Posts Tagged ‘pardew’

“Newcastle will struggle”, they said. “They’ve sold their best players”, they said. “A club in crisis”, they said…

‘They’ were the media and an assorted collection of so-called football ‘experts’ giving their views on Newcastle United prior to the start of the current Premier League season back in August. The club was in trouble, apparently, and would do incredibly well to avoid a relegation battle come next May.

They were wrong it seems, so far at least. Newcastle’s fantastic unbeaten start means that should they win against Wigan tomorrow, they will have amassed a quite incredible and equally unexpected total of 19 points from their opening 9 games. Far from relegation form, 19 points from 9 games would represent an average of 2.1 points per game. To put that into context, that is the exact average that won Manchester United last season’s Premier League title with 80 points, so in other words, title-winning form. Of course, we are only less than a quarter of the way through the 2011/12 season and no one expects Newcastle to keep up their blistering form.

“To put that into context, that is the exact average that won Manchester United last season’s Premier League title with 80 points, so in other words, title-winning form.”

Sterner tests lie ahead for the new-look Newcastle team, that much is obvious. The end of November looks particularly ominous for the Magpies with successive away trips to Manchester followed by a home game against a strong Chelsea outfit at the start of December. That Newcastle have yet to face any of the Top 3 partly explains Newcastle’s excellent start to the season, or does it? ‘They’ were quick to proclaim in the run up to last week’s Tottenham test that Newcastle occupied a false league position, virtue of a kind opening fixture list – it is a claim that is only partly true.

Many said Newcastle's opening fixtures were 'easy' but an away win at local rivals Sunderland was anything but

Yet to play anyone good…

In their eight league matches so far, Newcastle have played no less than five of last season’s top 10 teams (Arsenal, Sunderland, Fulham, Villa & Spurs), taking 9 points in the process including 3 at hated rivals Sunderland. Add to that a home game against bogey-team Blackburn & tough trips to QPR and Wolves and Newcastle’s “easy” start suddenly looks anything but, especially with the televised QPR clash falling on the Loftus Road side’s relaunch night following Tony Fernandes’ takeover and the purchase of several players, not least a certain Joey Barton.

Tottenham would put Newcastle back in their place; knock them down a peg or two, they said. Only they didn’t. The Magpies matched their North-London counterparts every bit of the way in last weekend’s enthralling draw, earning plaudits along the way yet still a minority queued up to knock them down. It seems some may not be able, or indeed willing, to praise a Newcastle side that was deemed by many to be in crisis only 8 weeks ago, until they have faced the league’s elite teams.

Surely though, how Newcastle do against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester’s United & City is largely irrelevant over the course of the season. If it mattered, Newcastle would surely have finished higher than 12th last season, with Man City the only team of the 2010/11 Top 6 to take 3 points from their travels to St James’ Park. Indeed, Newcastle’s problem for many a year has not been matching the best, rather beating the worst. Last season Newcastle failed to take maximum points at home to Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Stoke, Wigan and West Brom – all of whom finished in the bottom half of the league.

This season, it finally seems as though Newcastle have added consistency, as well as resiliency to their game. It is the matches against the likes of Fulham (2-1), Blackburn (3-1) and Sunderland (0-1) that will really determine where Newcastle will finish in May, not the occasional media-worthy match against England’s elite, as Champions League chasing Spurs will no doubt testify to, having lost heavily to both Manchester clubs so far this term.

Some may be reluctant to offer praise, but surely no one can argue that Newcastle have improved under the stewardship of Alan Pardew. Analysing Newcastle’s results so far against those from the corresponding fixtures from 2010/11 offers a good indication of the Tyneside club’s vast improvement over the summer:

The Improvement Table Explained

The table above shows each of the current 17 Premier League teams that participated in last season’s top flight, ranked in order of their improvement upon last season’s corresponding fixtures so far.  Matches against the newly-promoted trio of QPR, Norwich and Swansea have been marked ‘void’ and not included in the analysis. The teams have therefore been ranked by average Points Per Game improved upon the corresponding fixtures from 2010/11.

For example, in Gameweek 2, Newcastle took on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, gaining 3 points courtesy of a Ryan Taylor free kick. In comparison to last season, where the corresponding fixture resulted in a 1-1 draw, Newcastle improved by 2 points, with Sunderland worsening by 1 point.

The table does not analyse how well or poorly teams are playing this season, rather how they have played in comparison to the same fixtures from last season. For example, Man United’s fairly low placing does not imply they are playing poorly this season, just that they are getting similar results to last season (mostly wins). Likewise Bolton, – suffering their worst start to a top-flight season for more than a hundred years – are remarkably shown to have actually improved upon their corresponding fixtures from the last campaign.

