Is It Mike Ashley’s Targets Rather Than Alan Pardew To Blame?
Having been a fairly vocal critic of Alan Pardew’s tactics over the last couple of seasons, I will try not to get dragged down into lambasting his apparent lack of tactical nous, and instead ponder the idea that it may be another problem.
We all know that the Toon boss was given the target of a Top 10 finish last season, which he achieved by the skin of his teeth. But is that challenge part of the problem?
Ashley, a businessman used to setting targets in his business empire, thinks that by doing the same in football means that Newcastle will finish as high as they can. This then inspires them financially to reach that spot (with the much publicised bonuses they got last season for achieving this) as well as giving him a return on his investment. But maybe that also explains some of the negative football that we have sadly got used to recently.
In a game that is poised delicately at 0-0 or even 1-0 up, the onus is on getting the points and keeping them safe. Three points is another step towards the finish demanded by the boss. Thus each game is taken as a separate entity, the result being more important than any progress made by the team.
Each game suddenly becomes more important than developing an exciting team, an ambitious team, an attacking and entertaining team. All that matters is getting points, or not losing. This is a logical approach when a Top 10 finish is demanded.
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But what if the target set at the start of the season was different? What would happen if Ashley said, ‘right, this season, I want you to really go for other teams. Make them worry about what we have, of how they are going to cope with us. Get the fans off their feet. Make them scream with excitement. Let’s smash some of these teams that come to St James’.’
What would happen? There may well be steps backwards before the team went forwards. We might lose 3-0 in a game where we didn’t get it right. But would that be any worse than some of the abject performances in the latter half of last season? At least we would be giving it a go!
Let us envisage what could happen in the long run. Newcastle win some and lose some, but more importantly, reclaim their tag as the Entertainers. We all remember Keegan’s teams for some buccaneering performances, but also for some heartbreaking losses. Did they detract from what he was trying to do? Not for me. If anything, they added to the fragile beauty of what he was trying to achieve.
50,000 home supporters screaming onslaught after onslaught of black and white stripes going forward, would perhaps not finish Top 10 this season. But it would make for some unforgettable games, with our attacking players ripping into other teams and it is a win-win situation. We would be a more attractive proposition for potential new recruits and sooner or later, good new recruits + attacking football + frenzied support = success. Surely it would result in a Top 10 or 8 position, and who knows where it could lead?
Ambition is critical. Just aiming for a Top 10 finish year after year, avoiding a cup run or Europa, smacks of the sort of ‘play it safe-just get enough to get the bonus’ mentality that pervades the retail sales industry.
So what would happen if Pardew was delivered this alternative target at the start of the season? Ashley would see his team heralded throughout the land for playing with such verve and excitement. The players would love playing for the Toon. St James’ would return to the fortress it once was but certainly hasn’t been recently.
Pardew would repair his tarnished reputation and be lauded for his brash, exciting brand of football. Perhaps he would be labelled a bit naive for not defending when he should, as Keegan was labelled, but it didn’t stop Keegan becoming England manager. Visiting teams would know they would come in for an onslaught. That doesn’t mean play like headless chickens, as we have done for many years, especially at the back. But at least if we went for the jugular more at the top end of the pitch, we could afford an occasional slip up at the other end.
It might mean we finished 12 or 13th next year as players got used to this new found freedom. Bring back Ben Arfa. Imagine him, Cabella and De Jong with the wind in their sails, feeding a lightning-fast front man. Tiote and Sissoko menacingly patrolling in front of our back four. Frightening stuff for any team. But this system would ultimately prove successful. Goals would come. And with goals come wins. With wins come points. With points come higher placed finishes. So ultimately, the destination is the same but the journey so different.
With the recent additions, we almost have all the cards to play this hand. Over to you, Mr Pardew.
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