Alan Pardew's second season at Newcastle has been one to forget.
Eight years is a long time. Alan Pardew’s contract at Newcastle United is now a millstone around the necks of everyone involved in its creation, and the weight of poor results makes it more difficult to bear with each passing week.
Amid the celebration of a fifth-place finish last season, many fans remarked that this type of success would be fleeting without summer investment.
Well, those thousands of people who continue to populate St. James’ Park, returning like a battered spouse to an undeserving partner—they were right.
Pardew and owner Mike Ashley failed to harness the momentum the team had built, and a surfeit of injuries dealt them a cruel blow. Pardew found his squad looking dangerously thin, and the flurry of activity during the January transfer window acts as an admission of guilt for ignoring the obvious.
No team is too good to go down.
If the new signings don’t make an immediate impact, Pardew will find that out firsthand. Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara, Moussa Sissoko; those players are tasked with saving Pardew and Newcastle.
This hasty raiding of Ligue 1 sparked a variety of jokes on Twitter, with Newcastle's own supporters getting in on the act:
BREAKING NEWS: Sky Sports News understand that Newcastle have made a £500m bid for Ligue 1.— NUFCguys (@NUFCguys) January 21, 2013
Jokes aside, a Newcastle team in the Championship is a different proposition altogether. Ashley must then ask himself if Pardew is the man to get them back in the Premier League.
Aside from the losing record, the most disheartening thing about Newcastle’s play this year has been the distinct lack of interest in each other. With Demba Ba in the team, Papiss Cisse’s play declined until his confidence looked non-existent. For a player who couldn’t help but find the net last year, this was a worrying regression.
There were then fingers pointed at the system. Pardew’s decision to play a 4-4-2—an attempt to alleviate Ba’s complaints about playing on the left in a 4-3-3—made the team look outdated and flat.
Injuries to Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa exacerbated the situation of course, as it tore the creativity from the side. Despite this, Pardew persisted with a formation in which the midfield resorted to the long ball as its go-to attacking pass.
As Vurnon Anita improved, some of the dynamic interplay of last year returned. Passes became quicker, and Pardew set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that finally utilised the talents of Sylvain Marveaux to better effect.
Despite this, the results didn’t come.
While they now looked better equipped to score goals, the defence remained a concern. Losses at Arsenal and Manchester United came in spite of good performances, and both games were there for the taking.
At Arsenal, Newcastle were a constant threat, and every time the Gunners scored the Magpies responded with a goal of their own. There was a sense that the game would go right down to the wire, with the Toon’s first away win looking a distinct possibility.
Instead they capitulated in the final six minutes, conceding three goals and surrendering the game. At 4-3 they were still hungry, but folded after the fifth and the defence no longer cared enough to mark Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud.
Since then, there has been a succession of turgid performances with results to match. The 0-0 draw at Norwich was simply one of the worst games of the year; in the end Norwich were only denied a win—which they scarcely deserved—by the post.
Yohan Cabaye’s return to the side wasn’t enough to stop a 2-1 home defeat to Reading, and Cabaye was then substituted amid his own injury concerns. Speaking to The Journal, Cabaye outlined the substitution that caused a chorus of boos around St. James’ Park:
I asked to come off because my groin became tight. I didn’t want to take any risks on my first start for so long. I have come back much earlier than was planned. The pitch was very heavy. I think it was the right decision for me.
The fans were very angry but they did not realise I needed to come off. They should not blame the manager for that. It was my decision. I was also feeling tired. You cannot expect a player to be 100% in my situation. I was not fit enough to finish the game. That was why I came off.
The injuries haven’t spared the defensive players either, with Ryan and Steven Taylor absent for most of the season. Danny Simpson has been frequently exposed, while James Perch has also suffered at the hands of his opponents.
Reports of Fabricio Coloccini‘s unhappiness have only exacerbated the matter, and Newcastle should look to hand the armband elsewhere for the remainder of the season. A want-away captain is the least inspirational figure a club could possibly have as they enter a battle for survival.
Ultimately, though, everything stops at Pardew. Ashley can refuse funds for transfers all he likes, but Pardew will be blamed for lacking in backbone. Injuries can take their toll, but inactivity during the summer window is the culprit, and the discussion returns to the manager.
Those who maintain that the team is hamstrung by the eight-year contract would do well to remember who offered it. It seems strange that an owner who is notoriously business-orientated would sacrifice his leverage over an employee with an eight-year deal.
The suspicious minds were satisfied when The Sunday People broke a story outlining a clause in Pardew’s contract; one that allows him a maximum of a year’s pay in the event of his departure.
His contract is due to run until 2020, but that report states he could be dismissed now and only be entitled to 12 months wages. This throws new light onto the situation on Tyneside, and the club no longer seems tied to the manager.
Pardew will be given to the end of the season to turn the current situation around. The money afforded him for new signings guarantees him that. However, If he cannot save the team from relegation, don't expect to see him return next year.