This time last season, Newcastle were beating Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to seal a fifth place finish to a superb season in the Premier League. Papiss Cisse, a £10 million January signing from Freiburg, scored both goals to move up to a total of 13 in his first 3 months in England, and all the adulation was heading towards Alan Pardew and his chief scout Graham Carr for overachieving with a sensible budget and an extensive scouting network. Cisse was a product of that, as was the likes of Yohann Cabaye, Cheick Tiote, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa and Tim Krul, the group of players who formed the spine of the Magpies’ successful season.
Tyneside was shrouded in optimism heading into the summer having narrowly missed out on Champions League football with a vibrant and cohesive side. The summer would present Alan Pardew with a chance to add to a squad that was already well-equipped and Newcastle United, a club boasting one of the biggest supports in the land, would push on with the return to European competition an added attraction to promising talent. Or so read the script.
In the summer, it became apparent that all was not rosy at St James’ Park as Pardew, although he kept hold of his highly-rated stars, was restricted by owner Mike Ashley’s financial prudence. Vurnon Anita, signed from Ajax for £8 million, was the most significant move alongside the £1.1 million spent on Gael Bigirimana from Coventry and Curtis Good from Melbourne Heart for £400,000. They were not exactly stellar names and many observers were entitled to ask where the £35 million garnered for the sale of Andy Carroll had disappeared to whilst Pardew prepared for the new season with the same squad.
The folly of such off-season inactivity was exposed with a run of just 3 wins in the opening 14 games, a run that was coloured with the news that Ashley had decided to extend Pardew’s contract with a mammoth 8-year extension. Cabaye has made his public his struggles with the rigours of returning to domestic competition following playing for France at Euro 2012 and his campaign has been ruptured by injuries. The likes of Jonas Gutierrez and the fringe players such as Anita, Bigirimana, Gabriel Obertan and Romain Alfitano have all struggled badly for form.
The squad has also been hit by the long absences of Tiote, Krul, Ben Arfa and captain Fabriccio Coloccini, the players who provided the core to last season’s side, as well as Cisse and Gutierrez, have only been available to Pardew at the same time on just one occasion this season.
After that torrid start, Newcastle were immersed in the bottom half of the table and that is where they have remained despite Pardew’s desperate foray into the January transfer market. A dismal festive period saw a sequence of just one win in eight gave Ashley had no choice but to back his manager financially as the possibility of another relegation began to cast a nervous shadow over St James’ Park. Damagingly, Demba Ba, who had scored eleven goals in the first half of the season, headed to Chelsea following the initiation of his £8 million buy-out clause.
With the help of Carr and the money bought in from the sale of Ba, Pardew dipped into the French market to spend £20 million on Ligue 1 talent, bringing in Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, Massaido Haidara, Mathieu Debuchy and Mapou Yanga-Mbwia. Although an immediate impact was seen with victories over Aston Villa, Chelsea, Stoke and Southampton, the desperate attempt to launch a French revolution has seemingly back-fired, with talk of discord and disunity within the squad dominating the fall-out of Saturday’s embarrassing 0-6 capitulation to Liverpool, Newcastle’s worst home defeat since 1925.
The French contingent of the squad have been accused of a lack of concern about the club’s troubles and it has reportedly resulted in a dressing room split. There are fears that Newcastle are slowly losing their soul and identity as Pardew has chosen to go multi-cultural. With as many French senior players as English at Newcastle, ten each in total, it is anathema to a club that has prided itself on a close community and togetherness.
Whilst concerns over squad harmony will occupy the manager in private, there will indeed be a huge worry about the lack of fight that epitomised their defeat to Liverpool, together with their 3-0 dismantling by Sunderland in the derby two week’s before. Effort was almost non-existent as Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge led the rout, whilst there was something telling about the way Gary Neville tore at Newcastle’s defending during his stint as Sky Sports pundit on Monday night, it resembled the insipid resistance of a club heading for the Championship.
With a gap of five points shielding Newcastle from Wigan and the last relegation spot with three games remaining, it is unlikely that Ashley’s regime would oversee its second relegation in four years. But there is no escaping that the businessman will have to green-light a more active summer than last year’s if he is to recover the club from another dip into mutiny. He may even be forced to renege on the generosity of his eight-year backing to his manager that has so far failed to build on a promising debut year enough to justify such support.
For a club that held such optimism just a year ago, they are now heading into darker times once again.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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