“I don’t know why some fans want Pardew sacked, he finished fifth the other year and has done a good job?”
Alan Pardew guided Newcastle to a fifth-placed finish in 2011/12 and won the Premier League Manager of the Season award. Surely that proves that given the correct backing he can have Newcastle competing in and amongst teams whose resources far outstrip what Ashley allows him to work with?
In a word, no.
It would be blinkered to discount a whole season of football and a fifth-placed finish when analysing the performance and capability of a manager, but it would be just as myopic (and more dangerous, I would suggest) to look exclusively at Newcastle’s league position when assessing the 2011/12 season and what it tells you about Pardew.
Those of you who have memories of watching and following Newcastle that season will know that few games were comfortable that season, Newcastle nicked a lot of close-fought affairs largely due to individual brilliance and rugged defending.
For those of you more inclined to reach for Google in search of the statistical elixir of truth, Newcastle finished with a goal difference of +5 in 2011/12. This compares with fifth-placed teams who finished with +20 in 2012/13 (Tottenham) and +22 in 2013/14 (Everton). It was by no means a swashbuckling season in which Newcastle swept aside three-quarters of the league who stood in their path with consummate ease. It was a grind.
“Does that take away from the achievement of finishing fifth, just because we didn’t blow teams away?”
In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong in successfully scrapping for points. It’s actually rather impressive to sustain that kind of behaviour for a full season (more or less). It’s even better that there were actually flashes and patterns of fluid and attractive football beginning to rear their head above the surface (think away at West Brom, at home to Stoke, think Hatem Ben Arfa), but the season’s relative success was largely underpinned by a reasonably solid defence.
“So you at least admit that Pardew built a good defence then?”
This was a defence built by his predecessor Chris Hughton, who managed to turn average-to-poor defenders like Williamson, Simpson, Steven Taylor and Ryan Taylor, along with higher calibre players like Coloccini and Enrique, into a solid and organised unit.
Time has emphatically borne out that Pardew could not adequately maintain this decent defence, and has no such defence building capabilities of his own. In fact, Pardew has led Newcastle to 21 defeats of 3 goals or more since taking over in 2010. To contextualise that, since 1993 to the point of his arrival 17 years later, Newcastle had lost by that amount just 35 times.
His defence has conceded the same amount of goals against an often-relegation threatened Sunderland team as Keegan, Dalglish, Souness, Roeder, Allardyce, Kinnear and Hughton combined (eleven).
Even in the absence of statistics I would ask you to really consider how confident you feel about Newcastle’s defence at any given moment in time. To ask you if you have a nagging suspicion that, at any moment in time, the whole team could capitulate and could be vulnerable to a team passing through them like water and leaking five or six goals, even if the opposition are only a fired-up Everton, let alone a rampaging juggernaut like Manchester City or Chelsea. We’re always only ever two early goals away from being Brazil in that semi-final with Germany.
The most inculpating and embarrassing part for Pardew is that the defence is pretty much all he really cares about in respect of Newcastle’s game plan or game preparation, spending four days out of five of training on defending, as revealed by his assistant John Carver.
He wants the team to be all about defending, or nicking a lead and then defending. This philosophy is never more apparent than when Newcastle gain a lead and, irrespective of the opposition or momentum of the game, choose to sit back rather than seek a multiple goal lead.
“Pardew’s team have scored loads of great goals though, how do you account for that?”
Looking at the aftermath of the fifth-placed season from an attacking perspective, after Demba Ba left and Papiss Cisse became possessed by the ghost of Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith, Pardew’s managerial shortcomings have been placed directly beneath a bright spotlight. Without Senegalese strikers in incandescent form converting goals from thin air, making wine from water, Newcastle’s potency up front has distinctly resembled a wet sponge.
Last season’s home goal tally was the lowest by a Newcastle side in the Premier League era and as a spectacle, it was a painful chore to watch.
Rarely under Pardew’s tenure has the side displayed the movement or passing the squad has been capable of and new arrivals who arrived brimming with flair and attacking propensities have been blunted and re-purposed into workhorses concerned with ‘keeping it tight’ (which they don’t – cf. above) rather than hurting the opposition or fulfilling their potential to excite or entertain. Gouffran is a prime example but there are many others including Sissoko, Marveaux, Santon and Ben Arfa.
