I make my return to blogging after four months by discussing the Newcastle situation. It was hard keeping my website deactivated when so much was going on, but the reasons for doing so were good, and justified the decision. Now, I get to have a good ol' rant.
It’s been a good four months since I last published a blog, and in that time, I deactivated my website. I did this for two reasons, one of which I’ll write about in the near future. The second of which will be obvious to anyone who has been inundated with my amateur attempts at marketing on my social media – I have finished and published my mental health novel, Dancing With Disorder.
I don’t want to write too much about it, because most people that read this blog have already heard enough about it for now, so I’ll just say that it has been a long process to write this novel, and I’m glad it’s over. I have so much emotion invested in this story that it has been draining to write – indeed, certain parts of the book were so intense that I had to take regular breaks in the back yard to avert panic attacks – and now that it is finished, it is a relief I do not need to write about it again. What’s also true, though, is that I am immensely proud of this book. I am, by far, my own biggest critic, and often look back on my old writing and cringe. I will never do that with Dancing With Disorder. It is the best story I could have written that covers the issues it does, I have maximised its potential, and I don’t feel anybody has written a better book around the subject of mental illness ever.
That I keep reading it, after an intense editing process, speaks a lot about the quality of the book. Before I am a writer, I am a fan, and this book is worth your time. My obviously-biased partner claims it is the best book she has read since Flowers For Algernon, which is high praise indeed, but must be tempered with the fact it came from someone so emotionally-attached to the book. Mind, she rarely reads my blogs and she’s never read the FPL Nightmare books, so for her to say that actually means something to me. She knows how important this book is to me, so if it wasn’t worthy of the praise, she’d tell me so I didn’t embarrass myself.
I hope you give it a chance, because I really do believe it is worth your time, and I’m desperate to hear what people think about it. If you do buy it, please leave a review on the Amazon page, because it helps us unknown writers so much. For all the emotional themes within the book, I believe it’s the humour and the heart that will stick with you the most.
In my time away from the site, an awful lot has happened over at St. James’ Park. Mike Ashley has left the club, taking with Steve Bruce with him. I’m not happy about the Saudis owning us, the reasons for which I outlined in my blog The Death of Hope last year, but it is what it is, and there’s very little any of us can do about it except focus on the football and hope the increased media focus on the Saudis influences positive change over there. Even if the effect of the increased scrutiny that comes with owning Newcastle United makes a tiny positive impact, it would be better than none. I have my doubts it will happen, and there’s a sting of shame every time I see Yasir Al-Rumayyan in the crowd or fans wearing headscarves or waving Saudi flags, but I choose to focus on the football for now.
I am pleased with the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager. At first, I was quite dismissive of his credentials, but as it became clear he was going to be the man tasked with rebuilding our club, I paid closer attention to his record and methods. To take a club from bottom of the professional game, stranded on negative points, and get them up to ninth in the Premier League playing balls-to-the-wall attacking football is really quite something. What Kevin Keegan is to Newcastle fans, Eddie Howe is to Bournemouth fans, and I feel that stands him in good stead for the task ahead.
What particularly appealed to me was the detailed explanations into his meticulous nature, and his hyper-obsessive focus on improving every player, the team and the club. His hands-on approach to tactics and management is a stark contrast to Steve Bruce’s ‘go out and play then take three days off, I’m going on holiday’ method of management, and it’s one that I feel the current Newcastle squad both desperately need and will benefit hugely from. I read an article a while back that said part of Jadon Sancho’s troubles at Manchester United come from how, at Dortmund, whenever he received the ball, he knew exactly what he had to do, based on what his team-mates were doing on the pitch. If one came short, he had to do one thing; if one ran down the touchline and another burst into the middle, he had a different instruction. As many reactions to potential situations as possible were drilled into him, so there was no need for him to consider what his options were – he already knew exactly what he needed to do. Given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial approach seems reminiscent of Bruce’s, Sancho’s struggles are no surprise.
In many ways, they mirror the troubles Joelinton has had settling into the Newcastle team, and you have to feel the lack of instruction is a huge part of the issue. His goal in the first game of the Howe era, against Brentford, offers a glimpse as to what might still be for the record signing. The longer Howe and his team work with the Brazilian, the more he’ll learn exactly what to do on the pitch, and the better he will perform. If this is translated across the entire squad, then the club should have no trouble avoiding relegation. It may be a testing season, and we may well end up starting the next campaign back in the Championship, but I have faith we’ll be just fine.
