Okay, highway to hell is probably a bit strong, for a club in no real danger of relegation. But the road Newcastle United have been taking this season is one of those winding country roads which has turned into a dirt-track, with no sign of a street light, road markings, or any visible route back to civilization. At the same time, there appears no direct threat, no wild animals, no cliff edge, no howling winds, no snowstorm - just a slowly dwindling tank of gas, with nothing more than a thin blanket in the back seat to keep warm, and a small supply of water and tinned food.
That is the situation Newcastle, as a going footballing concern, finds itself in. A reported fourth straight year of profit, £19 million to be exact, will see the moderately-priced champagne corks popping in the Mike Ashley boardroom, as the same trotted out lines of investment and ambition are dusted down for another year. The only investment will be of the feeding with one hand while taking with the other. The taking has already happened this season, given the nudging out the back door of Davide Santon and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa on similar deals. The first 11 picks itself, not because they are quality squad members nailing down their place in the side, but because the personnel management has effectively jammed their square pegs into the gaping round hole. In some cases, the pegs are positively hexagonal. The decision to leave two 30-something centre-backs with nothing approaching senior cover has led to the already stretched full-back resources spread even further, leading midfielders to drop into said full-back roles, and what happens when they get injured? Papiss Cisse getting shoved into midfield? The already tiring Ayoze Perez shoved out on the wing?
It is not an exaggeration to say that a starting 11 worth of players is an absolute must this summer. That needn't require top-four levels of scouting, just careful, considered scouting. And not just from France. Newcastle's one-trick pony system of scouting has come somewhat unstuck over the last year or two, in some ways because there is so much reliance on it. Nothing of note has come from the academy of late, bar Paul Dummett, who actually could have a future at centre-half, based on performances this season. But again, injured. Some those farmed out on loan to our some-time stepbrother club, Rangers, could probably have been integrated into the team slightly more. Promise had been shown, but successive managers have chosen to rely on perceived solid pros, despite most of the time being nowhere near any relegation danger. Giving academy youngsters a tryout, such as the loaned-out Remi Streete at centre-half, would at least pique a bit more interest in the results of the club. All there is to play for are the hopefully slim chances of John Carver's glorified caretaker role being made permanent, and each defeat, as a fan myself, feels no different to a win at this point. A severe shaking up is necessary, as sooner or later that cliff edge could come closer and closer, and this time with no safety net.