Newcastle lead the league

Liverpool, Spurs and Stoke feature near the top of the table but the undoubted leaders in the improvement table are Newcastle who have improved upon their corresponding 2010/11 fixtures by a total of 10 points. As they played newly-promoted QPR in Gameweek 4, the result for this match was excluded, giving Newcastle a total of a 10-point improvement from 7 matches, or an average 1.42-improvement points per game. Their 10-point improvement haul is nearly double that of 2nd placed Liverpool and demonstrates the consistency that Newcastle have added to their game against teams outside the Top 6.

Newcastle are yet to fail to match the results of any of their corresponding fixtures from last season and with Wigan, Home (2-2 last season), Stoke, Away (4-0) & Everton, Home (1-2) coming up next for the Magpies, they have a fantastic opportunity to continue their incredible improvement and defy their critics. Long may it continue.

August 31st 2011 is promising to be a big date in the calendars of Newcastle United fans as it should finally prove what Mike Ashley really intends to do with the club. The day marks the end of the summer transfer window and Newcastle’s business in the coming months will either confirm the doubts of many of the club’s fans or provide much needed hope and invigoration for the future.

In years gone by, a seemingly non-existent scouting team combined with constant managerial upheaval and a lack of funds meant that incoming transfers were usually concluded towards the end of August or January, on a whim, as panic set in and fans frustration grew. There are too many examples to list but some of the signings that have stereotyped Newcastle as a whimsical procrastinator in the transfer market include the likes of Albert Luque, Xisco, Nacho Gonzalez, Oguchi Onyewu et al. However, the appointment of Graham Carr as the club’s head scout has undoubtedly improved the way the club does its transfer business.

Under Graham Carr, expensive, whimsical flops like Albert Luque should be a thing of the past

Last summer the club, on a shoestring budget, carefully identified their targets and acquired them. The shrewd business conducted by Carr, Llambias and Lee Charnley saw Newcastle bring in the French whizzkid Hatem Ben Arfa and the unknown midfield anchorman, Cheik Tiote. Whilst Ben Arfa showed glimpses of his potential before being sidelined by Nigel De Jong at Eastlands, Tiote was undoubtedly the success story of the season. A bargain £3.5m was paid to Dutch champions FC Twente and but for his disciplinary problems, the defensive midfielder would most likely have been the clear frontrunner for the club’s Player of the Season award. The astonishing amounts of money that have been changing hands in England’s top flight since the turn of the year underline just how good a price the Magpies paid for the Ivorian. Newcastle’s number 7, Joey Barton, stated as much via his twitter account recently:

“English players are really expensive at the moment…. Mr T (Tiote) looks even more of a bargain now”    Joey Barton on Twitter

However, whilst the additions of Ben Arfa and Tiote last summer look to have been shrewd business, the amount of funds given to Chris Hughton were limited. The reasons for this became apparent in December when the Cockney-Irishman was relieved of his duties, making way for Alan Pardew who was given the length of contract and job security that Hughton could only dream of under Ashley. It soon became clear that Ashley did not trust Hughton to spend his money in the transfer market, no matter how little. The poor signings of James Perch from Nottingham Forest and the unattached Sol Campbell were apparently one of the final nails in Hughton’s managerial coffin.

Mike Ashley didn't trust Chris Hughton to spend his money

Whilst Pardew arrived with enough time to plan for the January transfer window and subsequently promised at least one arrival, it seemed that although several irons may have been in the metaphorical transfer market fire, the club refused to be held to ransom by the greedy agents of the average players that NUFC targeted. Among those players were rumoured to be the likes of Robbie Keane, David Bentley and Sebastian Larsson. Keane and Bentley both moved to clubs willing to cover their exuberant wages, whilst Larsson sat tight, arguably holding out for the lucrative payday that is now so commonly associated with players moving via the Bosman ruling. Newcastle’s lack of investment in January had much to do with the reluctance of its owner, Mike Ashley, to gamble on overpriced players in panic buys or loans when the club was still far from guaranteeing survival and another season in the top flight. Ironically, by not gambling on bringing in any players in January, Ashley in turn gambled the club’s safety on the abilities of Alan Pardew and the existing squad, minus the departing Wayne Routledge and Andy Carroll.

