I committed to write a blog on the journey back South after the Sunderland game. I left it a couple of hours to allow the emotion and disappointment to acquiesce. In fact, I didn’t finish until Tuesday evening. Even after two days of grief, this blog might not be as objective as I wanted it to be.
I run business workshops and write about ‘effectiveness’. I use the equation…
Effectiveness = motivation x confidence x competence x curiosity
E = MC3 (tain’t rocket science)
I thought I’d apply it Newcastle.
Motivation and confidence: I started thinking about writing this blog after the Fulham game. During the last 20 minutes, roared on by the crowd, Newcastle stepped up a gear. They were clearly motivated to win the game; to such a level that they put aside their erstwhile nervousness. Lack of confidence was no longer an issue. Newcastle attacked the Fulham goal relentlessly and duly won, albeit in the fourth minute of extra time.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the season. After a layoff following the Euro 2012 tournament Cabaye had a quiet start to the season. Tiote, also after a layoff, started and has continued to have a poor season.
There are some around me who feel that maybe Tiote thinks he is better than he actually is. Is he perhaps overconfident? I don’t think so but I’m not certain. Tiote had a brilliant two seasons here – so what’s gone wrong?
I suspect that both Cabaye and Tiote were nobbled by agents in the Summer. They were perhaps given an expectation that the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea would be wading in with £80K+ a week contracts, huge signing on fees and promises of European Champions League football. Well it didn’t happen.
I also suspect that the canny Ashley slapped a £25M fee on their heads. If he’d been willing to take £15M then they would probably have gone.
Instead, having been wound up about playing at a higher level, Cabaye and Tiote found themselves in a team that chose not to make any significant improvements to its squad. Newcastle certainly didn’t buy any players who were any better than the players they already had.
Bottom line, we didn’t match the aspirations of those who wanted to be part of a better squad – which is what top players want. When the backbone of a team loses its motivation, this has a knock on effect on the rest. And when the confidence we had from last season dwindled, Newcastle were on a slippery slope.
Despite this, I had the feeling that Ben Arfa and Ba felt they had something to prove. Between them, they helped Newcastle get off to a semi respectable start to the season. They, more than anyone, seemed highly motivated to carry on where we left off last season. It wasn’t to be.
Injuries to Taylors Ryan and Steve, Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Colocinni took their toll. Ba was left to carry the can but if you study the form, Newcastle went on a dreadful run, one league victory in October, one in November and one point during a 5 week spell (following the 1-0 victory over QPR just before Christmas) speaks for itself (not forgetting an ignoble defeat by Brighton for the second year running in the FA Cup 3rd round).
Motivation and confidence were rock bottom when we sold Ba. Fortunately, the arrival of fresh-faced French revolutionaries, the return of Cabaye (and later on, Taylor) sparked a revival. We beat Villa away and went on to win four home league games in a row. That run ended with the debacle this lunchtime against Sunderland.
Competence has a few dimensions to it, the simplest being ‘fit for purpose’. Everyone agrees from Ashley down that Newcastle aren’t equipped with a big enough or talented enough squad to compete in Europe and the Premiership. Against Sunderland we looked tired, physically and emotionally.
Are we technically competent? I would argue, yes! We have a very talented squad that, when fully fit, overall is as good as Spurs, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea’s. BUT we have never been able to put our eleven best players on the pitch at the same time this season. We are short of a good striker and another central defender.
Are we tactically competent? I would argue, no! Spurs, Southampton, Chelsea, Man U & Man City have come to grips with attacking and defending in the modern game that packs the midfield. They have better lateral movement off the ball. They pack the opposition’s box without over exposing themselves to break away goals. They score goals from corners – we don’t, period.
The last factor, curiosity, underpins how much we are learning at becoming better at what we do. For me, this has the biggest question mark of all. We have learned how to keep a good shape when defending. We haven’t been overrun lately apart from the Man City thrashing.
But we haven’t learned to cope with break-away attacks – we let three in on Sunday!! We still resort to far too many long balls. We are over reliant on Cisse scoring. We haven’t learned to cross the ball very well. We haven’t learned how to break down blanket defences. All the above is not about the players so much as it is about moving our game up a gear.
Pardew has a big job now to repair the emotional wounds before next week’s visit to West Brom. Four more points and we can lay this season to rest. Next season will test how good Pardew & co really are. He’s got a much stronger squad and will improve it. It will take 25mill to buy the likes of Cabaye. Ashley, thankfully, wont sell anyone on the cheap and hopefully now sees the value of investing in better players than we already have.
If I were to give the Newcastle team scores out of 10 right now, I’d give…
Motivation – 7 (despite Sunday’s defeat which I put down to tiredness, I feel the lads are still up for the fight)
Confidence (not arrogance) – 6 (It was a lot higher but we know we are better than Sunday’s result)
Competence – 6 (I mark this down because of our tactical ability, player wise we are between a 7 and an 8)
Curiosity – 5 (I wonder if we are seeing the peak of the current coaching staff’s ability?)
So here’s your opportunity to score M, C, C & C for yourself. My scores are only an opinion, not reality. They are no more valid than yours. But my reason for writing this is learn what others, i.e. you think.