Newcastle United: 10 Reasons for Their Stunning Start
Newcastle's unbeaten start to the season has taken everyone by surprise, including their own manager.
Alan Pardew admits he doesn't know how good his team is yet following a summer which has seen several key players leave and plenty of new faces arrive.
If Pardew is looking for indicators, then sitting third in the Premier League table with more than a quarter of the campaign gone is a rather positive sign, to say the least.
Just what are the factors that have turned this club from permanently teetering on the edge of crisis into one which is bothering the upper echelons of the Premier League, winning over more of their doubters with each passing week?
Here are 10 reasons that could all be helping the good times coming back to Tyneside.
Losing the Alpha Males
Recently, Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye was interviewed by a British newspaper. He was asked if he got on well with Joey Barton during the brief period between one arriving and the other leaving. Cabaye simply smirked and stayed quiet on the matter.
Barton was of course a big presence in the Newcastle dressing room, as was fellow midfielder Kevin Nolan. After Nolan was sold to West Ham and left-back Jose Enrique joined Liverpool, Barton's very public complaints saw him released to Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer.
The loss of two such influential figures in one summer sparked widespread predictions that the club would go into meltdown mode. Instead, some of the quieter players in the squad have started to flourish now that their voices can be heard, and under Fabricio Coloccini's captaincy the players have a leader who leads by example rather than pointing and shouting.
When Chris Hughton was unexpectedly sacked a little less than a year ago, the decision was met with widespread condemnation. When Pardew was announced as his replacement, having left League One side Southampton a few months earlier, it seemed Newcastle's fate was sealed.
But Pardew has come in and made his presence felt at the club. He is also instilling belief in his players, being relentlessly positive and always challenging them to discover with him how good they can all be together.
The manager also made it his personal mission to help settle a long-running battle with the club's board over a new bonus structure. Just gestures helped Pardew earn the trust of his players quickly, and it is clear by their committed displays on the pitch that they always aim to repay his faith in every match.
They say that sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two forward, and that is certainly what has happened on Tyneside over the past two years.
In the season they went down Newcastle were a farce from top to bottom. Owner Mike Ashley lurched from one poor decision to another—temporarily renaming the stadium, recruiting poorly at board and managerial level, hemorrhaging money in poorly negotiated contracts and bad business practices—and the team suffered on the pitch to such a degree that they went down on the Championship on the final day of the 2008-09 season.
Under Hughton's management, their one season in the second tier was a galvanising one. A young promising striker named Andy Carroll spent a very productive year scoring goals as he broke into the first team, the players became more of a unit and—after failing to sell the club—Ashley was forced to reevaluate the whole way he ran the club, and they are reaping the rewards now.
No More ''Cockney Mafia''
At the height of Newcastle's malaise which saw them relegated, Ashley's decision to restructure the club backfired spectacularly. He hired in Dennis Wise—a former England midfielder whose move into management had not worked out following spells at Millwall, Swindon and Leeds—as vice president in charge of transfers, as well as sports agent and deal broker Tony Jimenez.
The duo, along with Derek Llambias, soon became embroiled in a power struggle with then manager Kevin Keegan, who was frustrated at seeing the final say on players going in and out was no longer his. Ashley had a choice to make, and he backed Wise and Jimenez, leading the Keegan leaving. The fans, furious that their messiah had left for a second time, reacted by slamming the London-based group they had dubbed the ''Cockney Mafia,'' calling for them to leave the club.
The only real upshot of Alan Shearer's short-lived stint in charge of the team as he tried and failed to save them from relegation was that he demanded the removal of Wise and Jimenez as a condition of him taking the job. Ashley, eager to make whatever dramatic changes were needed to turn the club's fortunes around and to please another club legend, agreed to do just that. While the effect may not have been immediate, it is clear now that the club is far better off without a couple of ''dodgy geezers'' in charge.
St James' Park
OK, so it didn't help them much in their relegation season, but the Geordie faithful are acting like a 12th man now that the good times are back in Tyneside.
