This is supposed to be a dark, depressing time for supporters, staff, and players alike. Players leaving, the financial implications, the prospect of missing promotion and being “stuck” in one of Europe’s toughest leagues: this should feel like a nightmare come to life. But it doesn’t…
Rafa Benitez is staying. Newcastle will be managed by a Champions League winner with an excellent track record, and there’s not a Warnock or Megson in sight. It’s almost beyond belief, but it’s happening, and it’ll give the Magpies a huge boost ahead of a demanding Championship season.
While Rafa’s presence will convince a number of key players to stick around, personnel turnover is inevitable. Dropping into the second tier brings a clear need to balance the books, and Newcastle’s squad is rife with overpaid, under-performing players who can and will be moved on sooner or later.
At the same time, Newcastle don’t want to strip themselves of too many assets. There are a number of bright, promising players throughout the squad who, if retained, could prove vital in the Magpies’ promotion surge.
Here are five players from both ends of the spectrum.
STAY: Jamaal Lascelles
Under Rafa Benitez, Lascelles went from un-fancied benchwarmer to one of Newcastle’s most important players under Rafa Benitez, and emerged as an unlikely hero last season.
The 22-year-old is the type of defender Newcastle fans have been cryingout for for years. Brave, strong in the tackle, and formidable in the air, Lascelles is a rough diamond.
The former Nottingham Forest man lacks finesse and looks shaky in possession, but that’s fine. He has plenty of time to smoothen those jagged edges, and his negative attributes are mostly cancelled-out by his partner Chancel Mbemba’s complimentary presence.
Moreover, Jamaal Lascelles is a bona fide leader. He shot to prominence after a very fiery, very public dressing down of his Newcastle team-mates in April, criticising their lack of effort and calling for the fight, hunger and desire that his play exemplifies.
Is it too early to call him a future NUFC captain? Maybe, but it’s hard to think of a better candidate at this point.
GO: Moussa Sissoko
Newcastle’s number 7 has already indicated his desire to leave St. James’ Park, after playing over 130 games in his three-and-a-half year Newcastle spell, and is representing France at Euro 2016 this summer despite a clear decline in his club form.
Sissoko’s name still carries a big reputation both at home and abroad, and the central midfielder turned winger will find no shortage of suitors.
Signing for a bargain £1.5m in 2013, Sissoko has blown hot and cold. Having taken to English football like a duck to water with a series of dominant league performances, as time passed, his weaknesses became apparent. He’ll still show flashes of brilliance, but his erratic technique and lack of composure in one-on-one situations have stalled many a Newcastle attack and left fans dismayed over the past three years.
Sissoko often cuts a downtrodden, disinterested figure in the black and white stripes. He desperately needs a change in scenery, and should command a decent fee.
STAY: Chancel Mbemba
One of 2015/16’s few bright spots, the Congolese defender arrived at St. James’ Park with modest expectations but quickly became one of the team’s most reliable performers.
He’s had his fair share of poor performances (particularly early in the season), but Mbemba has gradually improved throughout, and looks much more comfortable and assured playing with the bullish Lascelles than he did alongside the meek Fabricio Coloccini.
Regardless, Mbemba deserves great credit for surviving the pressure of being a centreback in one of England’s weakest teams. It would’ve been easy for him to crumble under such circumstances, but Mbemba hasn’t ran from the challenge: he’s relished it, and now looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
GO: Yoan Gouffran
Ahhh, Gouffran: a footballer so milquetoast he makes Coldplay sound visceral, tap water taste like whisky, Stoke-on-Trent seem like Buenos Aires… You get the picture.
Aside from a brief goalscoring flurry towards the end of 2013, Gouffran has never been more than a workrate player, and even that seems to have diminished in recent seasons. He’s played up front, out wide, behind the striker, and as a holding midfielder for Newcastle but rarely looks at home.
Gouffran isn’t a terrible footballer per se, but it’s tough to imagine what he can possibly offer The Magpies in 2016.
STAY: Andros Townsend
Townsend’s £12m January arrival wasn’t exactly met with universal jubilation from Newcastle supporters, but the ex-Tottenham man has established himself as the club’s most potent attacking player. Chipping in with four goals and one assist in 13 Newcastle appearances, Townsend has completely dispelled the caution surrounding his signing.
A classic winger with a wicked longrange shot, Townsend is quick, direct, and loves charging at opposing fullbacks with the ball at his feet. He has his off days, and his crossing can be inconsistent, but the Toon simply can’t afford to lose the England international.
