Newcastle’s loss away to Fulham on Monday night was a far cry from the performances we were used to seeing last year. And it’s not that Newcastle were particularly bad, it’s just that something wasn’t the same.
Maybe there is a mood at the club from the very top that last year’s achievement of finishing in the Europa League places was good enough. Maybe that feeling of happy-with-what-you’ve-got is now washing over the players. Or maybe it’s just that dreaded but almost inevitable second season syndrome.
That eight-year contract for Alan Pardew might not be looking like such a great idea now, but only really from Mike Ashley’s point of view. England needs to buck the trend of switching managers when the going gets tough—and Newcastle’s situation isn’t exactly horrific.
Newcastle are a big club and need stability in the form of the manager to help them continue building and to establish themselves as a Europe League team. Then only can they take the next step up the ladder towards Champions League football.
But this season is giving a good indication that perhaps not everyone at the club is on the same page. Alan Pardew clearly wanted greater funds in the summer to strengthen an already good side. This club have done the hard part, first coming up from the Championship and then knocking everyone off their seats with a whole league campaign’s worth of good and consistent results. Last summer was the time to dig in.
And it’s strange, because Newcastle haven’t lost any of their key players since finishing fifth last season. Even when talk became heated about players like Demba Ba, Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye leaving, each of them—with maybe an exception to Ba—remained committed to the club.
Ashley, the businessman first and foremost, needs to look at the current situation and think when he has ever had life at Newcastle so good. If money if the driving point then allow the manager who you’ve entrusted with a relatively incongruous contract to strengthen this side.
Highlights of last season like the impressive win at Chelsea shouldn’t have to be from one fantastic yet soon to be forgotten season. Impressive buys like Cabaye and Papiss Cisse—ignoring his recent form—don’t have to be resigned to a one-off purple patch for the club under Pardew.
Everyone talks about second season syndrome, and Newcastle are one of the many examples of that throughout Europe. But it isn’t inevitable and it can be avoided. It can be avoided by not making Vurnon Anita your only major signing of the summer. It can be avoided by using Europa League qualification as a starting point rather than the height of your ambitions.
And I’m not suggesting that Mike Ashley doesn’t want his team to be in Europe’s elite competition in the future, but the lack of strengthening where needed suggests otherwise.
If Newcastle do finish well outside of a European place come May, you’ve got to hope that there won’t be a severe backlash on the manager. The exciting showing of last season has bought Pardew plenty of time to continue taking the club forward, but he needs absolute financial backing from the owner to continue to do so.
If Demba Ba leaves within the next six months, move on and acquire a striker of equal or better quality—and there are certainly enough good strikers on the continent who can replicate Ba’s production in front of goal.
But a change of tack is needed. The result could be of greater financial loss to Ashley if he doesn’t opt to move with a more forceful and positive attitude in the transfer market.
Talk of relegation wouldn’t be fitting of this team: there are far worse teams in the Premier League with greater problems. But this season may have to be seen as nothing more than an important learning curve for a club that desire and who are good enough for much more.