The passion for football is particularly fervent among Newcastle fans, borne out of them coming from such a large city that only has one professional club within it. The club represents the people of Newcastle, and as such the people love it back.
The 52,000 fans who cram into the ground every other game make an awful din which is intimidating for visiting fans and players alike and has contributed to the team's record of four wins and two draws from six home games so far this season.
The Fixture List
The Magpies are one of only six clubs among Europe's top leagues who remain unbeaten, and only leaders Manchester City can match that in the Premier League this season.
While it is true that you can only beat what is put in front of you, the fixture list has been reasonably kind to them thus far. Of their 11 league games thus far, the toughest tests (on paper at least) have been the opening round home game against Arsenal, the visit to Tyneside of Tottenham and the recent trip to Stoke.
They came away from the matches with the two top four contenders with two points, and they posted an admirable 3-1 at the Britannia Stadium, a ground which should have the oft-repeated phrase ''A tough place to come'' etched into stone outside.
That fortune had to run out at same point, though, and Newcastle's next three fixtures are trips to play both Manchester clubs before welcoming Chelsea to their pitch. We will discover a lot more about this team at the end of those three games against the league's top three sides.
Back in the days of the previous regime, Freddy Shepherd ran the club in a manner that would have accountants breaking out in cold sweats just thinking about it.
A story which typifies the sort of cavalier approach to finances just a few short years ago was the purchase of Albert Luque.
Shepherd had a meeting with the Deportivo la Coruna midfielder and asked him how much he wanted to earn. Luque replied with an amount he himself described as "absurd," and Shepherd immediately agreed without negotiating. He did the same thing with Luque's club, and ended spending £9.5 million on the fee and £85,000 a week on the player's contract. Luque left two years later with just six Premier League starts to his name.
Thankfully for Newcastle fans, things are not done like that these days. This summer they may not have spent anywhere near all the £35 million windfall from the sale of Andy Caroll, but they bought wisely and spent prudently on players such as France international midfielder Yohan Cabaye (£5 million), striker Demba Ba (free, eight goals so far) and winger Gabriel Obertan (£3 million, eager to prove a point after flopping at Manchester United). It is not the wild, extravagant spending of old, and that is a very good thing.
For so long, Shay Given seemed to be the only barrier between Newcastle and the abyss into which they were constantly staring.
The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper's heroics meant he was always being chased by more successful clubs. When he finally grew weary of the comedic shenanigans in the club's hierarchy, Given finally took the call from Manchester City.
Things weren't so bad for Newcastle as they had Steve Harper, a boyhood fan of the club who had always looked decent when he got an opportunity to play. Sadly for Harper, a combination of serious injury and loss of form saw him lose his place.
In stepped understudy Tim Krul. After an uncertain start the Dutchman has usurped Harper as the club's number one, to the extent that Given's supposed long-term heir has gone out on loan to Championship club Brighton, while Krul has been a sturdy presence between the sticks for the Magpies.
Having already derided Ashley's more extravagant financial decisions earlier here, it should be noted that they have had a happy side effect.
When Newcastle were relegated, it was revealed that few if any of the big contracts that star players like Barton, Coloccini, Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez were on had clauses to reduce their wages in the event of relegation.
The downside was that the club was supporting several players on wages of more than £50,000 a week for an entire season in the Championship. The upside was that they kept most of those players, meaning they romped to the title and were then able to re-establish themselves back in the Premier League.
A Settled Back Five
While Demba Ba has been banging in the goals at one end, it is the Magpies' back five which has been the foundation of their success so far this season.
Krul has played every single minute of every game so far this season, as have his left-back Ryan Taylor and two centre-backs, Coloccini and Steven Taylor (the latter despite having to wear a protective mask on his face in the last few games to protect his broken nose). Right-back Danny Simpson is unable to complete the set—the 24-year-old has missed a total of 17 minutes due to a substitution.
That settled back five has conceded just eight goals so far this season, meaning they are the only team to still have a single-figure number in their goals-against column. Tight defence and Newcastle are not traditionally good bedfellows, but it is just another sign of how the times are changing on Tyneside.