Newcastle United isn’t the kind of club that oozes the idea of stability.
At the managerial helm, they have a boss in Alan Pardew whom through his clichéd soundbites, obnoxious demeanour and subtle undertones of desperation, is perhaps the Premier League’s closest current equivalent of Alan Partridge.
Above him, you have Mike Ashley. A man who is at such constant odds with the St. James’s Park faithful he recently banned journalists from the infamously renamed Sports Direct Arena for reporting on protest campaigns against his ownership.
And somewhere in between lies Joe Kinnear, who as a player, manager, and now transfer honcho, could never be described, in any manner of the word, as ‘stable’.
Last season, as the Magpies finished in 17th place and recorded a disturbing 17 Premier League defeats, in stark contrast to their continental qualification the year previous, perhaps the biggest example of the club’s persistent turbulence, these three stooges became the poster boys for the discontent of the fan base.
Even Graham Carr, the Chief Scout once applauded for his ability to snap up cheap and promising talents from Ligue 1, came under attack for his role in creating a squad filled with Frenchmen, most of which were hopelessly underperforming last term, with pundits such as Gary Neville quipping that Newcastle had lost their vital English identity through the influx of foreigners.
At such a point, especially in the summer, it would have been incredibly easy for Mike Ashley to give Alan Pardew his marching orders, and scapegoat the former West Ham and Charlton manager for the sorry campaign. It’s not as if we haven’t seem a similar pattern of overachievement followed by underperformance from Pardew before.
Fans further baulked as the summer transfer window slammed shut. For three months worth of work during the off-season, Kinnear, Pardew and Ashley had brought in just a single new player to a squad filled with unknown quantities, in the form of loan signing Loic Remy. Questioning whether the club’s management and board shared the same ambitions as the supporters, divisions on the terraces intensified.
But how quickly things can change in the world of modern football; Newcastle suddenly find themselves in sixth place in the Premier League table after 13 games, claiming surprise wins against Chelsea and Tottenham, and reminding the St. James’s faithful of the Magpies side we saw clinch fifth spot two years ago. Not to suggest tensions between fan and boardroom have anywhere near diminished due to results.
So what’s been the turning point? What’s the deciding factor in Newcastle’s fortunes taking a sharp upturn from the troubling season previous?
Well, Alan Pardew is currently the second-longest serving manager in the English top flight, not that that’s too much of an achievement nowadays considering he’s been Magpies gaffer for just two and a half years.
But the correlation is obvious, bearing in mind the Premier League’s first longest-serving head coach, Arsene Wenger, has enjoyed a similar flurry in form this season that’s seen his Gunners side leave pundits eating their words as they claim pole position in the English table, while the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are still struggling to overcome changes in management and first team personnel from the summer.
It’s consistency and stability, despite Newcastle’s customary negative stigmatism otherwise, that they’re reaping the benefits from this season, just as Wenger is at the Emirates.
The same goes for the Newcastle roster. The likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yoann Gouffran, Davide Santon, Fabricio Coloccini, Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheik Tiote weren’t at anything near their best last season, and after such a terrible campaign many expected a mild overhaul of the first team squad in the summer, or at least the arrival of some home-grown talent to balance out the roster. In a sense, the summer transfer window could have represented the end of Graham Carr’s transfer policies.
But just as Ashley stuck to his guns in not relinquishing Pardew of his duties, who was at times last season looking like a sitting duck waiting to be put out of his misery, the club’s management did the same regarding the squad over the summer, and now last year’s flops are emerging as the stars of the Newcastle show.
Apart from Pablo Zabaletta, Debuchy has been the best right-back in the English top flight this year. Davide Santon is finally delivering on his obvious potential, Yoann Gouffran – once described as a Gabriel Obertan who can be bothered to run – has claimed three goals and one assist in his last four appearances, Hatem Ben Arfa has charged himself with the monumental task of winning the Ballon D’or, and Tiote and Coloccini are putting in the levels of performance we’ve come to expect from the defensive duo.
Meanwhile, the Magpies’ only summer addition, loan star Loic Remy, is proving to be the missing ingredient, with eight goals in 10 appearances putting him in sixth in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.
Once again, we have obvious comparisons with the Premier League’s leaders. Wenger was implored by fans and pundits alike at the end of last season to finally spend big, and he resisted the urge until late in the summer window, eventually forking out £42million on Mesut Ozil.
It wasn’t quite the spending spree supporters had envisaged, with still obvious weaknesses in depth in several departments, but adding selectively to his squad rather than administering a sudden turnaround has allowed the Frenchman to build astutely, and has undoubtedly contributed to the Gunners’ meteoric rise this season whilst their divisional rivals have squandered.
For a club that’s most closely resembled a plank of wood delicately hanging over either side of a wire-thin tight rope throughout the last 18 months, it’s surprisingly Newcastle’s stability and consistency that’s got them to turn their fortunes around.
Refraining from panic and sensationalism, the Magpies have emerged as a rare beacon of interior loyalty and constancy in a division continually caught up with the notion of instantaneous progression, keeping the faith in their transfer philosophy, management and playing staff, and they are now reaping the just rewards for doing so.