Newcastle United FC: The Graveyard of ambition

As the Geordies piled in to St James Park Saturday gone for the derby match versus Sunderland, there was very little optimism or even excit

As the Geordies piled in to St James Park Saturday gone for the derby match versus Sunderland, there was very little optimism or even excitement for the game. The excitement felt usually begins in the week before the game but this time around, there was none of that: it was overruled by a sense of dread and a realisation that after this fixture, Newcastle United’s season was over.
Sadly that sense of dread, which had been born out of yet another inactive transfer window and sale of star man Yohan Cabaye, was confirmed within twenty minutes as Fabio Borini calmly slotted home a penalty after Vernon Anita brought down Phil Bardsley in the box. And the afternoon got worse from there on in: Adam Johnson and Jack Colback netting two more goals in a game where Sunderland, in their rival’s own backyard could have had a few more.
For the third derby game in a row, Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew sent out a team looking bereft of confidence. No organisation, no commitment, no passion and no game plan: this was there for all to see soon as the game kicked off.
Sunderland, fighting relegation had played four games in 13 days coming into this fixture, including a League Cup semi-final, FA Cup 4th round tie and and two league fixtures – arguably with a smaller and less talented squad than that of Newcastle United.
Yet they turned up on Saturday and played their rivals off their own park: firmly making a mockery of Mr Pardew’s frequently used excuse of a ‘tough run in’ or ‘too many games’ or that firm favourite of his, ‘tiredness.’
Pardew and his team remember had just come back from a week in Dubai as a reward for the player’s hard work this season, that presumably includes a pat on the back for going out of the League Cup in the 4th round and the FA Cup in the 3rd round.
But instead of the players being revitalised, looking fresh and raring to go; they looked the exact opposite – just as they have for the past three fixtures against Sunderland.
So who is to blame?
Obviously owner Mike Ashley has to take the majority of the blame after all it’s his decision to sell star players and not replace them. It’s his decision to set target for the year as a top ten finish without any want for a decent cup run. And ultimately it’s his decision to strangle the club of any ambition in place of a healthy looking balance sheet.
The Sports Direct Tycoon, worth somewhere in the region of £3bn has made it clear that Newcastle United will not be battling for honours or European football and instead are here to simply make up the numbers. The TV money is what Mike Ashley cares about and as long as the club can survive relegation then he will continue to reap the benefits.

Then comes Mr Joe Kinnear, an utter clown by all accounts and the only man more arrogant the Alan Pardew.  Thankfully he resigned from his role as Director of Football on Mondayevening, in what many may suggest is a very orchestrated plan.

His resignation fits in nicely with a rumoured 4,000 season ticket holders cancelling their direct debits for next season. His resignation looks to be some attempt to counter this mass exodus.

Kinnear only got the job due to his friendship with Mike Ashley—his role as Director of Football was to sign players but all he did was sell the club’s best one. In his time at the club between June 2013 and February 2014  there were no permanent signings at the club, something which is inexcusable.

He came in a blaze of glory, making unfounded statements and making numerous of mistakes with players names. He asked the fans to ‘judge him me on my signings’ – but none were to follow, making that a little hard to do.  

Kinnear did nothing to justify his role, if the pictures of him that often do the rounds on social media are anything to go by then he spent most of the club’s money in the airport bar. But then, the likelihood of the situation is that Kinnear was brought in to do exactly what he is did; spend as little as possible and become the distraction for when Alan Pardew messes up on the pitch.

And for one last time, he’s fulfilling that role perfectly.

Next comes Mr Alan Pardew, a man of outstanding arrogance with a managerial record not to be bragged about. For all Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear are to blame for off the pitch travesties, Pardew is just as equally to blame for the constant mistakes on the pitch.

He lacks everything a manager needs to succeed—tactics, motivation, and class. His game plan was built around Yohan Cabaye, yet his sale to Paris St. Germain has now thrown his great masterplan into disarray. But the loss of Cabaye was not a surprise, every man and his dog knew it was coming yet Pardew failed to install a plan B, something that he has apparently just realised he needs to do; coming out after the Sunderland game and telling the players the need to go back to basics.

Good luck with that. If he can’t motivate players for a derby then what chance has he got with the basics? His game plan against Sunderland consisted of two elements: (1) Hoof it forward and hope that Shola Ameobi (the man who hasn’t scored a league goal since December 2012) manages to knock into the net and (2) pass it to Hatem Ben Arfa and hope that his impression of a headless chicken can lead to something.

