"It’s your money; it’s the money you've spent. It’s the money you've spent on your replica shirts, home and away. It's the money you've spent on your season tickets and your bonds, and your platinum clubs, and the programmes, and the black and white magazines and I see it as my job, and it’s a privilege to have the job, of reinvesting that money. You put it in and I put it into the team so that when you come to watch the product on the park here it’s the very, very best that we feel we can provide. Because that's what you deserve."
30th July 1996. The words of Kevin Keegan rang around St James' Park; an entire Geordie nation hanging on every word. Newcastle United had just smashed all football transfer records by acquiring Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers for a staggering £15m.
|Ambition: The world stood still when Shearer came home in 1996|
Nervous excitement in his voice, Keegan announced Newcastle as a serious force to be reckoned with. A sensational statement of intent had been made by the club and the chairman Sir John Hall, who had, with Keegan, assembled a tremendous squad of players in just four years. Hall spoke passionately about the plans for a new 60,000 seater stadium, as Newcastle's rise had seemingly outgrown its capacity of that time, and a major investment in soccer academies to secure the next generation of Alan Shearer's.
My word the club was going places and Alan Shearer was surely the cherry on top of the icing on a very, very sweet cake. The ambition was staggering, yet was playing out in front of our eyes. The club made it very clear it was all about the fans. We put the money into the club; we wanted Shearer so we got Shearer. We deserved it, said Keegan.
19 years on and Newcastle United seemingly couldn't be further from that level of ambition. Another lacklustre season under the stewardship of owner Mike Ashley; with more of supporter’s money apparently going in his back pocket. The replica shirts, the season tickets, and programmes all funding the Sports Direct Empire while the reputation of club tumbled further into laughing stock territory. The product on the pitch was definitely not very best, the next generation of Geordie superstars nowhere to be seen.
It would have been inconceivable back then to imagine that less than 15 years on from Shearer's signing, the £15m marquee man would be failing from the Manager's dugout to prevent his beloved United from relegation from the Premier League. It has been sad to watch the record goalscorer rightly lambast the club as it flirted with the brink again last season.
There are no homecoming heroes in modern day football anymore; no World Class stars at the peak of their powers snubbing champions to play in front of their own people. Players are commodities bought and sold for ambition-driven businesses, and in a summer where Manchester City have paid £49m for a frankly unproven Raheem Sterling, it is even more inconceivable that a club of Newcastle's size have just completed their third and fourth most expensive signings in history - for less than they paid for Shearer in 1996.
Only Michael Owen in 2005 has cost more than Shearer, and at the time that was also a major, major signing; another show of ambition from the previous regime to Ashley. Regardless of fees however, has the summer arrivals of Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, and Mbemba truly indicated that Mike Ashley has turned a corner?
Many were sceptical about his pre-West Ham speech, many were optimistic. But the acquisitions of three highly thought of players has caught everyone by surprise. A young, athletic, powerful centre half to hopefully end Mike Williamson's continued involvement and a creative, goal scoring midfielder have got optimism rising.
But it is Aleksandar Mitrovic that has got tongues wagging most. As the boring Charlie Austin "saga" refuses to go away, people may be overlooking the fact that Newcastle could have a serious, serious frontman on their hands in Mitrovic.
Considered one of Europe's hottest properties, it is surprising that Newcastle have managed to pull off his signature; particularly after his impressive foray in last season's Champions League. What's more surprising is that Ashley has sanctioned such an ambitious signing, shortly after securing the Dutch international and PSV skipper Wijnaldum.
Mitrovic is not a homecoming hero, but he is a lad who openly supports Newcastle and considers Shearer is hero and that is as good as it gets in this day and age. If he puts the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis, then wow.
Newcastle's hierarchy must have done something right in their pitch to these ambitious players, hopefully it’s not the "stepping stone" idea that has left fans frustrated in recent times. Hopefully it is about climbing the league, challenging for trophies, giving the club the stage it should be on more regularly. This could be the sign of positive times to come.
Should more players be added? Possibly, but Steve McClaren's measured approach is correct; only the right players will do. If they are not there then others should not be signed for signings sake. Newcastle have shown infrequently that they do have good players already on the books, but it was the preparation and management of these players under Pardew and Carver that saw us lacking.
McClaren has spoken openly about defending from the front and shoring up at the back, about revamping set piece approaches, improving discipline, and eradicating the dreadful injury record. He is changing the culture of the team, who is to say he can't be the man who will get the best out of Cabella, Coloccini, and Anita, and take Moussa Sissoko to the next level?
Improvements across the board, along with these new signings, can be just what Newcastle United need to kick on in 2015/16. Keeping players fit is crucial, particularly De Jong and Rolando Aarons. The proof will be in the pudding, especially when it comes to the cup competitions; where we will see if the club really has turned a corner and truly is showing vastly improved ambition.
It is a far cry from the days of Hall, Keegan, and Alan Shearer. But nonetheless it is a step in the right direction. As the season approaches we once again wait with bated breath as the Newcastle United rollercoaster prepares to take off. Are we ready? Can Newcastle United be the club that we deserve?