Famously, Steve Kean "forfeited" the Carling Cup Semi-final after Blackburn put us out of that competition. Should we consider doing the opposite? With the injuries recently to our only-choice center backs, it is pretty clear that we are going to need to concentrate on one competition or the other. A two-front battle is likely to be met with relative failure on both ends. The question then becomes, what is of greater benefit to Newcastle United? Would it be better to put all the eggs into the league basket, finish as high as possible and reap whatever reward comes with our ending league position? Or should we think outside the box, essentially backwards to conventional logic, and put all of the eggs in the FA Cup and try to bring a domestic cup to St. James' Park for the first time in 56 years? This is the question... let's talk it out after the jump.
If we concentrate on the league:
Squad concerns being what they are, there are enough concerns about how we will end up coming through the league schedule in and of itself. There is the
possibility need that we will strengthen the squad in January. Ostensibly there will be money available, but the question is: can we strengthen the squad enough, and more importantly: Is it prudent? Traditional wisdom is that January is for tweaking a squad or filling a singular specific gap. Transfer fees are elevated because of this-- clubs know that players that are drawing interest from other clubs in January are generally viewed as the difference between being where the buying club is v. where the buying club thinks it can be. We now have need for at the very least 1 center back, perhaps 2 (perish my previous thought that Colo may be the first major player to be shifted), and are committed to a Modibo Maiga, a striker that will also be gone for the ACON, meaning we really could afford another striker to fill the gap.
If we concentrate on the league even if we fill all of those potential gaps, you still have to think that this is not a squad that can qualify for Europe through league position. I would argue that we're a year away from being where we should actually want to qualify for Europe. For me there is just too much distance between where the squad is v. where it needs to be to maximize the financial rewards in those competitions to have that as the goal. Excluding qualifying for Europe through league position as the goal, is there any real tangible difference between finishing 7th or finishing 17th? I think that with the players and the form we're on, 7th is more likely than 17th if we were to focus on the league, but is there any real benefit to that?
If we focus on the FA Cup...
I think that the club (and ownership in the long-term) stand to gain more if we go this road. Ultimately, you're looking at 6 matches for a successful cup run, and not all of those are going to directly affect the league slate. The excitement within the fan base that would build up through a run to the FA Cup would be palpable. I would argue that if we built this up, then followed it up with a focused, active summer transfer session, we end up in a better place than we would be with a mid-table league performance only. Indeed, as I'm rethinking through the situation, if we win the FA Cup, we qualify for the Europa League anyway... but I really feel that the European carrot is secondary to the potential overall benefit to the club overall in the case of an FA Cup triumph. While there will always a fundamental distrust between the supporters and Mike Ashley (it's well-earned if we're being honest), to deliver the FA Cup after 56 years would be a tremendous boost to the overall relationship between owners, players and supporters. Again, if it were followed up with an appropriate summer transfer period, the distance in reputation and awareness of the club would travel unspeakable distance. The financial benefit from this eventuality when added to the Europa League qualification I think makes this by far the more attractive proposition logically.
I would love to have our cake and eat it too, but through injury and the ACON accomplishing both appears to be impossible. There is a ceiling on the success that this squad can have in the league. I think that if we bypass that ceiling via the FA Cup, then (I cannot stress enough) follow it up with a focused, appropriate summer transfer window, the end benefit for the club is significant. At the very least it merits consideration.