Both failed. Both moves were always going to fail because experienced defenders such as Wes Brown and John O’Shea are more than capable of stopping such useless tactics. Ben Arfa looked weak and uninterested – bottling every challenge and being easily pushed off the ball. The call by Pardew in midweek for Ben Arfa to replace the role of Cabaye is laughable and suggests that Pardew has no idea about his players.

Ben Arfa loves the wings, he runs and cuts inside; he’s not a centre player and that was proved on Saturday. Cabaye could sit, find the pass and suddenly burst forward and Cabaye had a bit of bite; he wasn’t afraid of a challenge. Sadly, Ben Arfa has none of this. He’s a luxury player, and a luxury that Newcastle United cannot afford right now.

And while the lack of signings limits Pardew to what he can do, he has to share some responsibility for Shola Ameobi’s and Papiss Cisse’s lack of goals – he’s the manager after all. It’s down to him to train them, it’s down to him to get their confidence back and it’s down to him to find the problem and fix it.

As of yet, he’s failed on that too. There is also a real threat that Pardew’s magic of strangling the talent of any player has struck Loic Remy. Pardew is keen to remind us that the Frenchman was missing from the lineup on Saturday, the stats remind us that he’s only scored 3 in the last 11 games.

Would he really have made a difference?

But the real problem is that Pardew simply isn’t a very good manager, the squad that Newcastle United have is a very decent one and a decent manager would be top ten while fighting in the cups. A decent manager wouldn’t allow a squad of this talent to lose to Swansea, West Brom and Sunderland in a manner where the players simply rolled over.

The problem with Pardew is that he defeats Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United and his apologists forget about his underlying weaknesses as a manager. His apologists are still playing the ‘we finished 5th’ card as a defence for nearly overseeing relegation last season and his failure to beat the teams that a squad of this ability should be beating.

And then comes the defeat to Sunderland. Three defeats in a row, for the first time since 1923 and only one win in seven derby fixtures under Alan Pardew. It’s not good enough. To lose, hurts but losing after playing well helps sooth the pain but when, as Newcastle United have done for the last few seasons, you lose and deservedly lose because the team play without any passion whatsoever is inexcusable.  

Pardew will tell us to move on, and that things will change but we’ve heard that back in October after Newcastle United got beat 2-1 by Sunderland and again last season when Paolo Di Canio slid on his knees.

So how long does Pardew need to change things? This shows that he is incapable of managing a club like this—he can either see the problem and can’t fix it or he either knows there is a problem but can’t quite work out what it is. But options are alarming.

Sunderland fans chanted ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ to Pardew on Saturday, sadly a lot of Newcastle United fans joined in, ironically knowing that he wouldn’t be sacked. But is his position as safe as the 8-year-contract suggests?

My way or the highway

Another fan ran onto the pitch and tried to hand his season ticket to Alan Pardew, the Geordie faithful cheered him as he got escorted away by the stewards. Pardew may be on an 8 year contract but his stock is quickly dwindling with the fans and possibly with Mike Ashley too.

Anyone would be naive to think that the big contract signed in September 2012 that Ashley allowed this to happen without any get out clauses. Pardew was close to being shown the door in the summer after the scrape with relegation, that suggests Mike Ashley is more than willing to sack him and it would be realistic that the contract states that the payoff to Pardew is a year’s salary rather than six and half years left.

Of course, Pardew is everything that Mike Ashley wants—someone that doesn’t criticise him. But Mike Ashley is a man who likes to be in control, he decided to rename the stadium, he decided to sign a sponsorship with Wonga and he decided to appoint Joe Kinnear.

The decisions may have brought embarrassment to the fans and even tarnished the club’s name but they were done on Mike Ashley’s terms and say so. Losing to Sunderland three times in a row, in such a disgraceful manner wasn’t under his Ashley’s control but will be embarrassing to him even for a man who cares little for the club.

He will know that winning a derby will result in an increase in shirt and ticket sales, and this defeat has seen a number of people vowed to never return to St James Park – sadly with the way things are the reality of people sticking with this threat are more likely than ever.

Of course a few thousand not going to a game won’t affect Ashley, he’s a billionaire after all but he won’t like not getting the full amount from a relatively easy money making machine, and Pardew will no doubt face tough questions this week from Mike Ashley.  

But if Pardew goes who replaces him?

Joe Kinnear is the option, something which worries fans more than anything else. It’s a lose-lose situation. The issue is that with an owner without ambition, a Director of Footballer without any sense and a manager without any talent—Newcastle United will simply stagnate and with the threat of having only one permanent striker on their books come the summer – the club may not only stagnate but dramatically decline.

What do you think of the direction Newcastle United is going in? Have your say in the comments section below.
Editor’s note: This article was amended on 5 February from a previous version on the Kettle web site.
Image: Flickr / Ben Sutherland