As someone who’s childhood was predominantly based in the 1990s, the words ‘Newcastle United’ evoke only pleasant thoughts. A mental highlight reel immediately begins and it’s a combination of Phillipe Albert chips, Faustino Asprilla flips and mazy runs from French master David Ginola.
Newcastle were, to me, one of the big teams. Under Kevin Keegan, they ran a dominant Manchester United side close in the title race more than once, producing (or at least further nurturing) talents like Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole and others. With the benefit of hindsight, some look back on Alan Shearer’s decision to pick Newcastle over Man Utd when making his then-record fee £15 million move in the summer of 1996 but what’s easily forgotten is just how big a club Newcastle were at that time. Combined with the fact Shearer had been a fan as a boy and it’s almost no wonder he chose St James’ Park over Old Trafford.
The years that followed, however, ensured Newcastle would no longer be regarded with such high esteem. Despite remaining title challengers in the early 2000s under the late Bobby Robson, the club began to fall away soon after. The purchase of the club by Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley in 2007 ushered in a series of disastrous appointments. Glenn Roeder, Joe Kinnear and former hero Kevin Keegan all tried and failed to return the club to former glories, with the club eventually being relegated in 2009.
Cut to the present day and, though back in the top flight of English football, Newcastle sit only 2 points above the drop zon, having lost 3-0 to relegation rivals Leicester City and struggling to find a win. Under current manager John Carver, they have won only two of his 17 games in charge, losing 12 and accunulating a goal difference of -19 in the process.
But, strangley, ask a lot of the Toony Army and they would tell you they are happier with Carver in charge than his predecessor and current Crystal Palace number 1 Alan Pardew. Pardew never truly won the hearts of the St James faithful. Always known for being a difficult personality, high profile incidents involving Pardew brought the club into disrepute, angering proud Magpies fans. Perhaps the worst of these is the well-covered incident involving Hull City player David Meyler, in which Pardew appeared to attempt to headbutt him. It was primairly because of such incidents that many fans were happy to see the back of the former Reading, West Ham and Charlton gaffer when he left to return to London in January of this year.
On first glance, the Toon Army’s dislike of Pardew is understandable. The previously mentioned incidents added to an already lenghtly rap sheet which included a High Court dispute with John Madejski after Pardew quit Reading when they wouldn’t let him talk to West Ham about their vacant manager’s position and a dispute with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in which Pardew was accused of xenophobia for criticising the Gooners’ lack of British representation in a Champions League match.
But look at his on-the-pitch achievements and you begin to think that the fans’ dislike of Pardew was not entirely justified. He managed to kead Newcastle to a respectable 12th placed finish in their first season back in the Premier League. That summer began the inflush of exciting French talent under Pardew and lead scout John Carr. Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba all joined that year and an exciting Newcastle team finished fifth in the table in 2012. Such an outstanding performance would win Pardew the Premier League Manager of the Season that year.
Despite continued high quality signings of the likes of Matthieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko, Pardew never quite achieved those heights of that season, finishing 10th and 16th in his following two full seasons in charge. Pardew left amidst a poor run of form but left behind some good on-the-pitch moments for the fans up north.
So the question must be asked – was losign Pardew really a good thing for Newcastle, as the fans may have you believe? The league table doesn’t suggest so. Pardew left Newcastle in 10th place after 19 games, joining a Crystal Palace side in the relegation zone.Wh Fast forward to now, however, and Crystal Palace sit 12th, secure in the Premier League for another season, while Newcastle face the very real threat of relegation.
And one must ask why a man in Pardew’s position would swap a secure job in which he famously signed an 8-year contract extension in 2012, for a club who, at the time, were in dire straights. Of course Pardew has personal ties to Palace, but perhaps the move was an indication of just how untenable Pardew’s postion may have become up north. Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias are widely known to have little ambition other than to keep Newcastle a going concern in the Premier League. Maybe this wasn’t enough for Pardew – a famously ambitious man who took the club within touching distance of the Champions League.
Whatever the reason for Pardew’s departure, I think honest Toon Army fans would be hard pushed to argue they really prefer their club in its’ current state to what it was under Pardew. Yes, his start to the 2014/15 season was less than idea;, but this was perhaps an outside indication of inside pressures at the club. It’s clear that, at present, John Carver is an incompetent captain on a sinking ship. Magpies fans perhaps need to look further up the chain of command, as they are beginning to, to see where the real problems lie. Pardew may not be perfect – but he was a safe pair of hands in an otherwise stormy sea.