What has been pleasing to watch is Jonjo Shelvey’s re-emergence as a player of considerable attacking threat. We’re only two games into the Howe project, and we have garnered just a single point so far, but Shelvey has looked a player transformed. Against Brentford, every time he received the ball, he was looking forward and causing chaos with his killer passes; against Arsenal, he re-introduced distance shooting into his game, with what felt like more long-range efforts in one match than the last four seasons. I remember when Shelvey signed for us, one of the things that excited me most was his distance shooting; at one point, I genuinely felt he was one of the best in the country at shooting from thirty yards or more. Since Rafa Benitez’s time, it feels like he has been discouraged from engaging that weapon, something that has always baffled me. Maybe long-range shots are rarely scored, but they often lead to corner kicks, or rebounds, and they create space as people need to close the shooter down. These are all crucial elements when it comes to scoring goals, and for us to achieve our objectives this season, Jonjo Shelvey will be pivotal. Howe has spoken about building the team around him, and while I believe that may be a short-term approach to keep us up, it is also a shrewd move. A confident Shelvey is a tremendous asset to Newcastle, and it’s good to see him back in the mood.
It has been a slow start to life post-Bruce, with just three points from five matches. Up next are Norwich and Burnley, and it feels like four, if not six, points are an absolute must. I don’t believe we need to be clear of relegation by January, nor do I think we will be. What is imperative is that we are within touching distance, and taking points from these two games is crucial to that, given the games between those two and the transfer window opening is Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton. I do believe we will take points from those tough five matches, most likely against Leicester, Manchester United and Everton, but there is a strong chance that whatever points total we have after Burnley is what we end 2021 with. Like I say, though, if we are within touching distance, our financial firepower should enable us to strengthen to the point where we can pull clear by the end of March.
With regards transfers, my preference would be to focus on signing players from the clubs around us. James Tarkowski and Ismaila Sarr have been strongly linked, both of whom would be good signings for two or three seasons. Personally, I’d like us to throw money at the best players of our rivals, spending whatever it takes to get as many as possible. Weakening our rivals while strengthening ourselves is a smart transfer policy, and while some of the better talent like Raphinha, Kalvin Phillips, Raul Jimenez and Tyrone Mings may be too tough to lure away mid-season, with the financial power at our disposal, it would be foolish not to try. I’d prefer to stay away from big-club cast-offs, though I’d make exceptions for Jesse Lingard, who was outstanding in similar circumstances at West Ham last season, and Kelechi Iheanacho, who has been poorly-treated this season at Leicester. He proved during their run-in last year that he was ready to be the main man, but Brendan Rodgers has proven too weak to replace the iconic Jamie Vardy as the focal point. We should pounce on that mistake and do whatever it takes to get Iheanacho, who would work beautifully with Callum Wilson. I’d also like to see us try to bring back the badge-kissing Ivan Toney, whose ladgeful public display of affection was clearly designed to make us wish we still had him. To the seasoned eye, it was a clear come-and-get-me plea; let’s make his wishes come true.
So, depressing times in the boardroom but exciting times on the pitch for Newcastle, even if it will take a little time for Howe’s hard work to pay dividends. It’ll be very interesting to see how that story plays out.
I think I’ll leave this chapter there. I’ve been meaning to write this since re-activating my website ten days ago, but I’ve had such an adrenaline dump at the release of Dancing With Disorder that I’ve found it difficult to start writing something new. I’ve quite enjoyed this though, even if it may be a little unfocused. I don’t imagine it’ll be four months until my next entry. There’s so much stuff I have to talk about, it’s just hard remembering it all! Starting with the Newcastle situation seems a good first step, mainly because it’s killed me not being able to write about it when so much has happened. Still, it was worth it to get such a quality book finished and published. It’s definitely worth your time, and it will surprise you in the best way.
Thank you all for your ongoing support, I really appreciate it.
Song of the Chapter:
‘Take A Chance On Me’ by Abba
Quote of the Chapter:
“If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced.”
Vincent van Gogh
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"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
Dancing With Disorder
"It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders ... Courageous, wise, humorous and thought-provoking ... an easy-to-read, surprising and subtly moving chronicle.
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