Love is Blind
In the summer I attended a mackem wedding, they’re much like other weddings but the speeches feature our relegation more than I’m used to. Aside from that I was often asked why I was so optimistic about the future of Newcastle under Benitez, what with him “taking us down”. That relegation had been coming for years so to think he was to blame was nothing more than point scoring on their part, but my answer wasn’t really about football, it was more about his character and what he represented. He is slowly but surely reinvigorating the club from the training ground and beyond, restoring a pride not seen truly since Bobby and Keegan. He also, more importantly, represents a shift away from those who had systematically cocked everything up. I was optimistic because for the first time in years we had someone that knew what they were doing.
Little did I know a bi-product of his appointment would unleash a set of fans so morally better than all of us that any questioning in the judgement of our new leader would result in a tirade of 140-character smugness drifting towards St. James’ in attempt to make us the most accepting and forgiving fan-base in the country. Bollocks to that.
I realise the difference in tone between these two paragraphs and it’s sort of how the season is going for me. I’m happy with some of the signings, I’m happy with some of the performances. There’s room for improvement in both and I’m probably going to discuss that in some form because as fans, that’s what we do.
More than anything winning matches unifies a fan-base, and on occasion losing can be beautiful too (see Pardew’s dugout prison). Yet no matter the outcome, the debate and opinion of what went right or wrong is what makes the game so universal. Considering debate futile due to the experience of a manager is downright weird — “Can’t wait for the match this weekend, me and the lads are heading out afterwards to talk about the weather and blink in unison at Isaac Hayden’s rest period”.
Rafa Benitez has a record that surpasses most, but his successes and failures are intrinsically linked. A perfect cup manager. Where the margins for defeat are narrow his organisation and conservative attitude to the game puts us in a position to take advantage, with well drilled set plays or by simply having better players. It’s partly why I never wanted him prior to his sacking at Real, an erratic transfer record aside, his style of play was to be respected but never loved.
The lack of pace and creativity within our side is all too apparent and I’m sure he knows this, but how far is he willing to go to change that. I’m all for “if you can’t win, don’t lose” but it shouldn’t be a game-plan, and I’m not saying it is, I’m saying there’s an element of it, and it’s an element which has cost him in the past. The first 20 minutes at Norwich showed an attacking aggression that was empowering and the crowd rightly enjoyed it. It was helped by some of the worst defending we’ve seen yet but we went for it…until the goal went in, setting us up for one of the best endings to a game ever, a nod to the character Benitez is shaping, but definitely questions on performance that led to such a climax.
Some would have you believe that the crowd haven’t been good enough this year. I’d argue that the crowd are a reflection on what they are watching. There will always be people annoyed when drawing at half-time, and there will always be those optimistic at our chances despite not stringing three passes together. The difference now to the likes of the Keegan days is that there are more outlets for them to express this opinion.
You’d be right to think that certain opinions are shaped by ignorance, or video-games, or a need to be controversial. But using these as a basis to label everyone with a concern takes a special kind of obsession. In what world do you live where you don’t think someone wasn’t livid after Grimsby beat us 1–0. That same bloke was probably abusing “wingers” Rob Lee and Gary Speed when they arrived, and I’m fairly sure Nicky Butt wouldn’t have even finished his cuddle with Ferguson in Cardiff before his phone notified him that CarlNUFC69 thought he was a #bender.
Deluded has long been our label. Pundits and other fans have used it against us in an attempt to understand why we wanted to be better. Former managers believed it created such an unsavoury atmosphere that the players were too scared to perform. And now an element of our fan-base seems to agree with Graeme Souness and we should take our portion of the blame. We shouldn’t like.
We should do what we do, go to the match, drink our pints and slur about what went wrong. And if we win, let’s slur about why we won. None of it matters of course, but it’s nice that Rafa makes us believe that it does.