Townsend’s career had stalled badly at Spurs, but he looks completely revitalised starring for Benitez’s men, and he’ll comfortably be one of the best players in the Championship should he choose to stick around.
Recent press mumblings indicate that he’s keen to stay and work under Rafa: here’s hoping they’re right.
GO: Fabricio Coloccini
Captain Colo was well on his way to etching his name into Newcastle United folklore. A calm, collected, and intelligent defender, he overcame a ropy debut season to dominate the Championship in 09/10 and claim a place in the 2012 PFA Team of the Year.
The Bobby Moore comparisons sound ridiculous now, but they were completely justified at the time. Coloccini was the most impressive centre back to play for Newcastle since Jonathan Woodgate, and would’ve surely been deemed a club legend had his outstanding form continued through the years.
Unfortunately, Coloccini has been more focused on engineering a move back to his native Argentina than leading his football team over the past few years. The Coloccini of 2016 is ghost of the player he once was, and at 34-years-old, it’s finally time for him to leave.
His story is a real shame, and a gigantic missed opportunity. The last few years mean Coloccini will likely go down as a disappointment, rather than the cult hero he was en route to becoming.
STAY: Rolando Aarons
2015/16 should’ve been Rolando Aarons’ breakout season. Having impressed in his fleeting appearances during the previous campaign, Aarons should’ve nailed down his position on the left-wing and really made it his own.
Instead, the 20-year-old fell victim not only to Steve McClaren’s turgid, riskaverse management, but a brutal series of calf and ankle injuries. Restricted to just 13 games throughout the season, Aarons still impressed in fits and spurts, and notched a goal and an assist in the Toon’s 51 triumph against Spurs on the closing day.
Long-term fitness is now a major concern, but Aarons remains a wonderfully talented footballer. Playing like a younger Raheem Sterling, Rolando is quick, athletic, and always looking to get on the ball and cause problems.
The potential is there, but he desperately needs game time.
GO: Georginio Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum’s Newcastle career mirrors Moussa Sissoko’s in a number of ways, albeit in a much smaller timeframe. Both came to St. James’ Park with considerable reputations and impressed early-on, only to visibly falloff as their tenures progressed.
Wijnaldum has gone from dynamic, all-action central midfielder to an almost anonymous non-entity in a matter of months, and his downturn has been as disappointing as it is frustrating.
A full Netherlands international, Wijnaldum is an incredibly talented footballer. Despite a turgid second half of the season, he still notched 11 goals goals from the struggling Magpies’ midfield. It’s a hugely impressive stat on-paper, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Had he applied himself more, Wijnaldum’s drive could’ve been a catalyst to propel Newcastle to safety, particularly following Rafa’s arrival.
Unfortunately, Wijnaldum chose to let his head drop rather than standup and fight, and he won’t be fondly remembered if he leaves NUFC tomorrow.
STAY: Ayoze Perez
Ayoze Perez is in a malaise. The undersized Spaniard’s 2015/16 season slowly fizzled out after a bright start, and his performances were nothing short of listless by the season’s end.
Tipped to flourish under Benitez, Perez has under-performed in a big way, and the once fancied prospect was used mostly as a substitute during April and May.
A season in the Championship could do him the world of good. Playing against lesser opposition, and with less expectation on his shoulders, Perez can kickstart his stalling career with strong season in the second tier. He’ll almost certainly get game time: it’s up to him to apply himself.
Perez is a clever player with bags of technique and outstanding dribbling ability, but desperately needs to work on the physical side of his game. He’s lightweight and relatively easy to dispossess, and desperately needs to improve in those departments if he’s to succeed in England long-term.
Still, Perez’ superior technical attributes should be far too much for the Championship’s Grannypunchers and hammerthrowers to deal with. 2016/17 can be the making of him.
GO: Emmanuel Riviere
A modern day Stéphane Guivarc’h, Manu Riviere has notched a whopping four goals in his 31 Newcastle appearances, with just one of those coming in the Premier League.
Riviere’s failings aren’t for want of trying, though. The French forward might be the best all-round athlete among the Magpies’ forwards, and it’s hard to fault his work-rate and character when wearing the stripes.
His weaknesses, however, are glaring. Riviere is constantly let down by his positional sense, first touch and shot technique, and he has all the predatory instinct of your little sister’s pet bunny.
It’s hard to dislike the guy, but he just isn’t every good.