A midsummer tale in Toon
Have you ever heard the one about the two Scousers, three French lads and the bloke from Buckinghamshire?
Well as far as Newcastle United are concerned, that is story of the summer so far with three incoming new faces from France and the departure of a popular figure in Kevin Nolan.
This has been my first chance to have a say on Nolan but for those who see this as good business I can certainly see why for a player that reaches 29 this month and by his own high standards suffered a dip in form in the second half of the season.
Once, United began considering bids from the Hammers, it was soon obvious that Nolan was on his way from St James' Park.
Nolan may well have grabbed a fantastic 12 goals in the season for Newcastle but his goal-rate suffered once Andy Carroll faded out of the black and white picture.
That doesn't mean to say he lacked influence by scoring four goals without Carroll and even then, given our shocking lack of attacking options he still looked like our most lethal finisher, but does that say more about our strike force?
Nolan had a major influence at NUFC during his three season stay on Tyneside but the fact that United were prepared to let him go says to me that something clearly changed.
He may well have been hobbling on crutches, but how much did you read into the last day of the season lap of appreciation when Nolan and Joey Barton dropped off from the main group of players?
True enough, they both got the applause they deserved after a great season but it suggested that some of the togetherness from the promotion season had vanished.
But don't get me wrong, I wrote on these very pages back in August that Nolan had been United's most inspirational skipper since the days of Alan Shearer and you really can't give a better write up than that.
Those were the words after promotion and by helping us secure safety with games to spare, happily he proved me right that he was the man to help us survive last season.
The question marks over his departure still remain.
We're forever hearing how players love the club and want to stay but when it comes to the crunch they go almost as quickly as they arrive.
Nolan had two years left on his contract and despite a lack of progress in talks, he still could have enjoyed his peak years so to speak at St James' Park if he'd wanted to.
That he was prepared to go to play in the Championship at Barnsley and Cardiff in the colours of West Ham, will still leave a lot of Toon fans miffed.
Yet in my opinion, he leaves Tyneside with his head held high and should always be given a warm welcome in these parts.
Thank you Kev for bringing the dressing room back together after relegation, for helping a club on its knees in summer 2009 sort out the men from the boys, the goals that delivered us promotion and not to mention your magnificent pair of performances in the derbies against Sunderland which delivered four goals.
In my book and many others, you have a place in Geordie folklore and I've known very few modern Premier League players to buy into the area, do so much for charity and even involve a few members of the local Press to join the team for dinner and a few drinks.
But for Newcastle United, the show must go on...
This is currently a ship without a captain.
A quick look around those left in the dressing room does not throw out any obvious candidates for the job.
Steven Taylor? Possibly but has he enough experience and maturity to deal with the role?
Fabricio Coloccini? He's done the job before but does he have enough knowledge of English and the lifestyle that surrounds it?
Steve Harper? Can't argue with his experience at the club or knowledge of the Premier League, will Alan Pardew a) want a goalie as skip or b) have Harper as his number 1.
Chieck Tiote? Certainly strong in the challenge and has the hunger to drive on, but perhaps it would be unfair to hand the armband to him at such an early stage.
Joey Barton? Well, his future has to be far from certain and recent Twitter outbursts place a huge question mark over his head but certainly has the skills, influence and knowledge to carry out the role.
Where do you go after Danny Simpson? Shola Ameobi? Jonas Gutierrez? Nobody else is a natural leader unless perhaps Yohan Cabaye has enough time in the pre-season period to make friends and make an impact.
On the subject of Cabaye's arrival, the former Lille midfielder arrives with a winning mentality having lifted the title in France.
A box to box player who win midfield battles could certainly thrive in the world of the Premier League.
At the moment I don't see too many fans getting too excited.
The same can be said of Sylvain Marveaux - but if the lad can start whipping in crosses and deliver decent centres he did in France then it would not take him long to win over Newcastle supporters - given this has been something the Magpies have often lacked in recent times, especially from open play.
And then you have Demba Ba.
Usually the best way to judge a player a player is to do something we used to do many years ago on a regular basis - pick up a book.
The Sky Sports Yearbook (Old money: The Rothmans) will tell you that seven goals in 12 games had West Ham fans a little bit excited at the progress of the Senegal international, and he could well prove to be a real hit on Tyneside if he gets a good pre-season under his belt.
Flick through the books again and a respectable strike-rate at 1899 Hoffenheim and in France shows he knows where the net is.
And finally, going back to Barton, you have to wonder just whether he has a future at St James' Park.
No bids thus far, but certainly interest.
It would appear Barton wants to stay, the manager wants him to stay and the fans want him to stay.
But if a bid is table - and only when a bid is tabled - it is unlikely to see Barton staying at a club that don't want to offer him a new deal.
With money on offer, it would hardly be turned down and if the inlfux of new signings continues as I expect to, it will be another case of "You have been watching" for one of the Magpies' most popular players last season.
Life isn't dull on Tyneside is it? But when has it ever been?
Boring, of course not!
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