Alan Pardew will be hoping his new signings will keep the owner, Mike Ashley, on side and end the criticism from supporters
Guardian writers’ predicted position: 9th (NB: this is not necessarily Louise Taylor’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 10th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 1,000-1
Alan Pardew and Newcastle United are about to discover three things. They will learn if time really is a great healer, whether a number of exciting new signings can alter a negative narrative and if Rémy Cabella is “the new Yohan Cabaye” after all.
The first item matters most. Back in May Newcastle ended an appalling run of results – six straight defeats at one stage – with a 3-0 win over Cardiff City, thereby sealing the Welsh club’s relegation back to the Championship.
During that game Pardew was jeered by Newcastle fans so loudly and so vehemently he felt unable to step out of his dugout and into the technical area during the entire 90 minutes.
It was an awful afternoon and, at virtually any other club, would have concluded with the manager bowing out. In Newcastle’s case though the owner, Mike Ashley, does not care what the fans think and has in any case proved very loyal to Pardew.
Ashley also knew he had let down his manager by failing to restock the squad during the past two transfer windows, most notably when Cabaye was not replaced after the France midfielder departed to Paris Saint-Germain last January.
Pardew’s problem is that once players see supporters declaring war on their manager they often lose respect for that coach. If early season results go awry even Ashley would have to act, so Pardew has to start winning back hearts and minds – and fast.
Encouraging results and some pleasing passing football – certainly less of the aimless long balls that blemished an overly direct team in the wake of Cabaye’s departure last term – would definitely help as he embarks on his fourth full season in charge on Tyneside. Newcastle are a team desperately in need of a defined philosophy.
With his St James’ Park career approaching a crossroads, Pardew must surely strive to implement a new playing identity, not to mention demonstrate that he can still improve players – not for nothing did Newcastle fans speak of first team players such as Moussa Sissoko, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Hatem Ben Arfa being “Pardewed” last season. Too often the side assembled in black and white looked two-dimensional at best.
To be “Pardewed” came to mean losing your creativity, your ability to improvise, to regress but this season he can redefine the term. Pushing Jack Colback, a clever midfield recruit from Sunderland on a free transfer, to the fringe of the England squad would represent a good start – and it is something Pardew is eminently capable of …
The trouble is Ashley’s careful financial, less than romantic, stewardship of the club has sometimes forced the manager into too many compromises and fudges. There has been too much pragmatism, too little inspiration and supporters have not appreciated Pardew’s public loyalty to the owner.
Considering that no one else at Newcastle is authorised to speak publicly to the media – Lee Charnley, the managing director, has kept his head firmly beneath the parapet since his installation – and Ashley does not appreciate criticism, Pardew walks a tightrope. It says much for his sense of balance that the Sports Direct owner is understood to have not even considered sacking him in the wake of his ludicrous head-butt on David Meyler at Hull in March.
The appointment of a mentor, who presumably has reminded Newcastle’s manager he is 53 years old now, should, fingers crossed, prevent any repeats of the incident with Meyler. Or the occasion last season when Pardew not only swore at Manuel Pellegrini as they stood shoulder to shoulder in their respective technical areas but dismissed City’s much decorated manager as “old”.
By coincidence, Newcastle are home to City in their opening Premier League game of the season. The mood will be tinged with sadness because the fixture will be a tribute to John Alder and Liam Sweeney, the two Newcastle fans who died when flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine last month. The pair had been en route to New Zealand to follow their team’s pre-season tour.
With his numerous summer signings at his disposal – Ayoze Pérez, a striker from Tenerife; Daryl Janmaat, a right-back from Feyenoord; Siem de Jong, Cabella and Colback, midfielders from Ajax, Montpellier and Sunderland respectively; and Emmanuel Rivière and Facundo Ferreyra, former Monaco and Shakhtar Donetsk strikers – Pardew will keep everything crossed that a sufficient number of his new recruits hit the ground running.
On paper, Cabella, a stepover-prone France international likened more to David Ginola than Cabaye in many Ligue 1 quarters, and De Jong, another attacking midfielder who captained Ajax with distinction, look outstanding buys.
Similarly, Janmaat, a Netherlands international, should compensate for the loss of Mathieu Debuchy to Arsenal, while possibly also keeping Tim Krul happy to remain in goal on Tyneside for a little longer.
About £30m has been invested so far, with Pardew anxious to acquire another proven centre-forward. Last spring’s ills were exacerbated by an acute striker shortage but it remains to be seen whether Rivière, who scored 10 Ligue 1 goals in 30 appearances for Monaco last season, will adapt to the Premier League. Pérez, meanwhile, is regarded as one for the future, who will spend some time with Peter Beardsley’s development squad, while Ferreyra – an Argentinian striker who declined to return to Donetsk because of the fighting in Ukraine – has arrived on loan in an apparently opportunistic gamble.
Although De Jong can play up front in emergencies, the departure of Shola Ameobi (truly the end of an era) and Papiss Cissé’s ongoing recovery from a broken kneecap mean Newcastle could potentially still look a bit skinny in attack.
They do, of course, still have Ben Arfa but the France creator remains very much in Pardew’s deep freeze. Unfortunately for the manager, attempts to move Ben Arfa on have, to date, foundered and he faces the prospect of having to work with a player who sat in the stands signing autographs during the Cardiff game as, all around him, fans alternated choruses of “Pardew Out” with “Hatem Ben Arfa.”
There have been faults on both side but with Ben Arfa’s agent emphasising that the No10 is happy to sit out the remaining year of his contract and that, in any case, Pardew could conceivably be sacked two months into the new campaign, the situation is not ideal. A diplomatic rapprochement seems the most sensible course of action. Just don’t bet on one happening.
Ben Arfa divides his team-mates. Some admire his extreme talents, others are exasperated by a perceived refusal to track back but the latter gripe highlights Newcastle’s pronounced defensive instability during the second half of last season.
Much now hinges on whether Fabricio Coloccini can recapture his old class, how swiftly Janmaat settles in, whether Steven Taylor will re-establish himself at centre-half and if the sometimes underrated Davide Santon can recover fully from his latest knee injury.
Ben Arfa’s continued presence apart, a problem scheduled to sideline Santon until September represents just about Pardew’s only pre-season concern. Yet welcome as the new signings are, their arrival has left the manager bereft of excuses for underachievement.
Ashley is said to be expecting a minimum eighth-placed finish in return for his largesse and there are surely only so many times even Pardew can test his loyalty.
For the moment, though, a manager who often performs best when he is backed into a corner, and has been in sufficiently confident mode this summer to mention potential Champions League qualification, can only pray Newcastle fans give him the benefit of the doubt.
Louise Taylor for the Guardian