What a difference a year makes in the world of Newcastle United. May 2012, Newcastle beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to go joint fourth in the Premier League. May 2013, Newcastle desperately need Swansea to beat Wigan at the DW to avoid dropping into the bottom three.
Even with their long and storied history of self-destruction, only Newcastle United, with the same manager and virtually the same team, could go from the top five to the bottom five in the space of twelve months. So, the big question is, how?!
Well firstly, let’s be clear, last season Newcastle overachieved. No one expected them to perform the way they did and finish fifth, especially after the departures of Nolan, Barton and Enrique. With little expectation bestowed upon a relatively new-look team led by the imperious Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle played with a confident, pressure-less freedom and thrived. Aided by an injury list that was relatively kind, and thanks to early exits from both cups, there was nothing to throw them off course and disrupt the momentum.
With a European campaign thrown into the mix, this season was always going to be harder; but we knew that. With only one senior player in Vernon Anita signed in the summer, the club left themselves significantly short of numbers. Once again our tight-arse owner tried to do it on the cheap, spend the bare minimum and hope we get lucky once again. He got away with it last year, this year he’s been caught red-handed.
This penny-pinching approach is not how you run a Premier League team, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the position Newcastle were in May, it’s imperative you strike whilst the iron’s hot, strengthen the squad and try to push on to make the next step. It ain’t rocket science.
The new blood that was required in the summer finally arrived in January. Sadly, it took the threat of losing Newcastle’s Premier league status to scare the owner into spending the cash; if we were in the top half of the table and sitting comfortably, you can bet your bottom dollar it wouldn’t have happened. Five new signings from France initially gave Newcastle a boost and looked to have rescued the season; the boost however was short-lived.
After a full season of poor performances and questionable managerial decisions, cumulating in back-to-back gutless, demoralising and shameful home defeats to bitter rivals Sunderland and then Liverpool; without injuries or Europe to blame, the fans began to turn on the manager.
Whilst I have always personally believed that if we have learnt nothing from the Freddy Shepherd era at Newcastle, it’s that hiring and firing managers is not the way forward. Now that Newcastle have confirmed in a very carefully worded statement that Pardew will be in charge next season, it seems the owner is of the same thought.
However, as far as I am now concerned, Pardew is now stretching my belief to its absolute limits. Alan Pardew must carry the can for this disaster of a season; as a manager, Pardew has failed this season.
The excuses of the Europa League and of injuries only wash so far. Pardew has failed to get the best out of his player’s technical abilities, he has failed with his tactics and he has failed with his selections. His lack of tactical nous and his inability to change a game have been badly exposed this term; not once this season have Newcastle dominated a game and only once have Newcastle won by more than the odd goal.
His selections have been puzzling to say the least. Players regularly played out of position as he attempts to shoe-horn in his favourites like Gutierrez, Tiote and Sissoko regardless of form or system; whilst players like Anita, Perch and Marveaux are regularly overlooked or benched.
The players themselves must also carry their share of blame in all this. In recent years the outspoken and forthright British core of Nolan, Carroll, Barton, and Smith has been (purposely) removed from St James’ and the results are now starting to show.
With the exception of Coloccini, there are no leaders in the dressing room, no players with the heart and the guts to grab a side by the scruff of the neck and pick it up when things are going wrong. Too many players in this team are looking to each other for answers, and seemingly not fully comprehending the perilous situation they had been sucked into. Most worryingly of all, how much some of these players actually care, is another unanswered question.
Are there are now too many French players in the dressing room as some have suggested? I don’t think so; I would argue the problem lay more with the lack of characters and leaders than with their nationalities.
Derek Llambias said that given their long-term plans for Newcastle United Alan Pardew was allowed ‘one bad season’. Well he’s just used that bad season up and in the eyes of many fans is only still in a job on the back of last season’s achievements, and because of his willingness to sing from the owner’s official hymn sheet.
Come the start of the new season, there needs to be a drastic improvement. If more of the same is served up early on and the team continues to underperform, then the fans will turn in their masses. Will Mike listen? Probably not. However, what matters most to Mike Ashley is money, once it starts looking like our place on the Premier League gravy is once again in jeopardy then surely Pardew’s time will be up; sadly by then a full summer and pre-season to bed-in a potential replacement will have been lost.