The concerted attacking game plan under Pardew has been to move the ball into forward areas and shoot early, with no real consideration as to the quality of the chance. Our woeful goalscoring record speaks for itself – it doesn’t work. Nonetheless we continue to maintain a ‘shoot on sight’ policy spurning possession in favour of optimistic shots from outside the box as much as we can.
Such is his focus on defence that our attacking plan is essentially to get a lucky “break”, to profit from a defensive spill, to get a bit of “magic” or for “science” to be on our side.
“So, what of that West Brom performance, what of the display where Newcastle crushed Stoke at SJP? What about that six-win run Newcastle went on around April?”
There were some excellent moments in that season and there looked to be a bright future for the team when it used some of its talent to express themselves a bit more freely during a six-game winning streak. However, Pardew’s tactical limitations and subsequent cowardice came to the fore when he was out-thought by Wigan in a humiliating 4-0 defeat. Newcastle’s six game winning run came to an abrupt end at the hands of Roberto Martinez’s Wigan and a 3-4-3 formation which utilised tireless wingbacks and crisp passing to pull our midfield out of position and expose the resulting pockets of space in front of our defence.
Most managers at some point will get stumped or out-thought, but will adapt either in-game or back at the drawing board in the post-mortem. Pardew did not have either of these options as recourse, so having stumbled upon an exciting and entertaining formula (and he did stumble upon it, only allowing Hatem Ben Arfa a starting berth in the side due to the injury and unavailability of Gabriel Obertan), he had his fingers burnt dabbling in managerial matters beyond his pedigree. He subsequently reverted to type and retreated to a defence-first strategy. A profoundly unsuccessful strategy, I would reiterate, as the following seasons and an abysmal defensive record would illustrate.
“It’s a difficult job when players are sold though…”
The club have sold Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan, Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye during Pardew’s tenure, players who performed, by and large, magnificently whilst in black and white shirts.
Are their respective sales a compelling reason for why we’ve looked so disjointed and lacking in cohesion though?
• Andy Carroll was replaced by a confident Demba Ba.
• Jose Enrique was replaced by a highly-rated Davide Santon from Inter Milan
• Kevin Nolan was upgraded to a far superior all-rounder in Yohan Cabaye
• Demba Ba was replaced by a then in-form Papiss Cisse (and later, a freescoring Loic Remy)
Cabaye has not been replaced satisfactorily, but it is fair to say, for the most part, Pardew has not been short-handed in terms of quality personnel.
Unlike most teams in the league, when Pardew has been deprived of one or two players who he relies too heavily upon (be it through injury or sale), his team has had a tendency to suffer multiple-organ failure, hemorrhaging goals in the process and surrendering the pride of the team. An outcome entirely disproportionate to the stimulus.
Compare this with Everton, Swansea or Southampton, who can rotate half their team and still play in a style recognisable as their own, not strangers meeting on the pitch for the first time. Swansea, for example, missing top scorers Michu and Wilfried Bony rolled over Newcastle 3-0 with minimal effort last season. Conversely, Pardew has always been keen to let fans know we need our best players on the pitch, and a good deal of luck, to achieve results. Lowering expectations has been symptomatic of his tenure.
“You have to admit he’s at least brought stability to the club and made NUFC less of a laughing stock changing managers every five minutes?”
For all the aggrandisement of ‘stability’ and the specious accolade of having the second longest serving manager in the Premier League, Newcastle in all this, have developed no footballing identity, ethos or principles. As a consequence, the loss of a player is felt much more acutely than it ever ought to. This is not a personnel problem, much as Pardew wants fans to believe.
He has contributed heavily to the castrated fan base with his smarmy excuses, his refusal to be accountable for the team’s development and his eagerness to put his players in the line of fire ahead of himself. This has often included youth players and the easiest targets of all: attacking foreigners.
With respect to being a laughing stock, the club is a much softer target for mockery when Paulo Di Canio slides across your home turf celebrating a Mackem 0-3 victory in front of 52,000 fans. The same fans who then turn up the next week to watch their team get demolished by Liverpool and lose 0-6. The same fans who then pay their money to watch the mackems beat them 0-3 again the following year.
Sticking with a manager for the sake of stability is meaningless. If you have a manager who shows potential it it can be worthwhile, but look at Pardew. He knows only failure and excuses.
The biggest myth of all is that Alan Pardew is a football manager and not just a glorified PR man.