As many footballing experts will testify, the January transfer window is a seller’s market and so it proved to be for Newcastle. Many fans might argue that a replacement should have at least been found before Newcastle agreed to part with Carroll in return for £35m on the final day of the window. However, it’s easier said than done and if, as believed, the Liverpool interest came out of the blue, then finding a decent striker on the final day without being held to ransom by clubs and agents fully aware of the windfall the Mags had just received would be nigh on impossible. Any such replacement would likely have been overpriced and overpaid (see Luque, Xisco et al). Newcastle knew that come the summer, Carroll’s value would plummet. The reason Liverpool made the pony-tailed Geordie the 8th most expensive player in history was a direct knock-on effect of the ludicrous amount of cash they received from Chelsea for Torres. Had Newcastle spurned Liverpool’s advances, they would have taken their cash elsewhere. Like it or loathe it, the Carroll deal was good business from Newcastle’s financial point of view.

Agree with it or not - the Carroll sale was good business by the club.

Not signing a replacement may not have made footballing sense, as subsequent  injuries to Shola Ameobi and Leon Best showed, but the gamble paid off as Newcastle’s battling team spirit led them to a 12th place finish and another seaso in the Premier League. Mike Ashley’s doubters, of which there are many, now fully expect him to pocket the majority of the Carroll money, whilst again providing limited funds to his ‘yes man’, Alan Pardew for squad investment. There are those, however, who see this summer as Ashley’s last chance saloon. Armed with £35m and possibly more from other sales, Ashley can finally show his true intentions to the Toon Army, with a competent scouting network in place and a manager whom he trusts to spend his money (So far Allardyce, Keegan, Kinnear & Hughton haven’t).

For the first time in a long time, Newcastle finally look to have grabbed a transfer window by its throat, with Mike Ashley’s men actively scouring Europe for reinforcements to be paid for by the £35m bagged by Andy Carroll’s acrimonious sale to Liverpool on January 31st. Granted, Newcastle have money to spend and everyone knows as much but unlike many of the Toon’s top flight rivals, Newcastle are avoiding the inflated British market and instead choosing to concentrate their efforts on continental Europe where they feel Tiote-esque bargains are ready to be had. Graham Carr’s scouting network has had the best part of 5 months to compile their list of recommendations for Alan Pardew, in the knowledge that there is plenty of money to spend.

One player has already agreed to join the club. Lille’s French international midfielder Yohann Cabaye was in Newcastle today to put the finishing touches to his £4.3m move to St James’ Park. Valued in the region of £7-8m, Newcastle have pulled off something of a coup in triggering a little-known release clause that allows him to move for nearly half his supposed value.

Pardew has targeted pace and creativity as the main areas he wants to strengthen in his team, as well as adding at least one top striker capable of reaching double-figures in the league goals chart. Names linked include Kevin Gameiro of Lorient, Cheik Tiote’s silky compatriot Gervinho and former Toon star Charles N’Zogbia. Gameiro has consistently expressed his desire to play anywhere but England however, whilst Gervinho is courting interest from clubs with more to offer than Newcastle. N’Zogbia appears to be keen on returning to Tyneside but Wigan are reluctant to sell him to a club they see as relegation rivals for next season.

One advantage that Newcastle has over its rivals is Mike Ashley’s reluctance to pay for players in installments, as is the norm in footballing transactions. Already the club has stolen a march over others competing for the same players by offering cash up front – the fact that 85% of the Carroll money was received up front should help Newcastle to make significant progress in their endeavours this summer.

So whilst Newcastle struggle to attract their top targets to join them for now, the signs are there that the club is attempting to bring in players of a good pedigree and perhaps most significantly, that they are trying to do their business early in the summer, aware of the seller’s market that exists in late August. It remains to be seen just how successful Newcastle’s transfer dealings will be but the early signs are at least encouraging if nothing else, with one international player already through the door and several more likely to follow. One thing is for sure though – the days of Newcastle signing the likes of Albert Luque and Xisco appear to be very much in the past.

The NUFC A-Team

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We’ve all known for quite a while now that Cheik Tiote is actually The A-Team’s Mr T in disguise but now new information has been leaked that Tiote is not the only NUFC-related member of the A-Team as this image shows:

Nolan, Barton, Tiote and Pardew in their previous jobs as members of the A-Team

Alan Partridge commentates on some of Newcastle’s recent goals:

“Please allow me to introduce myself,
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a mans soul and faith.”

Many a Newcastle United fan would surely empathise with the opening lines of the Rolling Stones’ classic hit ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. In sporting terms, Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley could definitely be described as being Satan-like in a city where football is regarded by many as a religion – but whilst he is certainly wealthy, the jury is still out as to whether he is a man of taste! Since buying Newcastle United “a long, long year” ago – four to be precise – Michael James Wallace Ashley, otherwise known as the Fat Cockney Bastard or simply as ‘Mike’ has indeed stolen many a man’s soul and faith.

Should Toon fans sympathise with Mike Ashley?

