Jets already looking ahead

Newcastle Jets CEO Robbie Middleby reflects on a season that promised so much, delivered so little on the field but ultimately was still successful.

Newcastle Jets CEO Robbie Middleby reflects on a season that promised so much, delivered so little on the field but ultimately was still successful.

The Jets went into the 2012/13 Hyundai A-League season with high expectations. They had the financial backing of mining magnate Nathan Tinkler and a well-organised management driving the club.

Head coach Gary van Egmond had been given an open chequebook to construct the squad of his choosing. He cleaned out the team he inherited last season, sending 14 players on their way and recruiting a squad of young players with plenty of potential to fulfil his brand of high-pressing, high-tempo possession football.

The club also added to that mix the experience and profile of one of the true superstars of the game in former England striker Emile Heskey.

Things looked bright for the Newcastle club and they enjoyed their best start to a season to sit second after the first six weeks of the campaign.

However, they soon fell into a rut of inconsistency and slowly slipped down the A-League ladder. They were still in the top four at the half-way stage but that was more a case of the teams below them also floundering.

Around this time the squad was rocked by some high profile departures. Club captain Jobe Wheelhouse left after stating his "heart wasn't in the game anymore", central defender Tiago Calvano was allowed to join rivals Sydney FC, while equal top-goalscorer Ryan Griffiths was poached by a Chinese club in the January transfer window.

By the run to the finals the Jets were clinging on to sixth spot, fielding one of the youngest sides ever in the history of the A-League and needing to win games against the top teams to qualify for the post-season.

The task proved too much and they ended up finishing eighth, which in hindsight, was probably a fair reflection up the quality of football they served up week to week throughout the season.

"It is hard to pinpoint one actual thing,' answers Middleby to the question of what went wrong.

"There has been some key players leave at different times. And from all reports it was their decision, and it was difficult for the club.

"You look at defence and defence has been poor, you look at consistency that is the main thing for the team; one game they were outstanding and the next game they were poor, so for me the key component is the consistency.

"Our expectation was the make the top six this season. Although we have the youngest squad in the competition that was still our expectation. But when you look at it and look how close we were and how close we were in certain games it is hard to take."

Middleby rejects the theory that the high turnover of personnel meant the team took a long time to gel and work fluidly together. The fact that they had a great start to the season dispels that idea and the success of debut club the Western Sydney Wanderers, who had the least amount of preparation shoots any such notion down in flames.

"Yes, we brought in many players for this season, but then you can say that about Western Sydney.

"So it (the result) is a combination of things. We don't like to make excuses all we can say is that we will be better and stronger next season."

While the results were disappointing, it was achievements off the field that the club deemed to be a major success.

"There are so many positives," said Middleby.

"To bring Emile Heskey to the Newcastle Jets has been fantastic not just for the club but for the A-League as a whole.

"What a sensational guy he is for all our young players on and off the field.

"It is credit to the club to have someone like Emile here. Firstly for him to come and secondly for him to stay. Financially he could be offered a lot more money elsewhere but he believes in what we are doing here, he loves the area and he believes in the A-League and it is great for the league that Del Piero, Ono and Heskey have re-signed.

"We also have five young players who have represented the young Socceroos who are going to the Turkey in July for the World Youth Cup. Adam Taggart debuted for the Socceroos, so the future is bright for the Newcastle Jets."

In addition the club had a successful membership drive, eclipsing last year's target membership of 10,000 by more than 1500 members.

"The membership is a really positive thing and second only to Melbourne Victory and when you take into consideration the population of Newcastle, Northern New South Wales and areas like Melbourne and Sydney we are really proud of that," says Middleby.

"Crowd averages are up 20 to 30 per cent, memberships are up over 1000 members, merchandising is up, so there is a lot of positive signs especially for not making the top six.

"The club has so much potential and we want to fulfil that potential not just for ourselves but for our community."

Another first for the club was the launch of the Emerging Jets program.

This is a first for the A-League - a collaborative program with the governing football body of the zone, Northern New South Wales Football, where young players in the region as young as 10 years old are identified trained in a feeder style system.

"That is the big picture. I know it is hard for members and supporters to get the 'we are building for the future' line all the time but we literally are building for the future, but we want success in the meantime," Middleby says.

"But I know for a fact that from this Emerging Jets program that one of these kids will end up being a star, not just for the Jets, and the A-League but for the Socceroos or the Matildas and that is what will make it all worthwhile."

However, the club and its supporters will be expecting better things next season. Van Egmond said they are only looking at recruiting three or four players and as he will be in the last year of his three-year contract he will be expected to deliver handsomely on the plans he initiated last season.

"We do expect results and we are sure for our members and supporters that next season we have to make the top six," says Middleby.

"Of course, that is always the thought to be as high as you can, to be winners.

"But if you ask any team in the competition they will say a top six finish because when you make the finals you can go anywhere from there, especially in the format it is now.

"Of course I want the team to go out and win every single game. It is the passion for the game and the Newcastle spirit that the supporters expect to win every single game.

"The football community of Newcastle expects winners and hopefully we can deliver on that next season."