'No fans is a blessing in disguise for Newcastle United' – former Magpies hero sends strong message to Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce
“Newcastle United isn't a club that just survives.”
Ex-Magpies hero Warren Barton believes the current version of Newcastle is a shadow of its former self – and he should know, given he was an one of the cornerstones of the last ‘great’ United side.
The memory of Barton’s centrally-parted blonde swish goes hand in hand thoughts of Les Ferdinand rising like a salmon, Kevin Keegan’s rolled up sleeves, think Shaka Hislop and Pavel Srnicek in purple and blue keeper tops, or David Ginola signing pics.
The Newcastle United of today is a far cry from all of that. It was a movement back then, stasis is the status quo right now.
And despite the green shoots of positivity springing on Tyneside on Sunday, Barton is no fan of this Newcastle United, the one born of Mike Ashley, perpetuated by Steve Bruce and even Rafa Benitez before that.
"Look what Steve is instigating here is similar to what Rafa's vision was – and they just sit so deep,” said Barton.
"Steve's got the personnel now to put the pressure on up top and lead from the front foot. You've got (Callum) Wilson, (Allan) Saint-Maximin who never stops and (Miguel) Almiron who's always hungry, even Joelinton presses and works hard and used correctly can be key.”
All too often, according to former England defender Barton, Newcastle United are on the back foot – and he thinks that’s why progress is hard to come by at St James’s Park.
"At home we simply must start on the front foot, we have to be NUFC and try to play entertaining football and the players need to set that tone," he continued.
"More importantly it’s a dangerous game if we are going out set up to defend as one, you have to be able to keep the ball, and two, it’s Newcastle United – we have to put the pressure on teams at home. The mentality has to change – let them go forward and express themselves.
“Look I'm a fan, and if we lose by having a go you can live with that, and I know Steve Bruce will say it’s his job to keep us in the Premier League. No, Steve your job is to make us successful in the Premier League, not survive, Newcastle isn’t a club to survive – that’s my opinion and I would tell Steve and Mike Ashley that if they were sat here now.
"Look at what Everton, Wolves and Leicester are doing with coaches that want them to go forward. These teams are playing high tempo, put opposition under pressure and ultimately trying to win games at home. Listen, I can understand playing more cautious football away, we did that under KK.
“Every single game we go into currently we are playing not to get beat, and that’s not fair to the fans or the players.”
With the world gripped by a coronavirus pandemic, fans have been shut out of stadia across the land – well, in ‘elite’ football, at least.
And while manager Bruce has talked in depth about his want to get bums back on seats at St James’s Park, Barton thinks a lack of support from the terraces may well have worked in his favour during his time as boss.
“Ask yourself what the Plan B is when you go a goal down? Does it change?” said Barton, talking to podcast Hollywood Balls.
"I was really excited at the start of the season with the new additions and a great start at West Ham. They slip up against Brighton and it’s panic, let’s go back to a negative approach and not getting beat.
“At the moment because are there are no fans in that stadium they're getting away with it. Believe me when the fans get to go back and haven’t seen a live game for several months, and you serve that up, there's bound to be a lot of unhappy people, rightly so.
"It's such a shame as new players came in, there was some optimism on having a more comfortable season and a cup run. That has actually happened and the pressure is still mounting.
"As I say, maybe not being in the stadium for Steve and the players is a blessing at the moment as there's a lot of unrest and even former players have voiced concerns in the media in recent times.
"We don’t want to be the grumpy former players having a go, all of these lads and me included want the best for this club.
"I want the best for the fans. We couldn’t deliver them that league title or FA Cup win, which is why the mentality of currently challenging higher up the league is so important to these fans. It can be changed – but it can only be changed with positivity.
“All I ask is for those in charge to remember what Newcastle United is all about. It's about the fans, The city and entertainment – that’s the least they deserve.”