“A predestined player that reminds me of a young Paolo Maldini.”
“Whenever I find someone who has everything to become a top player and stay in the first team I’ve never held back in giving them a chance. Maybe in Italy they don’t know what is best. I’m talking about Davide Santon who is now at Newcastle.”
It was music to our ears. Little did we know, but rather than Maldini, young Davide was about to embark on a journey that would see him compared to Phil Neville instead of one of Italy’s all time greats. With the world at his feet, he was forced to turn back, cut inside and get it onto his right.
Santon arrived as a Champions League winner and had already played seven times for Italy despite only being 20. He was a full-back full of attacking intent, comfortable on the ball and impressive athleticism. We saw glimpses of this in his first season, a couple of wonderful performances culminated at Stamford Bridge where Newcastle prevailed 2-0 in May 2012.
Fast forward to the apocalyptic end of 2013/14 and Davide is back at Stamford Bridge. He appears in an ill-suited role at the heart of our midfield. In complete agreement with the usual proceedings since December 2010, his talents had become distant memory. A security-risk, not capable of winning tackles or catching up with opponents, Davide has come to lack the positional awareness required to mark his own corner flag. Offensively, his contribution has been limited by the fact that he’s constantly played at left-back (who isn’t?) and therefore forced to cross with his right foot all the time.
The case of Santon is a familiar tale under our incumbent manager. Earlier this year, The Guardian’s Louise Taylor described the phenomenon as “having all creativity crushed out of you“. Unfortunately, the symptoms of being “Pardewed” don’t stop there.
Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa arrived from Montpellier in January 2013. As a 23-year old, he had already captained his side to the French league title, despite battling with the riches of Paris’ new footballing powerhouse. He’d broken into the French national team and arrived on Tyneside for a fee largely regarded as a knock-down price for one of Europe’s most promising centre-backs. Eighteen months later down the line, Mapou found himself serving as an understudy to the right-back position of a team that conceded a total of 127 goals over the course of two seasons. He was unceremoniously shipped off to Roma on loan, with Newcastle reportedly paying 80% of his wages.
Shortly thereafter, one Hatem Ben Arfa was deemed surplus to requirements. Asked about the departure of Mapou and Ben Arfa, Pardew asked whether “their record suggests they were going to feature?”. The verdict from a man who’s own record makes for interesting reading on this very site.
Hatem had joined Newcastle from Marseille in the summer of 2010. Earlier that year, he had picked up his fifth straight league title in France. Hailed by journalist Julien Laurens as the most talented player of the famous French 87′ generation (which included Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Jeremy Menez), his thirteen international games, key role in Pardew’s best period at the club (the spring of 2012) and ability to create chances in a witless footballing strategy was not sufficient for him to stay. In a team that finds the net in a third of their games, there was simply no place for him in the squad. Hatem Ben Arfa was sent to Hull on loan for the season.
“Hatem Ben Arfa, if he had followed the path that was promised to him, today, he would be playing at Barcelona with Messi. Technically, they are the same.”
Scoring goals hasn’t always been a problem for Papiss Cissé. In Bundesliga, he even got 22 of them in 2010/11, a record only bettered by Bayern München’s Mario Gomez that year. His goal per game ratio meant he was the league’s most efficient striker, despite playing for Freiburg, a club of modest stature at the time. His arrival on Tyneside saw him continue down that path with 13 goals in his first 14 games. Naturally, Alan Pardew recast him to a new role on the right hand side of what was supposed to be a 4-3-3.
“I can confidently predict Papiss will score more goals in the second half of the season. In some respects playing right has helped his game and his ball retention.”
His record since “playing right” stands at 12 goals in 61 games. After being turned into an irrelevant right-winger without technique, muscles or running-ability, he has found a way to scuff basically every rare chance that has fallen his way.
The right-wing position seems to be the epicentre of Pardewfication, a factory of regression. After Hatem Ben Arfa’s exile from the matchday squad and the withering of Papiss Cissé, Moussa Sissoko was next in line.
Once an industrious box-to-box midfielder, voted Young Player of the Year in Ligue 1 and an athletic French international, Moussa is only recognisable when playing for his country nowadays. His former chairman at Toulouse, Olivier Sadran, valued him at €30m back in 2010. After being introduced as Alan Pardew’s “modern number 10″, he was moved to the right wing by the end of 2012/13, even acting as target-wing-man for a brief spell in the 0-6 defeat to Liverpool. This theme has been recurring even when he’s been played centrally, purely due to his size. Despite an impressive debut against Chelsea, evincing the powerful running and physicality we all anticipated, Moussa has turned into an awkward winger with limited crossing and dribbling ability who rarely deigns to enter the penalty area.
There is also the demise of Yoan Gouffran to a cart-horse (often deputising as a full-time covering full-back), the failed mutation of Cheick Tioté into Newcastle United’s Michael Essien that has given us one goal and two years of confused performances, the obstruction of Sylvain Marveaux’s former profession (he had more assists than any other Newcastle player in 2012/13) and the outright prohibition of Gaël Bigirimana’s embryonic aspirations of continuing to play football beyond 2013.
“He reminds me of Essien, if I am honest, he is that type. He needs to learn that in and around our third, he needs to be a lot safer – he can be a bit loose there – and he needs to be more progressive in his play. There is so much more to come from him if we can get him out of just popping it off safely. When he attacks teams and runs at them, he could be as effective for us as Essien is for Chelsea.”
To date, there are four known examples of players whose ability have proved to be immune to being Pardewed. Demba Ba, Mathieu Debuchy, Yohan Cabaye and Loïc Rémy. All four have moved on to Champions League clubs. They do not represent any sort of evidence that the dump of formerly promising footballers at St. James’ Park have themselves to blame, but rather the contrary. Demba Ba complained about Newcastle’s long-ball tactics and fled to Chelsea after nagging his way back into a central position. Having scored 16 league goals by the start of February in 2011/12, Pardew moved him to left-wing. He would not find the net in the final 14 games.
Yohan Cabaye served a majority of 2012/13 as a quarter-back, positioned behind our central defenders, launching long-balls towards Shola Ameobi or whoever else was playing right-wing at the time. He tried to get out of his manager’s grip, but was refused the chance. He then fought his way back into a midfield position during November 2013, Pardew’s only good month in the last two years. In the next transfer window he was packing his bags when the chance reappeared.
Mathieu Debuchy told the press about being “asked to stay back” by Pardew and only lasted 18 months before Arsenal offered him the chance to keep progressing. Loïc Rémy realised what was in store after a season. Despite repeated attempts at bringing him back to Newcastle, he is now at Chelsea. For some reason, both Harry Redknapp and José Mourinho represented more appetizing alternatives.
There is now excitement and hope surrounding Rolando Aarons’ rise, much like the hope we have experienced with regards to Adam Campbell, Remie Streete, Sammy Ameobi, Haris Vuckic and Adam Armstrong in past years. Without implying that they would have won us the World Cup under another manager, neither they nor more established names have managed to excel under his leadership but have stalled or gone backwards.
It’s becoming increasingly clear what the problem is at Newcastle United. Rather than Alan Pardew putting up stop signs for footballers with talent, excitement and visions, it’s time for us to stop his destructive interaction with footballers. At least at this club.