It has been an incredibly troubling campaign for Alan Pardew. Every Newcastle defeat appears to chalk a year off of his life, with quickly emerging wrinkles, blemishes to his skin and ever-whitening hair implying that he only rests at night after one of the club’s rather sporadic victories – the only redeeming sign of youth and enthusiasm upon his physical appearance being his apparently trendy facial hair.
No doubt, he was caught off-guard by the Magpies’ complete contrast in form in comparison to last season. Having finished up in 5th place in the Premier League the campaign previous, Pardew was announced as the recipient of the manager of the year award, and thus tied down to an eight year contract by Mike Ashley.
But instead of a season of consolidation, or even a slight dip into mid-table mediocrity, Newcastle find themselves just five points clear of the relegation zone, following a humbling 3-0 defeat to Sunderland at the weekend, in a year in which the club have continually flirted with the idea of getting caught up in the scrap at the bottom of the table.
It begs the question of what has been going on in the backrooms of St. James’s Park, to turn a side that surpassed expectations as the Premier League’s biggest over-achievers into the top flight’s biggest underachievers in simply a matter of months. Furthermore, considering the money spent by Mike Ashley and the fantastic work by Graham Carr to bring in an influx of exceptional Ligue 1 talent that underpinned the Magpies’ initial success, what effect, if any, does Pardew actually have upon the club or the players?
As I’ve just alluded to, the former West Ham and Charlton boss has had no effect on the club’s incomings and outgoings, despite the transfer market being Newcastle’s most effective vehicle for change since Pardew’s controversial appointment in 2011 at the expense of Chris Haughton, after apparently bumping into Mike Ashley on a rather boozy night out at a casino in London.
All of the hard work, the finding and securing the signings of players such as Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba, whom were amongst the biggest contributors to Newcastle’s form last year, was conducted by Chief Scout Graham Carr. Similarly, the continuation of the French revolution this season, bringing in more Ligue 1 stars to prize the club away from the relegation struggle, such as Mattieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Massadio Haidara, was furthermore none of Pardew’s own doing, despite it probably being the biggest factor which will ensure Newcastle’s Premiership survival come the end of May.
Whether Pardew is even brought into the decision process, given a yes or no option, or even asked for his opinion remains unclear, but the fact that he’s spent most of the season discussing a potential return for Andy Carroll and wishing he could re-sign Kevin Nolan, along with his lack of protest against the club signing just one player in the summer, Vernon Anita, suggests he is on the whole left in the dark when it comes to the club’s transfers, and is certainly not drafting shortlists of targets based upon his superior knowledge of European football for Mike Ashley to consider.
It is hard to determine where the Magpies gaffer would be placed on a managerial spectrum. He is certainly not an avid tactician, with the modern day 4-5-1 of two wide men and a central attacking midfielder or the traditional 4-4-2 being the only deployed systems at St. James’s Park. Similarly, he is not a disciplinarian or win-at-any-cost type of boss, in the style of Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis, despite Newcastle’s distinctly long-ball style. A Newcastle fan commented on a blog earlier in the season, that by November, the Magpies had scored just once from 234 attempted corners, despite the cultured boot of Yohan Cabaye and the considerable aerial prowess of Fabricio Coloccini, Mike Williamson, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Shola Ameobi and Steven Taylor to name a few, whilst at the other end, Newcastle have been caught out on numerous occasions from set pieces and consequently conceding. It’s safe to say that Pardew is not an astute organiser.
So if Pardew is not a transfer market wheeler-dealer, a training ground organisationalist, a tactical wizard or even philosophical thinker, what does he actually bring to the Newcastle helm?
Well, he’s certainly an enthusiastic and optimistic man, which tends to spill over into his usual excuse-finding spin of events during press conferences. Pardew knows how to work the media, with the world of critical journalism buying into his reasoning of the Europa League’s demanding schedule being the major contributor to the Magpies’ poor domestic form.
But it just one of a number of excuses that have come from the Newcastle boss this season, whom has enlisted a whole range of justifications for the club losing 17 times so far this year, some of which include a “lack of experience” of certain players, a “negative reaction” from the Newcastle faithful on occasion, how refereeing “decisions seem to go against us”, and of course, “we were just tired”.
Pardew being handed the Newcastle job, and furthermore being handed an eight year contract, has as much to do with his inadequacies as a manager as it does his qualities. The 51 year old’s rather passive role at the club, which seems to end at keeping the roster as happy as possible, is an ideal situation for Mike Ashley, and many Magpies fans have alluded to Pardew’s role as a stooge for the board.
Ashley needs someone who won’t get in the way of big business deals, make demands for more money or new players, and most importantly will not rival his power and authority at the club, in the manner a Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger or David Moyes might do. Even if Pardew were to serve his full eight year term, you get the feeling he’d never challenge the Newcastle owner or openly defy him.
But there seems to be one problem in Ashley’s puppeteering, and that appears to be Pardew himself. I must enquire as to what the Newcastle fans, and indeed the owner, were expecting upon signing the former West Ham gaffer, simply because throughout his career there has been a rather repetitive pattern. Perhaps it is more a sign of the times of the world of football management, but it is no coincidence that the same thing has happened at all of the Magpies boss’s clubs.
There is an initial honeymoon period of unprecedented success; for the Hammers, it was a top half finish and an FA Cup final, at Charlton it was the near avoidance of relegation, and at Newcastle it was ending the season in fifth place. But there soon comes a backlash; West Ham nearly relegated the following year, Charlton hitting a downward spiral and ending up in League One, and now Newcastle just five points clear of the drop, despite their incredibly talented roster.
So what does Pardew actually bring to the club? Well, quite simply, he is a figurehead and a spokesman -to fill a void out of the requirement to have a head coach or manager, or else appear to be at the total disposal of the owner. He creates a buffer zone between the fans and Mike Ashley, to act as a front man for the media and a representative of the Newcastle squad, but his actual power at the club, in terms of making crucial decisions, regarding the first team or otherwise, is sufficiently limited. He may have brought the luck and charm that a new often manager brings when arriving at a new club, but his influence on results last season and this season can be summed up in a simple word – ineffectual. The only bright side is that the club will be at no loss, excluding his rather large compensation package, upon Pardew’s eventual departure.