Is Alan Pardew to blame for Newcastle's poor season?
Sometimes fans don't want to be right. When Alan Pardew and Newcastle United failed to bring in talent to bolster their squad in the wake of 2012's fifth-place finish, many Toon supporters predicted a swift downfall.
A surfeit of injuries exposed a lack of depth, the results went away from the Magpies, and they found themselves heading swiftly towards the bottom three.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the 2012-13 season has been that it promised so much. Last season's result gave hope to a set of supporters who rank among the most loyal in the world, and the eight-year contract handed to Pardew promised stability at the managerial position.
The amount of talent on Tyneside has never been in doubt. Hatem Ben Arfa is a magical player and the prospect of him and Yohan Cabaye running the midfield—and linking with Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse—promised much. However, injuries afflicted both players, and Vurnon Anita—the club's sole incoming senior transfer in the summer—was overwhelmed in the middle.
Pardew's tactics were ineffective and ill-suited to the group of players remaining. The defence lacked Ryan and Steven Taylor, while Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson were overrun. Because of the lack of playmaking ability in the midfield, the team resorted to long-ball tactics that relied on Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse to pluck something out of the air.
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Inevitably, this sort of tactic doesn't have a high success rate, and the act of relieving pressure on the defence by clearing the lines actually only exacerbates the situation. Possession is conceded, and the opposition is gifted the chance to mount another attack.
A run of poor results is difficult to take, and it was evident that Newcastle lacked confidence, both in themselves and the way they were being forced to play. Pardew's post-match interviews were quick to deflect the blame onto the injury crisis, but that didn't excuse his tactical ineptitude when working with a depleted squad.
Unwilling to trust his players to go out and win games, Pardew played for draws. Any goals scored were almost accidents, deflecting in off the backs of his strikers or as a result of a hopeful clearance. There was no attempt to break down an opponent, and Newcastle seemed clueless across all facets of the game.
Ba's release clause was always going to be a problem, and in the end he walked. In itself, this was no real cause for concern despite the fact that before Christmas, Ba seemed to be the only thing keeping the club in the Premier League.
When Papiss Cisse arrived last year, Ba faded into the background while his Senegalese teammate took the glory.
Therefore, Ba's exit again paved the way for Cisse to reproduce those achievements. Improvements in his performances were slow, and it actually took the arrival of Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran—along with the return of Cabaye—before he looked like the player we saw last year.
January brought the promise of reprieve, and the activity during the transfer window was telling. Managing Director Derek Llambias admitted—via The Chronicle—that the board should have authorised the signings that the manager requested in the summer, and the French revolution began.
The performances in 2013 have been a fairer reflection of Pardew's vision for the the team, so it's unfair to lambast him for the disappointments of the season. He asked for the money to make improvements to the side, and was turned down.
In many ways, the poor start to the season has been a blessing. It showed Mike Ashley and the rest of the board of directors that the Premier League is of too high a standard to cast by on past performances.
One successful season does not make a dynasty, and it's a sad indictment of the people in charge of the club that they did not realise this. The team were lucky with injuries last year, so it was incredibly short-sighted to assume that this year would be the same.
That is why, despite the poor results and underperforming players, the biggest disappointment of Newcastle United's season occurred behind the scenes. The man entrusted with the club's future was denied the resources to fulfil his vision, and the perceived security of the eight-year contract was torn apart by allegations—via The Mirror—that Pardew could be sacked with only a year's wages owed to him.
It's long been a request of fans that the non-football people should leave the football to the football people. Excuse the ugly phrase, but it serves a point. A club cannot function on bad results. Of course, the fact that the club needs to be run as a business often prevents this—and overspending can cause ruin of equal proportions—but it's worth bearing in mind.
What's the point of denying the Manager of the Year the funds needed to build upon the season that earned him the honour? If the January signings had been made in the summer, Newcastle could have been in the middle of a run at the Champions League.
When this season is over, that will be the most disappointing thing that remains.