The Qatar World Cup break interrupting this Newcastle United season.
An ideal time to get a snapshot of views from NUFC fans on how they think things are going.
So we sent out various questions to a number of regular / irregular contributors to The Mag.
Next up we have Travis Bickle:
Has the ‘big six’ already become a ‘big seven’?
I think things are moving much more quickly than most of the pundit-class anticipated.
For me, we’ve already caught up with most of the ‘big 6’ and are outstripping several of them.
One test I’ve tended to use over the years is to ask myself, given a free choice, how many of the opposition 11 would I put in our first 11. And I have to say, when I’ve looked at Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Man Utd – a couple of years ago you would have said every one of their players was better than ours.
Now? Given a free choice, how many players from that Chelsea team would you want in our starting 11? In my view, not many. Same with Liverpool – take out van Dijk and Salah and who else walks into our team?
Even on the bench, a few months ago I would have thought that would be a weakness for us as against the top teams – but now we’ve got Targett, Lascelles, Shelvey, Murphy, ASM, Isak – all able to slot in and do a good job.
For me the question isn’t whether we’ve caught up with teams like Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool. We have. The question is whether they are going to be able to keep up with us.
Three words to describe Newcastle United now?
Demolish Leazes Terrace
Would you rather win the League Cup or finish top four and qualify for Champions League?
I was three when we won the Fairs Cup so I don’t remember it.
I do remember walking up to the match v Man Utd at home in March 1996 and saying to my brother ‘if we win tonight we’ve won the league’. We didn’t win, and we didn’t win the league.
So I would love to see us win something. But the League Cup is so devalued nowadays that I’m not sure it wouldn’t be a bit of a let down after all this time, if we won that first. After waiting all this time I’d rather see us win one of the big ones first.
Player of the season so far (top choice and then second and third)?
Quite difficult this, as so many players have been outstanding.
No 1 has to be Bruno – he’s the best player we’ve had for a number of years I think. Almiron second I suppose. Trippier third.
But you could easily make a case for a whole load of others – Burn, Schar, Botman, Joelinton, Wilson, etc
The three most improved players this season (in order)?
First has to be Almiron – I expected him to be moved on in the summer, or at best an occasional sub. So for an improvement this season he has to be top.
For improvement this season – I’d have Longstaff second. And maybe Murphy third.
I don’t know what Eddie is feeding them, but this season they look to me to several inches taller, with about 2 stone extra pure muscle. That’s just for improvement this season – obviously there are players like Joelinton and Schar who were fantastic last season as well.
But if you’d told me in the close season I’d be looking at a team sheet with Longstaff, Murphy and Almiron on it and rubbing my hands. I wouldn’t have believed you.
A must win game and the whole squad fit and available, which 11 would you select?
Pope, Trippier, Burn, Schar, Botman, Longstaff, Bruno, Willock, Joelinton, Wilson, Almiron
Best atmosphere at a match this season?
I won’t say as I’m one of the thousands locked out (thank god for illegal streaming!). You can’t really tell when you’re not in the ground.
How big an advantage (if any) is it likely to be for NUFC when the Premier League kicks off again in late December, considering how many each of the ‘big seven’ have at the World Cup (16 Manchester City, 15 Manchester United, 12 Chelsea, 11 Tottenham, 10 Arsenal, 7 Liverpool, 5 Newcastle United)?
It’s impossible to say until you see how everyone comes out the other side of the competition. Suppose Tripper or Bruno picks up an injury?
On the face of it, we should be less badly impacted than others – but we don’t know yet. The thing which almost certainly will benefit us in the new year is the absence of European games.
Eddie Howe’s selection for the Palace League Cup game, three days before Chelsea in the Premier League, eight outfield changes. What did you think when you heard the team before kick-off, then what were your thoughts after the win (on penalties!) on the team Eddie had selected?
I think it was entirely sensible.
For one thing, you have players like Trippier, Bruno and Wilson about to go off to the World Cup. It’s only fair to them to look after them as best we can.
And it’s a good thing all round to give players like Lascelles, Shelvey, Targett, Wood and the like as much game time as possible.
As and when we pick up injuries or losses of form or suspensions after Christmas we are going to have to call some of those players into the team – so it’s a good thing to keep them involved.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested are you in England at the World Cup?
6 – A lot depends how they play. I’m hoping they throw caution to the wind and go for it.
I have to say, however, I’m not a fan of Gareth Southgate. I like politics and football to be kept entirely separate – and for my taste Southgate is too eager to mix them up. I thought his comments after England were booed in Hungary for ‘taking the knee’, when he said they were doing it “to try to educate people around the world” were appalling. I can’t imagine the sort of stink there would have been if somebody like Nigel Farage or Jacob Rees-Mogg had said anything similar. For me he should have been sacked for that – and there’s a part of me doesn’t particularly want to see him go into the history books as a World Cup winner.
But that’s just me being grumpy – we’ve got a decent team and should do ok. If only Bruno was English…
On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested are you in this Qatar World Cup?
5 – I expect I’ll enjoy it once it gets going, but at the moment it seems like an annoying interruption to the season
Best (realistic) signing Newcastle United could make in January?
The pattern seems to be that once the scouting team are keen on a player, they keep going until they get him.
Botman and Isak had been linked for some time before signing. So I would expect that they would keep going after players like Maddison and Joao Pedro who they’ve bid for previously.
Over 13 months now since the takeover, what are your thoughts now on the debate that surrounds the identity of the Newcastle United owners?
As I said above, for me politics is one thing and football is another. I don’t have any concerns about the Saudi owners – and I never did.
In an ideal world maybe every club would be owned by the fans and there wouldn’t be any oligarchs/billionaires/sovereign wealth funds involved. But it isn’t an ideal world. And if somebody is going to have loads of money, I’d just as soon it was us!
Nobody with that much money has completely clean hands. The Saudis aren’t perfect (although people do seem to forget that they have been a longstanding ally of this country). But neither was Abramovich at Chelsea or Usmanov at Arsenal and Everton. Or the Chinese-backed businessmen, or hedge-fund owners, etc, etc that you find elsewhere.
Newcastle United third in the table, how are you feeling?
I put money on us finishing in the top two a little while back at silly odds – I wish I’d put more on.