In the past year, much has been said and written about the divided support of our club, where blame is directed not only towards different people within the club, but also towards other fans.
This is another effect of the deceitful running of Newcastle United, it divides rather than unites.
In the aftermath of Newcastle’s aggressive recruitment this summer, confusion resurfaced in the media debate regarding Mike Ashley and Newcastle United. Considering the unexpected amount of players that have signed for Newcastle, the fee paid for a player like Remy Cabella and the fact that proactive signings have been made in Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow from Nottingham Forest, arguments regarding the owner’s intentions once again found themselves being tested. It seems as if this strategy has taken people by surprise. If growing Sports Direct is Ashley’s only purpose, why sign all these players?
Besides the obvious calculations, the ones that tell us the story of a club simply circulating money brought in through player-sales, there are other elements to this behaviour that sort of answers this question. Many of us have memories of similar player-injections, like the one in January 2013.
I see this as Mike Ashley’s way of ensuring the club’s all important Premier League status when in doubt. At the same time, the fresh impetus favourably gives the impression of something different than it actually is – standing still with new legs. In the eyes of those who view this window as an isolated incident, Newcastle United have shown that they “mean business”. The club’s only spokesperson, Mr. Pardew, boasted about crushing a myth of “not spending money”. Meanwhile, our recruitment has been widely praised in media outlets. This has contributed to an impression of a new, ambitious side to Mike Ashley’s tenure, something that was desired. This does not come as a surprise.
Another dimension of this summer is the quality of the players brought in. Daryl Janmaat has arrived with a World Cup finals pedigree, Remy Cabella was one of the most influential attacking midfielders in an increasingly competitive Ligue 1 last season, Siem De Jong was the captain of Ajax and has performed well in the Champions League. It is very similar to the reputations carried by players like Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa – Ligue 1 winning captain and French international at just 23, Davide Santon, Champions League competitor and Italian international, or Papiss Cissé, notorious goal-scorer and one of the Bundesliga’s best strikers.
Newcastle United have simply stuck to a pattern where they identify relatively cheap targets on the continent, a strategy which has seen players excel and move onto bigger things while bringing “much needed” income in the shadows of Sports Direct’s free advertising. Taking these matters into account, neither does the quality of the players brought in come as a surprise.
This continuous influx of high-profile purchases has however not contributed to any higher expectations than during the days of signing Antoine Sibierski and Celestine Babayaro, but rather coincided with the opposite. When Newcastle failed to launch a sustained attack on the top half of the league under the leadership of someone like Glenn Roeder, disappointment was not only outspoken and visual, it illustrated and expressed the Newcastle United we had come to know during 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Since Mike Ashley’s takeover in 2007, those elements of our club and support have slowly but surely grown numb. The mild expectations despite the improved transfer policy, do therefore not come as a surprise either.
After drawing 0-0 at Aston Villa, Newcastle United have now failed to score in 15 of their last 22 league games. If you add that to the fact that we lost 14 out of our last 19 games this spring, you would think there is pressure on the manager. But Alan Pardew is seemingly under no such threat from his employer. His win-ratio of 35.37% is only worsened by Ruud Gullit and Joe Kinnear since the coming of the Premier League. Instead of being put to the sword by Ashley, he’s enjoyed another vote of confidence, another batch of talent and another summer of practicing the floated cross to Mike Williamson at the back post©.
Ashley’s continued support of Pardew was therefore never really in question. Not only has he been offered numerous chances to get rid of him in the past months, the head-butting incident perhaps presenting him with the most obvious opportunity. His manager has orchestrated similar runs before, without any other consequence than being given new players. Newcastle experienced results of equally apocalyptic proportions before signing Moussa Sissoko, Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haïdara and Mathieu Debuchy in January 2013, using the money from Andy Carroll, José Enrique and Demba Ba to do so. Pardew staying in the job despite instigating a joyless, winless and goalless day-to-day existence at St. James’ Park, should therefore, again, not come as a surprise.
But that leads me to the one thing from this summer that does constitute a surprise. The agreement from May, the conclusion we all seemed to shake hand on, the way St. James’ Park made its feelings known, the united voice of Newcastle United, has again become somewhat divided. I didn’t think there would be a way back. But after a summer of World Cup excursions, of high-profile signings, talk of Champions League and a vacuum of time, Alan Pardew has once again managed to make himself a few friends in our support.
After three and a half years, after 164 games, we went to Villa Park and it was a movie we have all seen. It was boring, it was the excruciating safety-first approach, it was the same floated set-piece, it was centrally orientated players running down the wings, it was the same inability to create movement in the last third.
Still, some fans find it possible to once again re-direct blame and come up with explanations that identify other aspects than our manager as the main reason for the repetitive, predictable and utter lifeless occurrence that the typical Newcastle United performance has become.
In some camps, Yohan Cabaye is said to have been “too important”, in other cases Pardew supposedly has his “hands tied”. What does that mean? I have seen him use his hands to shove referees and play Shola Ameobi, Gael Bigirimana and Papiss Cissé as right-wingers among other things. I see labelling of fans who continue to point the finger at Pardew as negative and ungrateful, asked to “remember the times of Seymour and McKeag”. The questions “Who could we get instead?” and “Who should we finish above?” reek of a complacent and defeatist attitude that I don’t recognise or identify myself with. The continued reproduction of these arguments is what surprises me.
It surprises me because I can see no point in sticking up for him, unless he is your father, brother, mother or organ-donator. If you watch Newcastle United week in and week out, why do you feel the need to defend what you see?
Why would you seek other arguments when this is a team repeatedly characterised by the exact same things no matter who plays, while the manager remains?
A team that always stare at defeat when going behind, that cannot find an alternative to launching free-kicks and corners towards a player that hasn’t scored in his five years at the club. Why do you feel Newcastle need to settle for this when clubs of similar stature refuse to enter into the same logic? Why would you feel angered by the opinion of those who think there is an alternative to the goalless reality of today?
There was an afternoon in May when St. James’ Park came together and pointed a finger at the same problem and booed the king of boredom back into his dugout.
United, the supporters moved a step closer to resurrect a club and team that we enjoyed following. If Pardew thinks he has weathered the storm, let us surprise him.
You can follow the author on Twitter @noabachner