In Soccernomics, authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski discuss the running of football clubs as businesses. Without giving too much away, they essentially conclude that those that invest in the world of football do not actually stand much chance of making big money, particularly in comparison to other 'big businesses' that require such vast amounts of investment. That is, as a business, football is one of the least fruitful about, and though that isn't (usually) a result of poor decision making on the owners' parts, it is hardly surprising that they fail to make lots of money given some of the decisions they make for their teams.
Amongst the more baffling decisions in the modern game was Mike Ashley's decision to install Joe Kinnear as Director of Football at Newcastle last summer. Someone in that role is supposed to oversee and control transfers of players in and out of the club, and often the problem encountered with this structure is that the manager is handed players that he hadn't requested and is not happy with. The last thing you would want of a Director of Football is a failure to bring in any players on a permanent basis whatsoever and sell the club's best player without even recognising a replacement. That, somehow, is exactly what Newcastle allowed Kinnear to manage in his seven and a half months at the club, and he has left Newcastle a club in turmoil.
To mispronounce Yohan Cabaye's name on national radio was one thing, but to underestimate his importance to the club so cataclysmically was an act that the club may not recover from this season. Cabaye brought a calming influence to the team when in possession, dictating play and controlling games, but more importantly, always looking for the ball to feet and this had a profound effect on the team. They looked long less often, and built moves with more solid foundations than a punt upfield.
Player power meant that it was up to him when Paris Saint Germain came calling at the tail end of the January transfer window, but if we - the public - had heard of interest in the Magpies' star player previously, then there is good reason to believe that Ashley and indeed Kinnear would have known, or at least suspected, that a move might happen. Contingency plans should have been made, but were not, and Newcastle are now suffering the consequences.
The past weekend's 'Super Sunday' saw Aston Villa travel to St James' Park with both teams struggling for form and points. Newcastle's start to the season means they are in no danger of falling into a relegation scrap but the fans will hardly be happy for the season to peter out at its current pace. They tried to spark a stagnating performance into something worthwhile, and the players responded to a degree, but when Loïc Remy passed the ball onto the post when an open goal was gaping, you couldn't help but suspect the side's goalless streak would continue to 5 matches. In fact, it was ended at 450 minutes by that man Remy - the second longest goal drought by any team this season (Villa 451) - but it was as much thanks to woeful defending as it was a rallying performance from Newcastle.
That goal drought began the moment Cabaye stepped off the pitch in his final game for the club, having scored just moments before in the 3-1 win at West Ham. Since then, Newcastle had picked up just 1 point - from a goalless draw at Norwich - in four matches. That result at Carrow Road in itself wasn't all that bad, nor were losses to Chelsea or Tottenham, but the manner of the displays was extremely disappointing, as were both the result and performance in the 3-0 home derby loss to Sunderland.
In those games, Newcastle looked like a team lacking a vital component, bereft of ideas and incision in the final third. Against Villa, they completed 103 passes in the attacking third but failed to complete a single through ball to put a player in on goal. It was no surprise to see Remy's goal come from a deflected shot which spooned up in the air and Ron Vlaar failed to clear.
Remy has been a fantastic signing for the Magpies, but he is someone who required no scouting on Kinnear's part, and the fact that he only managed to bring him in on loan means that if this season continues the way it has been going, he will probably be looking for a bigger club come May. Cabaye (7) is Newcastle's second highest scorer in the Premier League this season behind Remy (12), but after Yoann Gouffran (6), who hasn't scored since Boxing Day, things tail off worryingly. Hatem Ben Arfa has not become the player he had previously hinted that he might, completing 2.7 dribbles per game - the fourth highest rate in the division - but providing far too little in the way of end product; he has 3 goals and 2 assists from 43 shots and 25 key passes.
So what is the answer for the Magpies? In January, Kinnear believed that was Luuk de Jong, a young Dutch forward who seemed to have lost his way after a fairly impressive 2012/13 campaign with Borussia Mönchengladbach and then Holland Under-21s at last summer's European Championships. However, he could not get a start in Germany and made 13 substitute appearances in the Bundesliga this season before moving. In those games he managed just two shots - and no goals - so he is unsurprisingly not looking the sharpest player to join the Premier League in January. Even if he was, given Remy's presence and Cabaye's departure, bringing in a striker was hardly going to be a masterstroke.
The season now becomes a time of trying to make the most of what they have got, and in doing so, convincing Remy to stay beyond the end of his current deal. Nobody in the current squad is capable of doing the job that Cabaye did for the club, so they can only hope that the lethal Frenchman up front - who has scored a league-high 36% of his team's goals - can continue to fire.
Bringing in Kinnear was simply never going to work and it is hard to believe that anybody truly believed it would turn Newcastle back into a team that might challenge at the top of the table. Instead, Kinnear has left the club far worse off than when he arrived, and the process of recuperating and rebuilding will begin in the summer.
How must Newcastle go about rebuilding? Can they improve performances on the field even without Cabaye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below