Newcastle’s 3-0 win over Wigan at home this week cannot be underestimated, but the fact that most were talking about the game beforehand in the terms that their season needed ‘saving’ tells you everything you need to know about how it’s gone for the club this term. However, can the root cause of all of their problems be best attributed by a failure to invest significantly over the summer?
The club’s fifth-placed finish last season made them the surprise package of the top flight and presented manager Alan Pardew with an opportunity to really go on an establish the side in the top six, with so many of their rivals at that end of the table in a state of transition. Instead, they simply dragged their heels during negotiations for the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Douglas and Luuk De Jong and they only managed to secure the versatile Vurnon Anita who has gone on to make any sort of impact on the starting eleven.
Living up to the standards set during last season’s fantastic fifth-placed league finish was always going to be an impossible task, and there’s a certain sense of inevitability about their struggles so far this campaign as they sit 14th in the table, just five points above the drop zone. The Wigan victory was the first that the club have managed to secure in the Premier League since Alan Pardew was bizarrely awarded with a new eight-year contract. The club’s hierarchy of Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, even when it seemed impossible to, have managed to make a huge muddle of a great opportunity by getting their priorities completely wrong.
Securing a yes-man on a longer deal was not the main thing to take away from last term’s success. Ashley is clearly delighted that he has finally found a manager willing to work within the financial parameters that he’s set out; one who will continually back the club’s transfer policy to the press under pressure, yet you have to question the length of the deal in the climate of the modern game, with turnover so high. Any slump in form like the one just endured again in the future will only increase the pressure on Ashley to make a decision on Pardew and while an eight-year deal protects the club should anyone else come sniffing around in terms of compensation, it works both ways and should they need to sack him, it will be costly, needlessly so too, seeing as there was no real pressure to hand him a new deal in the first place.
They signed just four players in the summer, with only Anita making the grade so far – Romain Amalfitano has yet to make a first league start, despite the injuries and added fixtures in Europe necessitating rotation, and at 23 years of age, you’d like to think that he’d be ready by now, while Curtis Good and Gael Bigirimana are both considered good prospects for the future. Failing to be held to ransom in the transfer market was deemed a positive approach at the time, but it is seriously costing them now and they look ill-equipped to compete on multiple fronts at once.
Pardew told Sky last week: “We have been unlucky but we are in the process of analysing whether we under-cooked it [the transfer window] and that’s what we should do. It would be silly not to. It’s increased the discussion mode on that. We obviously had an idea of where it was going to go but it probably is going to change before we get there. It’s very important just to keep our eye on the ball.”
They haven’t been helped this season by a small squad trying to compete in Europe and at home, and every injury or suspension to a first-team member has been keenly felt, while the form of several key performers such as Cabaye, Cisse and Tiote isn’t at quite the same level as it was last term, with only really Demba Ba stepping up to the plate in a similar fashion. Coupled with the needless tinkering of a winning formation, reverting back to a traditional 4-4-2 that doesn’t sit as easy with the players as the fluid 4-3-3 they used last year, and they’ve simply succeeded in making a mountain out of an avoidable molehill; snatching regression from the jaws of progress.
There is obviously money there to spend should Ashley deem it worthy of investment, hence the very public pursuit of Andy Carroll, with it looking increasingly likely as if the club will move for him in the summer and it’s not as if he’ll come cheaply or for anything below £15m.
You have to question whether the club’s transfer policy under head scout Graham Carr is a sustainable one, because as soon as you start to enjoy any sort of success and clubs on the continent begin to realise what you’re doing, the result is that they drive their prices up for players. This is exactly what happened to Newcastle in the summer, where they bargained themselves into a standstill on both Debuchy and Douglas.
The club are short in terms of both quality and quantity and while they’ve acquitted themselves well in the Europa League so far, it’s come at a cost to their league form. A failure to invest in the right areas in the summer was not only ill-judged but unforgivable and as a result, the club are going backwards, looking nervously over their shoulders at the drop zone when for all intents and purposes, it looked like the dawning of a new, successful era on Tyneside last season.