Alan Pardew Dooms Newcastle United To Repeating The Same Mistake
The day that Alan Pardew took the manager’s job at Newcastle, this was the respective Premier League record for him and Chris Hughton, the man he was replacing.
The difference between the two was imperceptible in terms of results, which made the decision bizarre. There were other factors that took it to the realms of concerning though. In terms of character, the gulf between the two men was huge.
Pardew arrived with a history of ‘dodgy’ moments in his past which Reading Chairman John Madejski, Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger, Ian Ashbee, West Ham fans and the entire MOTD audience can attest to. Pardew has since gone on to commit further indiscretions against match officials, opposition managers and players, while Hughton’s respect and popularity in the game remain undiminished, despite his less than successful stint at Norwich.
It seemed to me like Mike Ashley was bringing in the Frank Spencer of the football world to replace Gus Fring. Someone who demanded no respect from anybody whatsoever, a derided individual who would put their foot in it at any and every opportunity, in place of someone cool and collected who may not have ultimately succeeded, but ran a tight ship and inspired 100% effort and respect from every one of his employees. And has black and white hair.
As you will guess, like most, I was not keen on the appointment.
Then came the 2011/2012 season. With new signings Cabaye, Ba and Santon in the squad Newcastle went undefeated for the first eleven games, winning seven of them on the way to sitting pretty in third place by November. Pardew’s stock was on the rise. To paraphrase Paul Simon, pundits can gather all the news they need from the Premier League table. For those of us that actually paid money to watch it week in and week out though, it wasn’t so simple. The football was awful even in that early run, which remains Pardew’s best. We were scraping wins on individual moments of skill, by one goal, against relegation bait like Wigan, Wolves and Sunderland. We were taken to extra time in the cup by lowly Scunthorpe and Nottingham Forest.
While the laziest observers (Redknapp, Lawrenson) were waxing lyrical about the job Pardew was doing, I looked at the quality of opposition each Premier League team had faced in the opening ten games. The result showed Newcastle had had one of the easiest starts possible.
It was clear to me Pardew had landed on his feet, but his good fortune couldn’t last. And so it proved. After those initial eleven games Newcastle went on a run of eight games with just one solitary win against (ultimately relegated) Bolton. Only five points. While you might suppose that new players bedding into a team should see the performances improve over time, as players learn about the system and each other, the opposite seemed to be true at Newcastle. Players were not gelling over time. They were becoming more disjointed.
Then Papiss Cisse arrived. From his debut, when he scored a peach of a volley against Aston Villa, Cisse scored in every single game we won from then on, up to his unbelievable strike, from the dugout if I remember correctly, in our last win of the season at Chelsea. Everything he swung a foot at seemed to fly into the back of the net.
Mike Ashley had loosened the purse strings and papered over the cracks for Pardew on what had been starting to look like a downward spiral. For the remainder of the season Newcastle never dropped below 7th and ultimately finished 5th, securing a UEFA cup place for the following season. Pardew won the LMA Manager of the year award and the likes of Redknapp and Lawrenson had an ever so pleased look on their ill-informed, stupid, smug, melty faces.
Begrudgingly I had to accept the man was staying, if not enthusiastically.
The way 2012/2013 went, it should have been vindication for those of us opposed to Pardew, but a strange thing happened. He started to gain some of my sympathy. On the transfer front, Vurnon Anita was little (in every sense) reward for having achieved UEFA qualification, in whatever style. With over a dozen extra fixtures in the calendar Pardew was being forced to make do. The relegation scrap that ensued was one that Ashley took the blame for almost entirely. The club went on a dreadful pre-Christmas run (again) of thirteen games with just two victories (against lowly Wigan and QPR), but criticism of Pardew was muted and always caveated by the fact the threadbare squad had not been strengthened to any great degree.
In January, Pardew went cap in hand to Ashley and once again would have been grateful as five signings dug him out of the hole he found himself in. Five wins in the following nine games were largely attributable to the new blood and only just ensured survival for the club and for Pardew.
Whatever the failings of Ashley in the transfer market, a pattern was emerging of results worsening consistently under Pardew until new players came in. He has never been able to maintain the performance of those new players, or the team, further than their initial honeymoon. It was a pattern that would continue into the current season.
Once again at the beginning of the season, we saw small shoots of success. Loic Remy arrived on loan and singlehandedly fired us up the league while the Cisse that we had known and loved continued to go AWOL.
The long balls we had been lumping up to Ba and Shola previously were less prevalent, as we instead capitalised on Remy’s speed and skill to score goals on the break. It’s at times like these, in the moment, you are tempted to take the positives. I found myself defending Pardew based on Ashley’s dereliction of duty on the transfer front. The justification that we flirted with relegation as a cost of Europa league qualification without squad improvement seemed logical, and here we were back in the top six and passing it about much better. The form we’ve shown since Christmas has disavowed anyone of that notion though. It’s been relegation form without any Europa excuses whatsoever.
Few Newcastle fans will make the mistake of listening to the excuses again. The pattern has become too recognisable. With the benefit of hindsight, any minimal success Pardew has had can be put into context showing that he’s always been the problem, new players coming in to offer a temporary lift are the only solution he has.
Under Mike Ashley, a man not keen to be signing expensive players to come straight into the first team, it’s not a sustainable approach. Ashley has two options in the summer. Keep bailing Pardew out, bring in another four or five players to ensure a good start, but watch them quickly fall off in form too, or he could bring in a manager who can maintain enthusiasm and effort enough to avoid relegation form from a squad which is better paid and cost more to build than over half of the other squads in the league.
I’d say Chris Hughton is available, but Ashley has had problems with re-instating old Newcastle managers in the past.
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