Ashley seemingly came to the club’s rescue in the summer of 2007 when he quickly and unexpectedly forced through the purchase of the club for a total fee in the region of £134m, excluding existing debts. The Newcastle fans had exactly what they had been craving for for nigh on a decade – the replacement of the much-maligned Freddy Shepherd as the club’s chairman. Ashley bought the club with promises of debt removal, squad investment and talk of 5-year plans that would see Newcastle turn into the ‘Arsenal of the North-East’. The clubs new Billionaire owner was seen by many to have bought the club as a toy and in a rare interview with the News of the World, he openly admitted as much following the sacking of Sam Allardyce in early 2008:

“I bought this club to make it a success and the harsh truth is there wasn’t much prospect of that. I bought this club to have some fun and I wasn’t having much fun at all.”

Initially, the fans rejoiced at the positivity of the club’s new owner and his sidekick chairman Chris Mort. Ashley was regularly seen amongst the Toon Army at away fixtures, complete with replica shirt sporting the name of one of his first purchases as owner of the club in the form of striker cum defensive midfielder Alan Smith, signed from Manchester United for a fee in the region of £6m. Ashley’s choice of having ‘SMITH’ emblazoned on the back of his shirt probably had more to do with the former Leeds United player’s newly inherited squad number (17) though than it did the abilities of the former England international. Ashley is a known gambler and roulette enthusiast, with 17 being his number of choice on the green-felted table… apparently. Ashley’s penchant for risk-taking extends far further than the casino’s of Mayfair however and is no doubt one of the major reasons behind his incredible success with his Sports Direct business.

Ashley's fondness for risk-taking has been evident throughout his NUFC tenure

‘But what’s confusing you, is just the nature of my game’

Throughout the last four years of Ashley’s NUFC tenure, his appreciation for gambling has become increasingly apparent to th0se who turn up to watch his assets play each week – yet perhaps the biggest gamble of all was Ashley’s initial decision to buy the club – rather than the many gambles he has taken since (with varying degrees of success). The sportswear giant demonstrated his addiction to gambling, combined with an alarmingly distinct lack of business acumen when he chose to purchase the club despite not having undertaken due-dilligence – a common practice in such large-scale business transactions where the painstaking process of carefully analysing a company’s books is done in order to give the buyer a full-picture of what exactly they are buying.

Some may argue that Ashley’s reluctance to undertake due-dilligence was actually a blessing in disguise, fearing that had he taken a proper look at the club’s accounts, he would have seen the awful financial position that the club was in and wouldn’t have touched the club with the proverbial bargepole. Such a situation would have left the previous devil-incarnate Freddy Shepherd in charge of the club – an option which seems to be increasingly favourable with the benefit of hindsight. Only Ashley, Shepherd and their associates know the true situation that the club was in when the former purchased it in May 2007 but Ashley’s aides – most notably Derek Llambias – have always been quick to portray the Sportswear and waistline giant as the saviour of Newcastle United:

“If it wasn’t for Mike’s continued input… we would be in a similar position to Portsmouth (In administration)…”

Derek Llambias

So should we have Sympathy for the Devil?

The number of mistakes and major gaffes Mike Ashley has made in his relatively short time at the helm of NUFC are far too large in number to comprehensively list, yet despite his obvious and numerous flaws there are also a number of areas where Ashley could perhaps be forgiven or indeed sympathised with. In particular, right from the start, he inherited a club that was inherently poorly run both on and off the pitch. Sorting out the mess that Freddy Shepherd left behind would have taken the world’s best football and business brains combined years to achieve, let alone a cockney knock-off merchant and his casino cronies. He not only inherited a club that was being run into the ground financially from within the boardroom, but also an underachieving team on the pitch, with an aging squad full of overpaid, under-committed ‘stars’. He was also in the unfortunate position that just weeks prior to his purchase of the club, his predecessor had installed former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce and his army of backroom staff on long, lucrative contracts. Faced with the awkward position of either instantly and expensively replacing Allardyce upon his arrival or backing him in the transfer market, he chose the latter option, endearing himself to the Geordie public in the process. If he had chosen to dispense of Allardyce’s services before the Yorkshireman had even taken a training session at the club would have seen a national backlash against Ashley for not giving Big Sam a chance. As a result, Ashley was forced into signing cheques for his new manager – a process which saw the following arrive at St James’ Park for a total of more than £20m with all on lucrative contracts: Joey Barton, David Rozehnal, Geremi, Claudio Cacapa, Abdoulaye Faye, Habib Beye, Mark Viduka, Jose Enrique and Alan Smith. Of those 9 players, only Habib Beye hit the ground running and whilst Barton and Enrique are now justifying their price tags, they did anything but in their first 2 seasons at the club. Others, like Geremi and Viduka took the club for all it was worth in their (fortunately) relatively short stays on Tyneside. After 6 months, with the team playing awful football with some awful results to boot, Ashley sacked Allardyce and although many neutrals will tell you this decision prompted the club’s relegation in 2009, this is a theory most fans on Tyneside dispel as a myth.

