Since Alan Pardew’s appointment in December 2010, Newcastle have been the Premier League’s most turbulent and unpredictable side. Throughout the last three seasons, the Magpies have finished in 5th, 16th and 10th accordingly, but their final standing in the 2013/14 campaign could have been far more impressive without a run of 13 defeats in their last 19 league fixtures.
Theories as to why Newcastle have struggled for consistency over the last three-and-a-half years are aplenty.
Could it be due to the frosty relationship between the fanbase and the boardroom? The general dislike towards owner Mike Ashley on Tyneside is well known. There have been numerous protests against his ownership throughout the last three years, with tensions further exacerbated by the renaming of St. James’s Park in 2011, allegedly for commercial purposes, as The Sports Direct Arena, and the rehiring of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football in summer 2013, which quickly exploded, via an ad hoc, unsanctioned interview with TalkSport, into a public relations disaster.
The ensuing negative atmosphere on the terraces has often trickled into Newcastle’s performances, and even when the results are promising, the Toon army’s distain towards the Sports mogul eternally bubbles under the surface.
Could it be down to the club’s incoherent transfer policy? From summer 2011 to January 2013, Newcastle spent £49.5million on inward transfers, bringing in 18 players, the vast majority of which were sourced from Ligue 1. That clearly had a debasing effect during the 2012/13 season, which saw the Magpies plummet from Europa League contention into the relegation zone, as the new faces at St. James’s struggled to adapt.
The next 18 months however saw the Tyneside club not make a single permanent first team signing – the only addition throughout the entirety of last season was Loic Remy on a year-long loan. Even after losing the talismanic Yohan Cabaye in January, Alan Pardew was not allowed to reinvest. The Frenchman’s £20million departure to PSG coincided with Newcastle’s 13 losses in 19, including a run of six consecutive league defeats, and the loyalty of the boardroom was once again called into question.
But following a summer window in which Newcastle have conducted some great business, in my opinion, the boardroom and the club’s transfer department can no longer be seen as determining causes of Newcastle’s continuous inconsistency.
This summer, the Magpies have splashed out £37.6million already – Ashley’s biggest spend since officially purchasing a majority share in 2007. And far from the multitude of risky additions from Ligue 1 made in January 2013, such as defenders Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massaido Haidara, the St. James’s outfit are now attracting well-known, proven names that undisputedly raise the quality of the starting XI.
Right-back Daryl Janmaat for example, has been one of the best defenders in the Eredivisie over the past few seasons and was intrinsic to the Netherlands’ successes at the 2014 World Cup. Remy Cabella has been the top talent in Ligue 1, outside of PSG and Monaco, for two years straight and was previously eyed by Manchester United and Arsenal to name a few. Siem de Jong has been an ever-present member of the Ajax starting Xi since 2009 and boasts 44 career appearances in Europe.
Emmanuel Riviere has found goals regularly for St. Etinne, Toulouse and Monaco and at 24 years of age the potential for further growth is enormous. Jack Colback is a tried and tested Premier League midfielder that adds depth to Newcastle’s squad. And although Nottingham Forest duo Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow will be sent back to the City Ground on loan next season, the £3.5million-apiece signings are considered to be amongst the hottest prospects in English football and are clearly wise investments.
Newcastle’s acquisitions are fantastically well-rounded and Ashley is allegedly prepared to spend even more. So neither transfer policy nor the actions of the boardroom can be used as justifiable excuses if the Magpies struggle next season.The only remaining question mark lingers over the head of Alan Pardew, a manager with more lives than a cat and less common sense than a pencil.
He was given the benefit of the doubt for Newcastle’s relegation-threatened 2012/13 campaign after administering a 5th place finish the season previous. But his role in that demise should not be ignored – there was a point in April 2013 when the Magpies had scored just once from 234 attempted corners, whilst conceded from a multitude through a lack of organisation at their own end. Last summer, Jonas Gutierrez criticised Pardew’s training sessions for lacking intensity. Clearly the former Charlton and West Ham boss had allowed standards to slip at Darsley park.
That may have been an underlying factor behind Newcastle’s sudden drop of form last season too. But it’s influence was not so devastating as Pardew picking up a seven-match ban – including a three-match stadia ban – for headbutting Hull City’s David Meylor. The Magpies went on to claim just three points in his absence; a 1-0 home victory against Crystal Palace.
Rather worryingly, it’s by no means the 53 year-old’s only touchline incident. Two months previous, he was caught on camera calling Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini ‘ an effing old lady-parts’, but obviously, much less politely.
All the while, Newcastle’s philosophy has been largely centred around direct, disjointed football, often dependant on moments of individual quality rather than a collective team performance. These instances were first supplied by Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, then Yohan Cabaye, and more recently Loic Remy. Whether Cabella, Riviere or de Jong have the quality to take up that mantle remains to be seen, but the danger lies in the Magpies’ successes under Pardew seemingly depending upon the form of a few key players, rather than the team as a whole.
Likewise, team selections have been consistently puzzling, the tactics and formations have been continually unimaginative and explanations for poor performances have verged upon Tony Blair-esque in their feel-good ambiguity.
Indeed, whilst the boardroom and the club’s transfer policy take a step towards redemption this summer, the jury is still out on Alan Pardew. His qualities as a manger have been open to debate for the last two seasons, and until now his reputation spared by factors seemingly out of his control.
Next year however, there can be no more excuses. The board have shown their faith with financial backing and their summer window has been executed to near perfection – the only omission being perhaps a striker who comes with goal-scoring guarantee. If Newcastle find themselves in another rut amid the coming campaign, only Alan Pardew can justifiably be held responsible.