Newcastle Comment: Long-standing tensions threatening to pull club apart
A WEEK tomorrow, something strange will happen to Newcastle United. They will play a competitive game of football. Over the course of the last couple of months, it has been easy to forget that amid all the chaos and controversy, a football match occasionally breaks out. Even by their own remarkable standards, this has been some close season for the Magpies. Whether it's been players stranded at home because of criminal convictions, players venting their fury and unease on social networking websites or players agitating for a move from St James' Park, Newcastle have lapsed from one crisis to the next. The result is that they will start the new campaign in a state of considerable unease, with longstanding tensions threatening to pull the club apart. If Alan Pardew holds things together and improves on last season's 12th-placed finish in the next nine months, he will have achieved a great deal. On the pitch, Newcastle arguably look weaker than they were when they returned from the Championship a year ago. Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan have left, with Joey Barton and Jose Enrique set to join them in the next few days. In their stead has arrived Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveuax and Mehdi Abeid. A fair swap Only if you're the club accountant. There is still time for further changes of course, and Pardew looks certain to sign a centreforward before the transfer window closes, as well as a replacement for Enrique and Barton. That will still leave notable gaps though, with the Magpies short of cover at both full-back and centrehalf, lacking proven attacking midfield expertise and reliant on the likes of Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands for goals. Cabaye and Marveaux established a healthy reputation in France, while Cheik Tiote was one of the stars of last season. As it stands, though, it is hard to see the Magpies avoiding a relegation fight. Off the pitch, things are even worse, with the uneasy truce between the supporters and the management duo of Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias having been ripped asunder by recent events. A misguided promise to reinvest every penny of the £35m received for Carroll has backfired, even if Pardew can rightly claim that the money has not left the club. The hasty sale of Nolan caused further distress, and this week's decision to hand Barton a free transfer has created a mood every bit as mutinous as at any time of Ashley's unpopular reign. If Newcastle win three of their opening four matches, much of the anger will dissipate. If they do not however, and remember their second match comes at the Stadium of Light, things could get even more acrimonious.
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