‘Made damn sure that Pilate, washed his hands and sealed his fate.’

Ashley replaced Allardyce with fans favourite Kevin Keegan and wanting to make sure that there would be no repeat of the aging, expensive players brought in by Big Sam, Ashley introduced a policy of signing younger players with resale value, should the club wish to sell them in the future. In order to oversee this new policy, Ashley installed Dennis Wise, one of the most hated men in football, above Kevin Keegan, as the head of youth development and scouting. The Keegan/Wise partnership was a marriage made in hell as Keegan found out to his cost some 7 months later, resigning after having players he had not wanted (Nacho Gonzalez and Xisco) forced upon him by Wise – playing the role of Pontius Pilate – on transfer deadline day 2008.

Dennis Wise's actions led to Kevin Keegan's resignation from the club in 2008.

Whilst Ashley’s new policy of signing younger players and looking to improve the club’s academy was an admirable strategy for the club to impose, the personnel chosen to run it were entirely non-compatible. It seemed that Ashley’s problem was not so much his ideas, but instead the people he entrusted to carry them out. This certainly applied to the decision he took next: appointing the former boss of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, Joe Kinnear as the club’s caretaker manager. Ashley wanted an experienced head to guide the club while he looked to sell up after the Keegan fiasco turned the Toon Army against him. No serious bidders were forthcoming however, and Ashley took the club off the market in December of 2008 although further criticism was to come.

Following the departure of the talented French sulk Charles N’Zogbia and club legend Shay Given in January of 2009, the club required a further caretaker manager in February when Joe Kinnear was taken to hospital on the eve of the team’s game against West Brom. Chris Hughton originally took charge of first team affairs however with the team struggling and 8 games remaining in the season, Ashley and his new chairman Derek (Silence of the) Llambias managed to persuade club legend and record-goalscorer Alan Shearer to leave the comfort of the Match of the Day studio and return to Newcastle to lead the team until the end of the season.

‘And I was round when Jesus Christ, had his moment of doubt and pain.’

The decision to employ Shearer seemed the correct one, allowing him to galvanise the fans and team alike on the run-in to the end of the season, in the hopes of avoiding relegation to the Championship. However, the club, with its squad desperately lacking in either desire or confidence was virtually already down. Shearer and the fans could only watch in horror as the club slid into English football’s second tier at Villa Park in May. Although it was hardly Shearer’s fault, it was to be the worst moment of his playing and (short) managerial career.

Ashley oversaw Alan Shearer lead the team as they were relegated in 2009.

In the immediate aftermath of the team’s relegation, Shearer claimed the club was in need of a massive overhaul from top-to-bottom. He later declared that he wanted the job full-time and when Ashley and Llambias said he was the man to take the club forward, it seemed only a matter of time until the sheet-metal worker’s son from Gosforth took up the task of guiding his hometown club back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. However, Shearer claimed he was never even offered a contract. It seemed apparent that it was a publicity stunt by the NUFC board, aimed at quelling demand for Shearer to be given the job even though he was never in the running. One of the reasons may have been his wage-demands although it’s more likely the requested control over team affairs and transfer budget that put Ashley off appointing Shearer. Instead, he appointed the low-budget option of Chris Hughton – the quiet ex-Spurs man who had failed to inspire when in temporary charge the previous season. The club was again put on the market and again there were no takers. Ashley took the club off the market for a second time and turned Hughton’s temporary appointment into a permanent one after a promising start to the season.

Hughton – on a reported annual salary of just £250k – received no money for transfers despite seeing the likes of Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Damien Duff, Obafemi Martins, Habib Beye and Sebastien Bassong all leave the club in the wake of its relegation. Hughton slowly conquered the hearts of the Toon Army as he manfully guided the team to automatic promotion with alarming ease. Only the achievement was anything but easy. The club’s humiliated players, tarnished by relegation, bonded and formed a new-found team spirit, battling their way to 102 points and the Championship trophy.

Chris Hughton delivered promotion and silverware at the first time of asking

Paying PL wages in the Football League: Ashley’s successful gamble

Although many star names left, several remained at the club and due to Ashley’s failure to include relegation induced wage reductions in players contracts, the entire playing staff continued to pick up Premier League wages. The massive reduction in revenue caused by relegation meant that Ashley was left to pay the bills, forking money out of his own pocket to keep the club running and the players paid. It was another Ashley gamble  – The club’s wage bill dwarfed those of other clubs in the Championship – except this time it paid off. By retaining the core group of the playing squad, Newcastle’s quality shone through and promotion was secured. Ashley’s faith in both Hughton and the playing squad must be commended, even if many will see alterior motives behind his decision to back both.

