It was in December 2010 that Newcastle fans were left reeling yet another crazy decision made by their much-questioned and unpopular owner, Mike Ashley.
Following relegation to the second-tier of English football the season before, a man that held various roles in the backroom staff at the club, Chris Hughton, was given the task of securing an immediate return to the promised land and he did it remarkably well.
The Magpies blew away their opposition, topping the Championship table with 102 points and Hughton was praised for getting the best out of players who hadn’t previously stepped up to the proverbial plate. Jose Enrique was looking a solid left-back and Joey Barton was making the headlines, finally, for the right reasons.
Hughton’s impressive turnaround of Newcastle’s fortunes got better in the Premier League. Signings such as, Hatem Ben Arfa from Marseille and FC Twente’s Cheik Tiote would later prove to be steals and home-grown Geordie, Andy Carroll was delivering the goods with devastating effect. Hughton had the club far from a relegation scrap and just when things were looking bright in the North East, Ashley stepped into the limelight once more, and dismissed the 54-year-old following a 3-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion.
Bizarre, ludicrous, wrong. All words used to describe the situation, to a man who had given so much loyalty to the club in a variety of roles but was also proving to be successful in the hardest of the lot, for the first ever time in his career, the managerial position. Three days had passed and Mike Ashley, along with managing director Derek Llambias, turned to a man who had recently been sacked by League One side Southampton, Alan Pardew.
Sky Sports undertook a survey, in which 40,000 Newcastle supporters had their say publicised, with just 5.5% of fans backing Pardew in the role. But looking back now, that’s what makes the job he has done even sweeter and why many, at this moment, have sympathy for being undermined by another baffling call made by the main man upstairs.
Pardew was walking into a lion’s den. The fans didn’t want him and Hughton had big personalities such as, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan on his side in the dressing room. The 51-year-old spoke words of courage to the fans, promised to deliver “drive and commitment” and to build on what Hughton had sustained. A 3-1 victory over Liverpool at St. James Park in his debut game gave him some breathing space and he eventually helped ease the club over the line of safety.
That summer, through working diligently with top-scout Graham Carr, Newcastle bought well, on a small budget, to push the club onto greater things, but the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool, for an absurd fee of £35m, heavily aided the club’s progress.
A different type of player arrived through the doors that summer, which many people failed to take much notice of. Sylvain Marveaux and Demba Ba signed on free transfers from Rennes and West Ham respectively, highly-rated Inter Milan full-back, Davide Santon signed for £5m but the best of the lot was when Pardew and Carr turned to the man who pulled the strings in Lille’s surprise League and Cup double success that season, Yohan Cabaye.
But what was equally key, was that Pardew was given the licence to get rid of any negative attitude towards himself, the club and the vision they had mapped out. Jose Enrique made comments in the media and was sold to Liverpool, Kevin Nolan reunited with old manager Sam Allardyce at West Ham and Joey Barton would leave to become captain of newly-promoted, QPR.
The 2011/12 season started with a bang, as Newcastle faced Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Sunderland early doors but Pardew had the side galvanised and were unbeaten in the first twelve. Previous teams, on limited budgets such as David Moyes’ Everton, had cracked the Premier League European spots before and that’s why many drawed comparisons between the two, as Pardew had Newcastle in the closing stages of the season on the cusp of an unprecedented UEFA Champions League berth.
In the middle of big-spending Liverpool and Chelsea that season, Newcastle proved a match and eventually finished fifth, qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. Moyes had done a similar feat in his first couple of season’s with Everton, and the signs were there to suggest Pardew was building the club in a similar vein to the Merseysiders.
He won Manager of the Year and had turned the fanbase around. They not only liked him, but sang his name and the signings of Cabaye and Ba, added with the huge impact made by Papiss Cisse, who joined from German side Freiburg in January, were heavily praised and Cisse in particular ensured they didn’t run out of gas in the latter stages.
Although the league finish in the season just gone didn’t produce the same wealth as the last, the job Alan Pardew kept up, under the strenuous constraints he was submitted to, means he has earned the sympathy from the fans and other ex-footballers, following Joe Kinnear’s appointment as the new director of football this week, with Llambias resigning from his position to make way.
It’s fair to say that Newcastle struggled this season, finishing in 16th place and bowing out of the domestic cup competitions prematurely. But a key factor in the disappointment, can once again be pointed towards Mike Ashley, twinned with a bit of bad fortune.
The efforts of the playing squad in the 2011/12 campaign was highlighted not only because of the money spent by teams around them, but because of the lack of depth Pardew had to work with – another connection to Moyes’ overachieving thin squad at Everton.
To kick-on and continue onwards, Newcastle needed to invest, especially whilst you’re at the top, with more money coming into football meaning the triumph Newcastle pulled off in 2012 will soon become a rarity. Romain Amalfitano joined from newly-promoted Ligue 2 side Reims, 19-year-old prospect Gael Bigirimana signed from Coventry City but the only big sum of money invested in the summer window was on Vurnon Anita for £6m from Ajax.
The European football brought anticipation and excitement from the terraces and the season didn’t start to badly, but eventually, Newcastle slipped down the table due to the much-criticised Thursday/Sunday fixture schedule of the Europa League and the squad was injury-plagued to say the least. Huge success’ like Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini and Yohan Cabaye last season were out injured for long spells in a threadbare squad and when Demba Ba’s release clause of £7m was met by Chelsea in January, Newcastle were faced with a tough decision of going on a last-minute shopping spree or whether to bide their time until the summer.
Money needed to be invested in most positions on the pitch if they chose to explore that avenue and the French contingent continued, as Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mathieu Debuchy, Massadio Haidara and Moussa Sissoko all arrived from Ligue 1. Loic Remy, considered the direct replacement for Demba Ba, bizarrely chose QPR instead and the goalscoring conundrum was the one piece of the puzzle that was left unsolved – something Kinnear has already targeted as a priority to fix this summer.
These signings didn’t make much of an impact and claims of an ‘identity crisis’ put the club under pressure, but the scarcity of players and the lack of time the players had to gel together shouldn’t mean all faith in Pardew and Carr should be lost. Kinnear has told that he will have the final say on transfers, leaving many to assume that the boardroom have lost faith in Pardew and Carr’s judgement, when in fact, a stronger solution is surely the upcoming pre-season, which allows the players to get on the same page as each other before the season begins. Kinnear, unimpressive in his media interviews after accepting the job, has already made a dubious decision, as the club pulled out of signing Brazilian defender, Douglas on a free transfer. A well-respected centre-half available after his contract expired with FC Twente this season, he looked set on a move to St. James Park, with everything understood to be in place, but it’s no coincidence that a move has collapsed shortly after Kinnear declared he will call the shots on who comes into the club.
To keep the club in the division, with an injury-hit squad, and to also reach the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Finals, added with the fifth-place finish the season before, all together highlights that Pardew is doing a good job. However, it again seems that Mike Ashley has gained a hunger to upset the fans further, even at one stage during the campaign deciding it was a good idea to momentarily change the famous stadium’s name to the Sports Direct Arena.
Amongst the chaos that roams around Newcastle, and even in what appeared to be ‘the good times’, controversy is never far away, the man that deserves credit and sympathy in the madness, is Alan Pardew and his decision to stay is one good sign for the supporters.