in relegation and financial misery.
Now, defying expectation, at lunch time on Saturday Newcastle jumped above Man United and into second place in the Premier League. It’s hard to judge how good a team is with no household names but Newcastle are doing what good teams do – consistently seeing off inferior opposition in a workmanlike inevitable fashion.
The backbone of the team -Tiote, Coloccini and Cabaye represents one of the best spines in the league. Tiote and Cabaye must be the envy of Alex Ferguson who lacks the kind of midfield bite and industry that this emerging duo offers. Whereas Fergie looked to buy Sneijder for around £30 million, Newcastle picked up Cabaye and Tiote for a relative pittance.
The French foreign legion – Cabaye, Obertan, Ben Arfa and Marveaux – all look like worthy additions to the Newcastle squad. But it may be too easy to say Newcastle have tapped a cheap French market. True, Cabaye looks to be the buy of the season, gleaned directly from the French league, but Ben Arfa has been unfortunate with injury so has rarely played, Obertan was bought from Man United, and Marveaux has mainly featured on the subs bench.
The secret to Newcastle’s success runs deeper; for the first time they have a team who work for each other, something of a rarity in the champagne world of Premier League football. The Premier League is burdened with high profile superstars and inflated egos. Playing for personal glory outweighs personal sacrifice. Individual flashes of brilliance are put above the continental style team ethic which is based on a subtle form of ‘technical ability.’ Barcelona’s Xavi and Iniesta are understated superstars plying their trade in a pass and move team game. Get the ball and give it quick is their ethos.
For a long time the British had a warped view of what technique actually was. A sublime volley or an overhead kick was tagged as technical ability.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew values genuinely technical players blessed with first touch, a quick pass and clever movement. Add to this a relentless work rate; Cabaye and Gutierrez are two of the hardest working players in the league. They both have undoubted ability but base their games on discipline, industry and pass and go football.
Newcastle are not modelled in the style of Barcelona or Spain in the fact that they haven’t adopted the modern 4-2-3-1 system, although they are fluid. The key to their success is largely due to an unshakeable team bond and a willingness to sacrifice for the cause, mixed with affordable ‘technical ability’ in its most genuine sense.