Brighton 2 Newcastle 0. On its own this may be insufficient evidence of Alan Pardew’s failings, but it goes a long way in characterising a tenure of underachievement. To the uninformed southerner I’m sure it would seem heresy to dare question the accomplishments of a man who just nine months ago oversaw a top five finish and led Newcastle into Europe for the first time since 2007, but this would be ignoring the barefaced unacceptability of the same side’s current season.
You don’t get anywhere in football with knee-jerk decisions and I’m definitely not one to judge a manager by his last game. But I am one to judge him by his last 16. And for Alan Pardew this means just two wins, three draws and a jarring 11 defeats in all competitions – a deplorable record that has equalled the club’s longest losing streak in the premier league and culminated in an FA Cup exit to lower league opposition for the third successive season.
In fact, in the scheme of things, Alan Pardew has done a very bad job at Newcastle. In 97 games in charge, he has lost 35, just one less than he has won. He has not managed to get further than the third stage of any cup competition, and only finished in the top half once. Of all Newcastle’s permanent managers since 1992, he has the third lowest win percentage, above only Ruud Gullit who even then got Newcastle to an FA Cup final, and Sam Allardyce who found his team four league positions higher than Pardew’s are now.
With long term injuries to key players such as Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, perhaps some fallout was to be expected, but certainly not to this extent. Even if fifth was an overachievement last season, seventh was not an unreasonable target at the start of this one. Regardless of injuries, Newcastle should not be anywhere near the relegation zone or travelling to Norwich as underdogs.
In any case, Pardew’s selection predicament is partly his own doing. With the pressures of Thursday/Sunday fixtures confirmed by Stoke City’s performance last season, the need to bolster the team was obvious, yet Newcastle’s unwillingness to invest appropriately has exposed a decidedly shallow squad. Granted, keeping hold of the likes of Ben Arfa and Cabaye was a coup in itself, but for this short-lived placate, Newcastle have failed to cope with the setbacks of this campaign.
What is more, the few players that Pardew did sign in the summer, save for the revelatory Gaël Bigirimana, have been largely ineffective. Vurnon Anita, who cost twice as much as the departing Danny Guthrie, is about half as good, while Romain Amalfitano, an unknown signed from the lower divisions of French football, is yet to make a premier league appearance.
While Pardew should not shoulder all the responsibility for transfer policy at Newcastle, he has done little to invalidate his reputation as Mike Ashley’s Yes Man. The board’s reluctance to spend is built on a misguided complacency from last year’s budget success, but it should have been noted that this cannot happen every season; Pardew’s failure to fight for funds has played no small part in dissolving the faith among Newcastle fans, nor have his tactics.
Pardew’s persistence in an unproductive partnership up front, his decision to play the right footed Davide Santon at left back, his decision to play Mike Williamson at all, and the abandonment of last season’s successful 4-3-3 formation in favour of the outdated 4-4-2 have all contributed to Newcastle’s demise.
In criticising their manager, Newcastle fans should not be charged with ingratitude or over-expectancy. While the top five finish last season was the club’s best in eight years, it is not enough of a novelty to provide Pardew with his own pedestal. Newcastle managers before him have achieved far more and been dismissed for far less. Kevin Keegan oversaw three title challenges, Bobby Robson secured Champions League appearances in successive seasons, and Glenn Roeder delivered European football with Titus Bramble in the side. Pardew’s fifth-placed finish, though undoubtedly impressive, was achieved with arguably Newcastle’s best team since “The Entertainers” and sandwiched between what looks to be two mid table seasons, while his reign has not seen one consolatory cup run.
As for the accusations of delusion, it should not be overlooked that this “wee club from the North East” boasts the eighth highest trophy total in English football and third biggest stadium (excluding Wembley). Newcastle might not be as big as they once were, but they are not as small as their manager is currently delivering.
The fans’ and indeed Mike Ashley’s faith in Pardew has been demonstrably misplaced. And while the eight-year deal might have marked a laudable shift in the club’s philosophy, an attempt at stability as opposed to the gung-ho economics of Freddy Shepherd, I fear there is nothing to be gained from persisting with mediocrity.
An unenviable win percentage, fifth to fifteenth in less than a year, being below Sunderland in the league without a cup run to compensate, his failure to secure a new deal for Demba Ba, tactical transparency, pushing a linesman and shameless arrogance in spite of all this are more than enough to justify a parting of the ways for Pardew and a job he was never right for.