Newcastle United: Discussing the current campaign and beyond with Warren Barton

30 Dec 2000: Warren Barton of Newcastle United appeals during the FA Carling Premiership match against Manchester United played at St James Park, in Newcastle, England. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. \ Mandatory Credit: Stu Forster /Allsport
30 Dec 2000: Warren Barton of Newcastle United appeals during the FA Carling Premiership match against Manchester United played at St James Park, in Newcastle, England. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. \ Mandatory Credit: Stu Forster /Allsport /

How the former Newcastle United defender sees the 2017-18 season ending, and what fans should expect in the future.

Few clubs anywhere in the world boast passionate fans quite like Newcastle United, and that passion is felt by the players as well. “The Entertainers” side of the 1990’s was a special group, and former Toon defender Warren Barton was a part of that spectacular team that will always have a deep connection with St. James’ Park.

A coach and FOX Soccer pundit since retiring from the game, the 48-year-old is a familiar face for United fans in North America. Newcastle Toons had a chance to speak with Barton about the 2017-18 campaign thus far, and what the future may hold for the club.

Roy Emanuel: “How have you viewed Newcastle’s season thus far? Are they meeting your expectations?”

Warren Barton: “Well, I think we’ve had moments. We’ve had glimpses. As a Newcastle fan, you get optimistic at the start of the season. But we also have to be a bit realistic. Probably, where we are is where we deserve to be.

A couple of more points, particularly at home, would have made things more comfortable. If you had said to fans prior to the season “this is where you are, would you have took it?”, I think they would have. The only thing that concerns me is that we need players coming in. It would give everyone a lift.

We are where we are. Would like more, but at least we’re not at the bottom. I think with Rafa, he’s getting the best of what he can out of the players.”

RE: “What did you make of Saturday’s match against Swansea?”

WB: “They are the games you must win. We had enough chances. Moments of lapse, and we conceded a goal. But again, you’ve got to put your chances away. At the moment, whether it has been Dwight Gayle or the midfield players, we need someone that’s going to put together a run of 8-10 goals before the end of the season. That will make things much more comfortable.

I see this as a “must-win” game. Swansea are decent, but you’ve got to get results at home. Hopefully Rafa will get a striker, or even two strikers soon.”

RE: “Do you have any concern that Benitez’s frustrations with player transfers might eventually lead to him leaving?”

WB: “Yeah, I think maybe at the end of the season. I do think the Mike Ashley deal will go through, and we will see the end of his time as owner. The question now is if there is enough time to bring anyone in.

But I think Rafa has a real affinity with fans, particularly in the Premier League. Liverpool and Newcastle being great examples, and both have very passionate supporters. Rafa can identify with that. Ultimately, I don’t think he would leave a sinking ship. I really don’t. I think he would try his best to get them into a respectable position.”

RE: “What areas of the team do you think need to be addressed the most during the current transfer period?”

WB: “I think it’s everywhere. Whether it be a good defender, a strong midfielder or a striker that will score you goals. Goals are obviously what we need, and defensively we’ve been strong. I’ve been in that position, where sometimes a squad is not necessarily blessed with quality.

Sometimes it’s a numbers game, and I’ve been on both sides of it. We’ve had outstanding players like Ginola, Shearer, Ferdinand or Asprilla. Those types of players are going to win you games. But sometimes we’ve gone in where it has to be a real team effort to get results, and that’s what Newcastle are at the moment. They need a squad that are going to help and fight for the cause right up until the end of the campaign.”

RE: “Where do you see Newcastle finishing this season?”

WB: “I think it will be respectable, and the number 14 jumps out at me. If it’s there, I’d take that straight away. We are not good enough to be looking at Europa League. Unless of course there are some very significant signings that come in. But I don’t know if that will happen, with it being the middle of January now.

If you ask any fan, and me being one of them, about 13 or 14? I think we’ll jump at that.”

RE: “What are your thoughts regarding the potential takeover involving Amanda Staveley and PCP Capital Partners?”

WB: “I’m really excited. The longer it goes on, the more nervous and apprehensive I’m getting about it. One thing with Mike Ashley – he’s a businessman. So he knows he can’t mess around with losing that type of money.

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Would I have liked it done yesterday? Yes. But these types of deals take time. We need someone who is going to invest their heart and soul into the club. Unfortunately for Mike, he has not been seen like that. It has simply looked like a business. That’s cost him a lot of money, and he has upset a lot of people.

But one thing I will say for him. He stuck by the club when they went down. Quite a few other owners have walked away in that situation. Maybe it’s his ego, but he didn’t want to walk away from a lost cause. He did stand by them. But it’s time to move on, and that relationship has run its course.

