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Every Manager Needs A Footballing Identity – What Is Alan Pardew’s?

8 years ago
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Every manager should have a footballing identity. A brand of football one can associate the manager or the club with.

Look at the big teams in Europe and they all have one. Think of Borussia Dortmund’s fast transitions, Barcelona’s tika-taka, Juventus’s unique 3-5-2.

It’s not just the clubs on the continent either. Chelsea, under Mourinho, build upon the foundation of a solid defence and a strong striker (hence why they’ve strived so desperately to replace Drogba, thus far without success), Liverpool play with possession and direct inside-forwards.

Even the ‘Lesser teams’ have an identity. Stoke City, under Tony Pulis, were given a great deal of criticism by football fans for their style of ‘anti-football’: attacking was very direct, generally a long ball into the box, set-pieces were endlessly rehearsed. Paul Lambert took to Aston Villa a direct form of counter-attack football with fast inside-forwards and a target man.

Newcastle United are currently a team without an identity. The best thing to be said is, under Alan Pardew, the club have taken to ‘grinding out results’. Other than that the football is largely listless.

In pre-season Pardew talked a lot about pass-and-move and the drills which encouraged that style of play. But pass-and-move only works if you have mobile forwards. Shola Ameobi will never be known for his attacking movement and nor will Papiss Cisse. So upon the tactics’ failure (usually conceded around the 60th minute) Newcastle turn to Ameobi and the beloved long ball.

It wasn’t always this way at NUFC, under Sir Bobby Robson Newcastle generally played 4-4-2, using wingers with a deadly delivery (Robert, Solano) . The two first-choice strikers played off each other: Shearer with his back to goal, holding up the ball, Bellamy with the pace in behind, stretching the defence.

Following Sir Bobby’s sacking Newcastle stumbled from manager to manager, none of whom left any impressionable style. Sam Allardyce brought his direct football to St James’ Park and was promptly turfed out when results, and the crowd, turned against him.

The second coming of King Kev, although far from a success, saw NUFC adapt to an attacking 4-3-3 of Owen – Viduka – Martins. With the arrival of Joe Kinnear all sense of style went out the window and Newcastle were relegated in the hands of former hero Alan Shearer.

Chris Hughton instilled a discipline in the dressing room and his tactics mostly mimicked Sir Bobby. Barton was put on the right wing for his delivery and Newcastle played a 4-4-2 with one target man (Carroll or Ameobi) and one to run in behind (Lovenkrands) or one to score from knockdowns (Nolan) should the opponent play a deep defensive line.

Since the arrival of Alan Pardew, Newcastle United have had no identity. There was a brief period toward the end of the 2011-12 season where Newcastle employed a dynamic 4-3-3 that tore teams apart (Stoke, Swansea, West Brom) but now, 18 months on, that seems to be more by luck than judgement.

Last season the formation drifted between the traditional 4-4-2 early in the season (where Ba and Cisse demonstrated not all compatriots have chemistry) to the fashionable 4-2-3-1 upon Ba’s departure to Chelsea.

A lot of responsibly must fall on Newcastle’s activity in the transfer market. Mike Ashley decided against the previous hierarchy’s expensive marquee signings and instead sought undiscovered gems. Buy low, sell high; a more modest Arsenal (any businessman’s dream).

The key problem with that policy, when talking about an ethos, is Newcastle seem more keen to get a bargain than a player who fits into their style of football.

A prime example would be the mismanagement of Vurnon Anita. Last season, although he got off to a rocky start, there were patches where the Dutchman was Newcastle’s best player, recycling the ball well and attempting incisive passes. Nevertheless, because Pardew was insistent on playing 4-2-3-1, whenever both Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye were fit they would be given the starting berth ahead of him – even though neither looked anything like their best as they struggled for form and fitness.

A more recent example is Moussa Sissoko. Signed for a snip £1.8m, Pardew has conceded he doesn’t know his best position. He has played Sissoko at CM, RM and AM, none of which has come near to capturing his form for Toulouse. Sissoko is a box-to-box midfielder with one of the best engines in the dressing room, he should be deployed like Yaya Toure, starting off in a more defensive position, before being given licence to make direct runs through the opposition as they tire in the second half.

Pardew’s continuing reliance on Shola Ameobi means the club has been screaming out for a better target man (Cisse has struggled as a lone striker, shoe-horned – like so many others – into the 4-2-3-1 formation). Gomis emerged as the prime target, a decent goal scoring ratio and a contract winding down. Gomis’ agent though, has played hardball and demanded exorbitant fees (there’s also a suggestion Marseille are plotting against the move to land Gomis on a free next summer). Newcastle refuse to overpay for a player (Debuchy last summer after Lille moved the goalposts) and Gomis’s transfer has stalled.

Now it looks like Newcastle might go the entire summer without making a single senior signing (Remy is on loan). Nevertheless Pardew has a squad full of established internationals; Debuchy, Cabaye, Yanga-Mbiwa, Sissoko, Cisse, Ben Arfa but seems lost how to use them, still trying to find a formation to fit the players rather than the other way around.

Pardew’s passion for success is obvious to all. He does feel the elation and share in the woe. But that’s not good enough for Newcastle fans who clamour for style, any style, almost above success. Poyet has been mooted as a potential replacement for Pardew following his successful spell at Brighton. Even Ian Holloway and his gung-ho attacking mantra would perhaps be welcome at St James’ Park. But for the minute the faithful are stuck with Pardew, a manager without an ethos, at a club without an identity.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @weeklynewsbay

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