‘You’re only as good as your last performance’, has long been associated with the world of sport. The insinuation being that fans and critics alike suffer from ‘recentism’: a focus on recent events, to the exclusion of what went before. Of course, to some extent, this is an entirely justified view of professional athletes who generally have a depreciating and short shelf life.
Achievements and performances from previous seasons only buy you so much credit when assessing current value and, even then, that credit tends to be the currency of the romantic rather than the ruthless.
This viewpoint can work both ways, of course, as previous poor performances can be forgiven during purple patches just as consistently positive displays can be overshadowed by more recent negatives.
It appears that the same is true of football club owners, as Mike Ashley has enjoyed something of a purple patch this summer. Despite maintaining absolute silence throughout the never-ending takeover, it has been the Premier League bearing the brunt of discontent from communication-starved fans. £17m non-refundable deposit pocketed, silence maintained, anger targeted elsewhere. Well played, sir.
Appearing to be a willing seller has absolved Mike of blame, even earning platitudes usually reserved for managers of teams underperforming on the pitch, despite their triple substitution at the break to correct their initial poor selection. 'He's done all he can now, lads. It's out of his hands.'
Not one to rest on his laurels, Ashley has followed this masterstroke with what is looking likely to be a successful transfer window. How to judge a transfer window before the players kick a ball is a difficult one and it certainly shouldn't be judged by the money spent (see Joelinton). Indeed, some of the best players to wear the black and white during the Ashley era were either loans, free transfers or cost less than Ivan Toney's sell-on clause.
However, spending whatever money is required to immediately address our biggest needs is a smart tactic we're not accustomed to seeing in NE1 and paying what it takes to get a Premier League proven goal scorer and an attacking left back is exactly what our first team needed this summer. This alone hints at a successful window, unless you're Paul Dummett or Andy Carroll.
Improving our two weakest positions with £35m shouldn't be a window that attracts so much surprise and praise but the bar has been set low and expectations even lower. According to Forbes, Newcastle United is the 20th richest football club in the world and, although the uncertain financial times of COVID-19 is a readymade excuse for frugal spending, the club's biggest source of income is not in danger. The gate and matchday income has been, and will be, affected but only accounts for around £24m per season, compared to guaranteed prize money and broadcasting revenue of around £126m.
It is the shift away from potential ability and profit to present ability and pragmatism that is the most notable change this summer - £56m on two largely unknown 22 year olds is so 2019. £20m for two 28 year olds, did ye say? Sign 'em up, Brucey! Hendrick and Wilson will not make us money but they will make us better and that is the only success the fans are looking for, leaving the balance sheet champions accolade in the past.
NUFC Twitter is awash with, 'Would you be happy with Wilson, Fraser, Hendrick, Lewis and Holding?' questions this weekend and that is what prompted this little ramble. What would make me happy as a Newcastle United fan right now? Would a positive transfer window really ignite the embers of enthusiasm I have for the upcoming season? Could this change in transfer policy help to make up for not signing Rondon, only signing Anita and all the other wasted windows? Could recentism win the day?
Ultimately, Mike Ashley still owns us, a tactically-limited Steve Bruce still manages us and we've had intriguing and exciting transfer windows before. The summer of 2015 saw Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, Thauvin and Mbemba arrive and we all know how that season ended, despite Townsend, Saivet and Shelvey also arriving midway through.
However, if Newcastle United finally buy a left back that gives the team genuine balance and an attacking threat, I will be happy. If Newcastle United finally buy (not loan) a striker who will score goals in the Premier League, I will be happy. If Newcastle United finally prioritise squad need over Ashley greed, I will be happy. If a manager finally gets what he wants out of our owner, I will be happy.
Maybe we won't sign all of them. Maybe we won't sign any of them. Maybe we'll still not score many goals or win many games. Maybe we'll finish in the bottom half again. Maybe Wilson's ACL will rupture again. Maybe Carroll will park in Cal's Own again. How's the Hawaiian, did ye say?
Maybe they'll all instantly click and an attacking four of Wilson, Fraser, Saint-Maximin and Almiron will excite the empty plastic seats at St. James' Park. Maybe Newcastle United will go on a cup run (Blackburn followed by Oldham or Morecambe awaits). Maybe Steve Bruce will surprise us and outdo his peers in a tactical tête-à-tête. Maybe Mike Ashley will continue to benefit from recentism. Maybe you're only as good as your last transfer window.