Return to the Premier League (and old ways)

Once back in the Premier League, Hughton received limited funds to strengthen the squad, bringing in Cheik Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa (initially on loan), but the outlay of £3.5m in summer transfer fees was one of the lowest in the Premier League. Ashley was gambling again – this time that the squad was good enough to survive the 2010/11 season. By the start of November his gamble seemed to be paying off, with the club sitting safely in the top half of the table and great results against Aston Villa, Sunderland and Arsenal showing that Newcastle were able to compete in the top-flight. However, when Hughton’s assistant Colin Calderwood left to take over at Hibs North of the border, doubts about Hughton’s future began to surface as he was unable to choose his replacement. In true Mike Ashley fashion, the owner bit the hand that fed him and dispensed of Hughton in December, replacing him with Alan Pardew, rumoured to be a London gambling buddy, known through former casino manager Del boy Llambias. The move further angered the Toon Army as Hughton had worked minor miracles in the face of adversity yet this time it also served to anger the footballing community as a whole, with Hughton one its most-liked members. His replacement with a man whose track record included relegating Charlton Athletic and, most recently being sacked as manager of League 1 outfit Southampton failed to inspire Newcastle’s fans although with safety virtually assured and £35m from the sale of Andy Carroll to spend, it remains to be seen if the appointment of Pardew will be a successful gamble or the latest in a long line of major Ashley gaffes.

The jury is still out on Ashley's decision to appoint Alan Pardew as Hughton's successor

Whilst Ashley is undoubtedly guilty of committing several high profile mistakes and PR errors, he has also made some good decisions in the running of the club. Ashley finally has the club running like a business and as much as some people may hate it, in the harsh current economic climate, that is how football clubs will have to be run as fans of Leeds, Portsmouth and Plymouth will doubtless agree. If the man portrayed as the Devil by most on Tyneside has good intentions for the club’s future then he simply MUST show them this summer with the substantial amount of cash he pocketed from the sale of Andy Carroll in January. For many, Ashley had his last chance too long ago but some are willing to have Sympathy for the Devil and see what he does in the summer before making their final judgement.

Some of Ashley’s biggest NUFC PR gaffes:

  • Appointing Dennis Wise above KK
  • Appointing Joe Kinnear
  • Poor treatment of club legends Keegan and Shearer
  • The stadium naming rights fiasco (SportsDirect.com@StJamesPark)
  • Sacking Chris Hughton
  • The sale of Andy Carroll

“Forget Andy Carroll – he is not for sale at any price!”

‘Toon Insider’: November 2010

 

“When I sat down with Derek Llambias last night, Andy Carroll came up and he stays”

Alan Pardew: 9th December 2010

 

“He loves it here and loves the fans – long may it continue.”

Alan Pardew: 21st December 2010

 

“They can put together whatever they like. He is not for sale. I am going to say it for one last time, he is not for sale”

Alan Pardew: 17th January 2011

 

“He’s tired of saying how much he wants to stay.”

Evening Chronicle – TODAY 31st January 2011

 

“A transfer request from striker Andy Carroll has been accepted by Newcastle United.”

Official Newcastle United Website – 31st January 2011

 

A crazy transfer deadline day has so far brought with it rumour and counter-rumour galore, mainly revolving around Fernando Torres’ impending departure from Liverpool to Chelsea. With Liverpool having £50m burning a hole in their pockets and their distraught fanbase to appease, they have moved to replace Torres with Newcastle’s number 9 and Local Hero, Andy Carroll. The day started with rumours of a £30 million bid from Liverpool for the Gateshead-born talisman. This bid was supposedly rejected with Newcastle setting an asking price of £35million for their young striker.

By the late afternoon, Skyports News reported that Newcastle had “reluctantly” accepted a transfer request from Andy Carroll as he headed towards Merseyside for a medical. The transfer fee for Carroll is rumoured to be in the region of £35+ million with potential future additional payments. You would hope that Newcastle, taking heed from the Milner-Man City transfer will have included a sizeable sell-on fee clause, so that the club can profit in the event that Carroll should move on again in the future. The news of Carroll’s sale will spark a mixed reaction amongst Toon fans, with the player undoubtedly a fantastic, local prospect worthy of potentally emulating Alan Shearer as the club’s record goalscorer. However, £35 million plus is an incredible amount of money and should Carroll sign for the Reds before Torres puts pen to paper with Chelsea then he will become the most expensive player in British football history and the 8th most expensive in the world. For a player that has 14 top-flight goals and one international cap to his name, it is a phenomenal price, achieved purely as a knock-on effect of Torres relocation to London. Considering Carroll was supposedly offered around to clubs for a a paltry £1m only 18 months ago, the deal represents a great profit for Newcastle, but also underlines the immense improvement in Andy Carroll’s game since Newcastle were relegated in 2009.

