14,000 fans turned up to St. James' Park today for an open training and celebration ahead of the start of the 2015-16 Premier League. Good times were had by all as the team took photos and gave autographs to supporters. It seemed another positive step toward Steve McClaren's stated goal of returning St. James' Park to its former glory as "a tremendous place". It was news regarding a player that is returning from injury, hoever, that may be the biggest lift to the club coming out of today's activities.
Foremost in most people's short list of positions which should be targeted for strengthening by Lee Charnley is right wing. Rémy Cabella is the incumbent for the position although many have fallen out of love with the skillful Frenchman thanks to a lack of tangible production last year. His availability for the Southampton match could be a tremendous lift if he is able to convince Steve of his readiness for the matchday squad.
The frustration with Cabella is valid, just as frustration with teammate Vurnon Anita has been. On the heels of (relatively) high money transfers, neither Cabella nor Anita showed anything near the level of play that would have justified the outlay to bring them to St. James' Park. When your club lives an existence in which it is continually attempting to stave off relegation, it's easy to write players who are not contributing at the level expected of them. There is a bigger picture to consider, though.
In the very same way that Vurnon Anita was being deployed to play a style for which he was not well suited, the same could be said for Rémy Cabella. The pure number of wingers who washed out, were sold or loaned or "black-listed" during the Alan Pardew era is staggering. Yet winger after winger was brought in and Pardew as forced to deploy them even though he couldn't do so well. Those players, in turn, couldn't mentally cope with the lack of creativity in the squad so you would see them try to overcompensate on their own. Think Hatem Ben Arfa when he was not at his mind-blowing best. Whether it was on-pitch expression of that frustration where a player would fiddle around with the ball to the point of getting dispossessed or missing critical passes or if it expressed itself on the training pitch (as one can only assume it had done in cases such as Sylvain Marveaux's) it was always a square peg - round hole relationship
Enter Steve McClaren with his possession-based, creative attacking ideas. As McClaren began installing his tactics in training, it must've felt to players such as Anita or Cabella like an oxygen mask would to someone who had just nearly drowned. We have seen in the preseason that there is hope for players who had been stifled or shoved into a misfit system because the manager couldn't or wouldn't use them to maximize their strengths. Vurnon Anita looks like a new man under McClaren. With a "second chance" and a system in which he can excel, there is the very real possibility that Rémy Cabella could step in and find a similar rebirth. If he is able to do so, he could be the greatest news to come out of today's Open Training.