The Daily Shift’s Ian Colgan looks at the downward spiral of Newcastle United and why Alan Pardew appears to be on edge…
Last year’s Premier League Manager of the Season and LMA Manager of the Year, Alan Pardew, will not be retaining either of those honours when the votes are cast in May. Pardew is one of only six managers to have won the prestigious Manager of the Season award other than Alex Ferguson, who has taken it home a staggering ten times since ‘94. He’s also one of only four managers – including Ferguson – to have won both awards in the same year.
There was no outcry or argument when Pardew picked up the gongs at the end of last season. It was generally agreed that he was the deserving winner. Newcastle had been the ‘surprise’ team, like what West Brom, Everton and Stoke have been to this season, finishing fifth and missing out on a Top Four Finish by just four points. Hatem Ben Arfa had reduced his opponents to meek remipedes, Papiss Cissé and Demba Ba alternated in the methodical barraging of almost every keeper in the league, racking up 29 goals and almost 150 shots between them, and Pardew masterminded it all.
By this time last season, Newcastle were seventh and had amassed a vigorous thirty points, and Pardew was revered by a legion of delirious ‘Toon Army’ heads who just two years previously had had to watch their club succumb to relegation. This season, at the dawn of a new year, they are fifteenth with a paltry twenty points, Ba’s departure in January looks imminent, the club is about three bad results away from being sucked into a relegation battle and Pardew is about two bad results away from having a spiritual breakdown in public.
Some think he is already in the throes of it, with Ferguson’s verbal donkey punch about Newcastle being a “wee club in the North East” being the pip to send him over the edge into a flat-out hysteria. The Manchester United game on Wednesday was a cruel defeat, but also a hard one to grasp as Pardew’s men put themselves in a position to win the game three times, only to throw it all away every time. Then, to add insult to the 4-3 defeat, Pardew’s suggestion that Ferguson should have been punished for angrily confronting the match officials, made him look like a bitter loser and resulted in him and his club being mocked and ridiculed by the most powerful manager in football.
“I’m the manager of the biggest club in the world,” were Ferguson’s words. “I’m not like Newcastle…” It was a jibe that cut to the quick, and was a fine glimpse of Ferguson’s ‘egomaniac’ side. “Well, it’s taken 26 years, but the power has finally gone to his head,” was one interpretation of his remarks, and looking back on it, in context, they seemed particularly brutal. Ferguson had prefaced his swipe by labelling Pardew as “the worst for haranguing referees”, and someone who had forgotten “the help I gave him”.
Actually, Pardew had a point. Ferguson had made no effort to conceal his rage at half time, badgering referee Mike Dean over Newcastle’s ‘controversial’ second goal before pouncing on fourth official Neil Swarbrick and linesman Jake Collins. It was the type of outburst that’s been seen countless times on touchlines over the years, but old Fergie had pulled back just at the rim of teetering over into the kind of clear-cut aggressive fit that would warrant a misconduct charge. He had stayed just within his rights, Dean judged.
Pardew was not alone in his assessment that Ferguson had gone far enough over the top to deserve a punishment, but he seemed to end the matter on Saturday by not biting back against the “wee club” zinger. It’s maybe just as well that Pardew is prepared to let it drop. He now has far bigger things to worry about, such as how to come to terms with the rancid prospect of qualifying for Europe one season, and with virtually the same squad, scrapping with the likes of Southampton and Wigan to stay in the league the next.
The 7-3 routing his team were dealt in The Emirates on Saturday made it seven defeats in the last nine games, leaving them two points worse off than they were at this stage in the 2008/09 campaign – the season when they were relegated.
Newcastle’s dour slide will not be easy to reverse, because the only explanation for it – a plague of injuries – has to be either ridden out or tackled with a hopeful ‘quick fix’ solution through lavish spending in January. Ben Arfa (hamstring), Yohan Cabaye (groin), Jonas Gutierez (knee), Vurnon Anita (ankle), Dan Gosling (knee), Steven Taylor (hamstring), Ryan Taylor (knee) and Haris Vuckic (knee), is the sum and substance of the injury crisis that has been cited more than any other reason for Newcastle’s dire standing in the table.
Despite this, their wholesale catastrophic downfall on Saturday led Pardew to blame the heavy defeat on fatigue. Newcastle had a mere two-day rest between the United and Arsenal games, while Arsenal, whose scheduled fixture with West Ham on Stephen’s Day had been postponed due to industrial action, had enjoyed a more human six-day break.
The difference only became obvious towards the end of the game, when the score went from 3-3 to 7-3 in the last twenty minutes. There was no doubt, by then, that Newcastle had pushed themselves as far as their bodies would allow. It was like watching a nematode trying to corner a black mamba. Pardew appeared to be at the end of his tether as he observed the collapse – his face a bleak mask. Afterwards, he made a comment about ‘inexperience’ on the bench, which would not have been a factor with a more complete squad.
Any chance Newcastle have of clawing their way back up to the top half of the table where they feel they belong, hinges on keeping Ba until the end of the season or, if he goes in January, then replacing him instantly with someone just as prolific. Ba has scored 13 goals this season; half of Newcastle’s total and only three off his tally for all of last season. Without his contribution, they’d have the lowest goal-scoring record in the league.
So it’s come as no great surprise to learn that Pardew is very keen for Ba to stay and renew his contract. Ba’s high wages and lingering knee condition are the only things that might deter a club from triggering his release clause in January, and if a team should decide it’s worth the hassle, Pardew would be powerless to prevent it. If no pounce is made on Ba in January, however, then this would mean he could potentially sign a new deal in the summer to keep himself there.
If he doesn’t sign it, of course, Pardew, if he is still employed, will not hesitate to sell him off. But by then there will be time to regroup and a better chance of finding an adequate replacement. This season would be over, and there would be another season in the top flight to look forward to, providing Ba keeps scoring at his current rate and some luck comes their way.