He may hail from Gateshead but Carroll is far from the Angel of The North

The hurt for Newcastle fans will be tempered somewhat by Carroll’s apparent desire to leave, proven by  his decision to hand in a transfer request. Although the player wanted to leave and the price is an incredibly good one for Newcastle, the real reaction from Newcastle fans will come from the clubs response in replacing Carroll. With such little time left in this window, it is highly unlikely that the Magpies will be able to buy a high-calibre replacement, so a loan deal for an out-of favour striker from elsewhere in the Premier League seems likely, although rumours linking Peter Crouch with a move to the North-East seem unlikely as Spurs are themselves looking to bolster their attacking ranks having let Robbie Keane go on loan to West Ham. Newcastle may have to wait until the summer to sign Carroll’s replacement and will then be able to benefit from the lower summer transfer window prices.

Liverpool are getting themselves a very good player with undoubted talent and potential, yet £35 million is an incredibly big millstone around his neck and should he fail to hit the ground running, there will be plenty of doubters ready to criticise the Geordie and make him a scapegoat after the loss of their beloved Torres. Whether or not the pony-tailed striker can carry the weight of expectation that will follow him remains to be seen. Whether Newcastle can recover from the loss of their highest goalscorer and one of their best players also remains to be seen. The only way Newcastle can move on is through shrewd reinvestment of the Carroll transfer fee in developing the squad: Anything else will spell disaster for the Mags.

Saturday saw Newcastle repeat their performance of 6 days previous, against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. In the Tyne-Wear derby, having led 1-0 through an early second-half goal and despite dominating proceedings, Sunderland somehow equalised in added time to snatch 2 points from the Magpies. On Saturday, at home to a (supposedly) title-challenging Spurs side, Newcastle again led through a goal in the third quarter of the game, only to be denied taking all three points by another injury-time leveller. The main difference between the two games was that unlike Asamoah Gyan’s lucky looping effort that took him by surprise the week before, Tottenham’s sickening equaliser was most definitely avoidable.

A combination of injuries, suspensions had left the squad looking incredibly bare, with even the lesser-spotted Xisco making it on to the bench for the Spurs game. The absence of key players Cheik Tiote and Andy Carroll in particular had dampened expectations ahead of the two games, combined with the recent and utterly humiliating FA Cup defeat to League 2 minnows Stevenage. Whilst most level-headed Toon fans would agree that they would have taken draws against two sides pushing for Europe prior to the matches, to lose 4 points in injury time over the two games makes them feel more like defeats and leaves the Toon Army with the feeling of “what if?” Nevertheless, it’s two points gained, but four points lost.

The Premier League table makes for good reading for Toon fans, but it could have been even better.

As far as achieving our original aim at the outset of the campaign of finishing 17th, we are well on course. In fact, we are on course to finish in the top-10; something even the more ambitious Toon fans would probably admit they didn’t expect back in August. Compared with the infamous relegation campaign of 2008/09, we are 7 points better-off than at the same point (23 games in) 2 years ago. Despite only taking 2 points from the last two fixtures when we should really have taken all six, the signs are good for the Mags. Unbeaten in the league in 2011, Newcastle have collected 8 points from a possible 12, pushing thoughts of relegation onto the back-burner once again. Yet it is the performances in the last four (league) games that have quelled relegation talk as much as the points haul that they have brought. The team has impressed, despite notable absentees, in all four games.

Beating the beatable

Firstly, Newcastle won for the first time ever in the DW/JJB stadium. The 1-0 scoreline at the DW belies the ease with which Newcastle dominated their blue and white opponents. As far as Newcastle away performances go, they don’t come much easier than this. Newcastle dominated a poor Wigan side from start to finish and should really have added to their goal difference with Shola Ameobi and Leon Best both squandering great chances they would usually bury. Secondly, only a matter of days after registering 3 points at the home of Mike Ashley’s sports-retail nemesis, the team maintained its winning ways by thoroughly thrashing a woeful West Ham by five goals to nil at St James’ Park. The game saw Leon Best mark his full Newcastle United and Premier League debut with a left-footed hattrick, moving him above Wayne Rooney in this season’s Premier League goalscoring charts in the process.