I’m really optimistic about the new ownership group that’s coming in. In particular, considering the way the Premier League has these billionaires that can transform a club. You know, I’m old enough to remember what Chelsea and Manchester City were two decades ago.

With Newcastle, that stadium and that fan base, it’s a ready-made attraction to a lot of people. I’ve been a part of it, and I’ve lived up there. It is unique, and it’s different than any other club in the Premier League.”

RE: “As a former defender yourself, how do you view Jamaal Lascelles and do you think he is ready to contribute to the England national team?”

WB: “Another year. I don’t think he’s at that level quite yet. He had that injury that cost us a bit, but there have been great signs from him. He needs to be a bit more refined on the ball.

But having said all that my friend, looking ahead at what England have moving forward he’s definitely in that top bracket. I think he needs another full Premier League season. His goals have been important too. What I like about him is that he’s a level-headed guy. Very polite and respectful of the club. All good signs there, and hopefully we are looking at a future England international.”

RE: “At one time, you were the most expensive defender in English football. What do you make of the massive transfer fees in today’s game, like John Stones or Kyle Walker for example?”

WB: “It’s just the way it is now. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Premier League when it first started. But now, obviously it’s different with all the TV rights and sponsorships. There’s not a lot that Virgil van Dijk can do about how much Liverpool are willing to pay for him, you know?

When I was bought, people said it was too much money. But, you end up getting seven years of service and 220 games. It all depends on what someone is willing to pay. That’s the nature of it now, and I think that’s what makes it so intriguing to everyone. Philippe Coutinho – is he really worth $200 million? But that’s what is around now.

You look at Kyle Walker going to Manchester City as a full-back. Has Pep Guardiola made him a better player? Probably yes. Is he worth all that money? No, but that’s what someone is willing to pay. And that’s what Newcastle have to get in their mindset. You have to spend big money to get quality.”

RE: “What are some of your fondest memories with Newcastle?”

WB: “People ask me that a lot, and I always say all of it. I loved every moment of it. Being signed as a record defender, and the press day at St. James’ Park. Being shown around the grounds was fantastic. I’ll never forget that. My family were very proud.

The first game at home we beat Coventry and Les Ferdinand scored, and all we could see were black-and-white shirts everywhere. The likes of David Ginola and Shaka Hislop signing together, beating Barcelona in the Champions League with Asprilla, and playing in an FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford. And winning! They’re so used to winning there, and the Geordies took over.

I remember the stewards thinking the place was going to fall down because of the noise and atmosphere. Just being around those Newcastle fans in the city at the time too. You could ask any of the guys, our biggest disappointment was not winning anything for them. Not for us, for them.

Also, having the privilege to work with someone like Sir Bobby Robson. Kevin Keegan was great. Kenny Dalglish was great. Ruud Gullit, in his own way, was strange. He was okay. But having someone like Bobby there was amazing, because I learned so much about him as a person and so much about the game.

You hear people talking about Bill Belichick (of the NFL’s New England Patriots), Sir Alex Ferguson or Gregg Popovich (of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs). Those types of people don’t come around too often, and Robson was one of them. So to be around him was a lot of fun and a great experience.”

RE: “Your coverage of the FA Cup in the US with FOX has been outstanding this season. Do you see Manchester City as the clear favourites in that competition?”

WB: “Possibly, but they may have another eye on the Champions League. I think that they really will focus on that. Chelsea, or perhaps Manchester United. But the problem is, Chelsea are going to get knocked out by Newcastle! We’ll say that to add a bit of drama.

Also, don’t write off Liverpool. It’s nice to see the big teams take it seriously. Spurs have all this potential with Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but they need a trophy. Brad Friedel and I had this conversation recently. Ultimately, you have all of this potential but you have to win something to be elite.

I think that it will be won by one of the teams in the top five or top six.”

RE: “Do you see Newcastle advancing past the Fourth Round?”

WB: “My heart says yes, but my head says no if it’s Chelsea. If they were flying high, maybe they would take one eye off it. But that’s the great thing about the FA Cup – anything can happen.

I was lucky enough to play in two finals. One advantage we have now though is the manager. In a cup competition, Rafa can find a way to win. It will be a tough ask, but stranger things have happened.”

RE: “Finishing up with one about your local area now. You’ve been a part of the game there in California for some time, coaching at both the LA Galaxy and Orange County SC. What type of impact do you expect Los Angeles Football Club to have in their inaugural 2018 season?”

WB: “It’s been phenomenal already. The manager Bob Bradley knows the league, and he is a hard-working coach. And they’ve made tremendous signings, like with Carlos Vela.

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With the Galaxy, last season was a bit of a wake-up call. I think they assumed that they are the big club and they’ll be fine. But LAFC have come along well in the local area. It’s great for the league, and it’s another step forward. You see what Atlanta United did last year, I think LAFC will have the same impact.”