Is it Saturday yet? I don't know if it's a change in my searching techniques or some other variable, but the links have been massive this week, and today is no different. Seeing as they are so massive today, I even tried to be especially brief in my comments... and it's still rather long, so I'm not going to waste a lot of words here at the top.
In The Links today: Alan Smith, a grudge match this weekend, Hatem Ben Arfa, Alan Smith, praise of the fans and more. Jump and read!
Alan Smith Speaks
"There’s so many good people involved in that club who have been there their whole life – staff, kitchen staff, people who work at the ground. Although players come and go, they’re always there. "They’re the ones you want to do well for, they’re the ones you want to have a successful team for. "Then there’s the fans. They stuck with us in the Championship, they stuck with us after relegation and they’re getting their rewards for it now. From an outside perspective, I hope they get into the Champions League. They deserve it."
Apparently, Alan holds a great affection for Newcastle United. If he decides to hang up his boots after this season, he is hoping to take a position in the Academy staff with Willie Donachie, and it seems that it would be harder to make the case that the club won't bring him in than to make the case that they will. I'm good with this - as long as a qualified person with a genuine love for Newcastle United wants to be here, I want them here. I don't, however, want Alan Smith in the Academy staff on £60,000 per week. Or even £40,000 per week like we're paying him now.
"He never leaves anything to chance. He never leaves a stone unturned," said Smith. "He tells everyone what is required, they know exactly what he expects and things are just meticulous. "Believe me, in modern-day football that vision is massive. Concentration levels are as important as anything else, now his coaching team know they are part of the team.
Mark Douglas at the Journal apparently got a long, quality interview with Alan Smith. This is the second of three good articles that came from it, it seems. While just a step short of "exclusive insider info," they are all worth a read. I had assumed there would be a lot of crossover between the three articles, but there really isn't, so don't skip one figuring you've already read the info in one of the others!
Relegation had given Smith a chance to atone for the disastrous slump which occurred while he was sat as a frustrated bystander, injured as the team plumbed the depths. He played just four games of the demotion, but assumed a central role in renaissance. "The club needed an event like that to shake it out of its complacency. Something had to happen," he says. "I’m proud of the role I played in that, in restoring some of the pride to the football club. We had a point to prove.
This one seems to have a majority of the substance from the interview (not that the other stories do not have substance).
Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi has a personal reason for keeping Newcastle's sharp-shooters at bay on Saturday. Al Habsi was at Coventry on Monday night to witness his fellow countrymen from Oman suffer Olympic heartbreak against Senegal. And he has no wish to endure more disappointment at the DW Stadium when Senegal internationals Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba are leading the Newcastle charge. Looking for revenge: Ali Al-Habsi wants to beat Newcastle to make up for Senegal beating Oman in Olympic qualifying 'I will make sure to save their shots,' he said.
This amused me a little bit. Let us just hope that Senegal wins the match up again!
Happenings Around The Stadium
Graffiti has appeared at the entrance to the Newcastle United ground for a third time, with large black lettering spelling out the words "St James' Park."
There is an auto-play video on this one, so if you're reading at work, you have your warning :)
The tone is optimistic, and as Ameobi considers the impact that Sir Bobby had on the city and the football club he held dear, he admits there was a certain amount of complacency that Newcastle’s position among the elite was assured. He said: "I certainly thought those days wouldn’t end. Because I came into that side at a young age. My first real experiences were Champions League and European football. At the time, you kind of do take it for granted – this is what it’s going to be like. "But the last couple of years makes you appreciate those times. When we got relegated and coming through the Championship, I kind of looked back at those experiences and thought ‘well, they won’t be coming back before my time’s up’.
This loosely ties to the stadium as it was written with the promise of being about the Sir Bobby Robson statue - and as such this may have been an olive branch to some for including the previous link. It really is a vehicle for more quotes about the Champions League with quotes from Geordies Shola Ameobi and Steve Harper about their time in the CL with Wor Bob. Worth the read.
"We’ve had a taste of it and that’s where they want to be; why not with the size of the club? "It’s a great reward for the fans who came to all those places around the country in the Championship. It’s a great reward for them to be on the Internet looking at flights, rather than trains. "The fans have tasted European football and they believe that there’s no reason why we can’t get back up there."
There is just a touch of overlap between this link and the previous, but not much... both are filled with quotes from Shola and Steve about the Sir Bobby Robson squad that last made the Champions League... they're written from different perspectives, however.
Hatem Ben Arfa, Captain Colo, Injuries and Wigan!
His work had not gone unnoticed, Pardew was keen to acknowledge his effort in his postmatch interview: "He's starting to maneuver into the first team. I think he's taken on board the team ethos that we've got here and in terms of tracking back and doing everything you need to do to play in our team." More than just running backward, there has been a definitive change in mentality -- something teammate Demba Ba has duly noted. Speaking on French television Sunday he said: "Everyday in training [Ben Arfa] works really hard." More surprising however was Ba's claim that Ben Arfa does not like people seeing him working hard -- preferring to exude an attitude of nonchalance, something Ba says is not the case.
Although Newcastle United are not feeling the love from Sky and the rest of the talking head outlets (the story is still about Tottenham's chase for fourth, not Newcastle's presence in said position), this marks the second United-specific article in Sports Illustrated in the last couple of weeks. At least we're getting some attention. Also, interesting stuff on Hatem Ben Arfa here.
"The support we have received from our fans this season has been absolutely fantastic and has undoubtedly contributed to our success this season. "The passion and fervour coming down from the stands gives the players a massive boost and is hugely appreciated by all the players and staff. "We really hope they’ll all be with us again next season and would encourage you to renew or buy your season ticket before the deadline."
I'd clipped this particular quote to tie in to Alan Smith's praise for the fans, but then Smudge articles kept coming and coming, so here it is right here. You are all wonderful. Buy your season tickets. Remember to drink your Ovaltine.
"I’m not going to take Obertan or Marveaux (to Wigan)," said Pardew. "They still need to do a bit more work. They have only been on the training ground three or four days. "They’ve had terrible weather this week, so I’ll leave them behind and get them ready for Chelsea. They’ll come back into contention."
It seems unlikely that either of these players would have been involved beyond perhaps a seat on the bench this weekend, so it's no major loss... but it seems that we're not as healthy as we were trumpeting earlier in the week just yet.
"That’s their main threat, and why they’ve been so successful," Caldwell told the Gazette. "Demba Ba was scoring at the start of the season, and Cisse has come in an helped him. They’re both a real threat. They’ve also got Ben Arfa and Cabaye, and people like that. They’re a real threat going forward, and we know we’re in for a very tough game."
Gary Caldwell is another player that made a match day squad for Newcastle in the Champions League. I'm not sure where this headline came from because it in no way reflects anything Caldwell said... but hey. Who am I to judge? Headline aside, this is yet another interesting read.