Leon Best silenced some of his doubters with a well-taken hattrick on his full debut against West Ham

It was also the third time this season that United have registered 5 or more goals in a single game (following Villa and Sunderland); something Toon fans could only dream of 2 years ago. These are the games that Newcastle notoriously struggle to win. Over the last decade, impressive performances against the so called bigger-teams have often been followed up by humbling defeats to the likes of Wigan and West Ham. It is these games that must be won if United are to survive and in winning these, Newcastle went a long way towards securing their place amongst England’s elite come the end of May.

Failing to hold on

After the debacle at Stevenage in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, attention turned to the Stadium of Light where local bragging rights were again at stake, although it would take some performance from Sunderland to match or eclipse the events of Halloween when they were well and truly embarrassed by a rampant United side. In the end, an under-strength Newcastle team performed admirably and dominated the home side in a tense affair. The lack of cutting edge that would have allowed Newcastle to score a deserved second goal to kill off the game however, was obvious. Squandered chances and a defensive approach in the final minutes allowed Sunderland to score their undeserved and fortuitous last-gasp equaliser that robbed the Mags of all three points. The failure to convert a second goal and claim all three points on Wearside clearly had a profound effect on the Newcastle team that faced Tottenham on home soil less than a week later. Heading into the last 15 minutes in the same situation as they found themselves against their local rivals, Newcastle led 1-0 through a fantastic Fabricio Coloccini strike at the Gallowgate end. However, whilst Spurs dominated possession, they looked unlikely to score as Newcastle defended magnificently, led into battle by their Argentine Colossus who snuffed out attacks and blocked shots at will.

The difference in approach from Newcastle was obvious against Spurs. Wounded by the mackems’ late leveller the week before, the team broke forward on the counter-attack against Spurs at every available opportunity, often finding themselves with men to spare as Tottenham pushed for an equaliser. Again, numerous chances were squandered by the home side; Lovenkrands hitting straight at Cudicini when clean through on goal and Nile Ranger sidefooting just wide when a simple pass to the unmarked James Perch would have sufficed. Then, as the game entered injury time, United broke forward with 3-on-2. The corner flag beckoned and had the game taken place some 10 years ago, we surely would have seen the iconic image of the club’s greatest ever goalscorer facing the flag, ball at his feet, fending off 2 or 3 opposition players at a time, all in the aid of 3 precious points.

However, it was not to be. The usually impeccable Joey Barton had given his all in the previous 89 minutes as he broke forward with the ball at his feet, Peter Lovenkrands to his right and Nile Ranger to his left. Barton was visibly shattered as he overhit his pass, intended for Ranger into the box and the waiting hands of Carlo Cudicini. The former Chelsea keeper threw it to Michael Dawson, who in turn launched a long ball onto the head of Peter Crouch, some 50 yards up the pitch. Crouch duly won the header, with the ball ending up at Aaron Lennon’s feet, via Jermain Defoe. By this time, the miniature England winger had switched flanks after it took him nearly an hour to find his way out of Jose Enrique’s pocket on the opposite wing. For the last half hour of the game, Lennon ran his marker – Danny Simpson – ragged. As Lennon approached the Newcastle box, Simpson continued to back off at an alarming distance, as has become his trademark. By showing Lennon too much room, he invited the former Leeds trainee to cut inside and onto his favoured right foot. The wideman duly obliged, before placing his shot low into the bottom left corner of the Leazes’ end net. Had Barton not misplaced his pass or had Simpson shown Lennon onto his weaker, left foot, we would surely be talking about a fantastic victory and 3 points. Instead, we are left to rue our misfortune/mistakes for the second time in a week, leaving Alan Pardew with the task of finding a more balanced approach to seeing out games in the future.

Safety virtually assured

Whilst the late, harsh equalisers in Newcastle’s last two games have soured fantastic team performances, it should be remembered that a current Champions League team and our Europa-League chasing local rivals have both left the field extremely happy to have a solitary point in the bag, having been out-battled and at times outperformed by a newly promoted team. If the current form of the team carries on and coincides with the return to action of Tiote, Carroll and, further afield, Hatem Ben Arfa, then there is no reason why the team can quickly reach the “magical” 40-point safety mark and push on for a top-10 finish.

The return of Mr T-iote will help the club push towards guaranteed survival

If Alan Pardew can add to the current squad with some real quality in the coming week then this will help to improve the squad depth and go some way to re-establishling Newcastle as a Premier League side. With the recent departure of Wayne Routledge, the addition of a right sided midfielder is a necessity before the window closes. At the moment though, on the basis of the league performances since the turn of the year, only minor tweaks are needed to see us through to the summer when more radical changes can take place and Pardew can start to put his own stamp on what is in reality, still Chris Hughton’s squad.