On the 11th of May, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew was named Barclays Premier League Manager of the Season for 2011/12.
With a minimum 5th place finish in the table secured, the smooth talking man from Wimbeldon has taken a squad of mixed agitation and fresh faces from some ‘experts’ “relegation candidates” to within inches of the 3rd best team in the League. His feats have been exceptional, particularly considering the timescales involved, and receiving this high accolade has been widely received as one which is fully deserved.
So what have been the keys to this success? Naturally, there are a multitude of smaller factors which will have combined to assist the overall success – but a few reoccurring themes in particular have emerged as the season has gone on…
By far Alan Pardew’s most documented effect has been that of his management of the Newcastle squad. Player power had well bypassed its boundaries under the leadership of the influential Kevin Nolan, and with the likes of Joey Barton vocally stating displeasure (granted, at the senior management) a potentially dangerous undercurrent of revolt and divide in the dressing was building.
The appointment of the calm and understated Fabricio Coloccini as captain turned out to be a masterstroke – quickly imposing his model professional influence on the squad. All round, negative influences were slowly eroded and troublesome players were isolated and managed individually – testament that the eventual transfers of Barton and Enrique were greeted with little to no squad derision, far from the twitter outbursts that greeted both the Carroll and Nolan departures.
Great steps were made by the scouting teams and advisors in choosing players with the right attitude to bring in, but the little details in making those players settle quickly and feel comfortable have arguably been just as important in maintaining morale. At the training ground there has been Africa day, Argentina day, France day – something so small, to make such a big difference to a young man far from home.
“It’s curried goat and it was fantastic, I loved it! It’s another example of how the club has made me feel so welcome and I appreciated it very much. Everyone has helped me, especially the manager. It’s not difficult to be happy here. I felt at home straightaway”. Papiss Cisse: Guardian.
Arguably Pardew’s finest piece of management this season is the personal management of the potentially volatile Hatem Ben Arfa. The clamour for his inclusion from fans and the player himself was overwhelming and where other managers would have buckled, Pardew stayed defiant – playing his patient and psychological game to eventually turn Ben Arfa into a far more rounded, harder working team player – and crucially – submissive to the managers wishes.
“I’ve matured. I’m more effective for the team now. I defend more and I’ve even got a taste for defending now. “I’ll play wherever the coach asks me to play.” Hatem Ben Arfa: Le Parisien
A far cry from the Ben Arfa that publically fell out with his superiors at Lyon and Marseille.
No player has been written off if they have showed a desire and steps have been taken to maximise those with limited ability – the reinvention of the now fearless blocker James Perch in particular has been a superb piece of management, creating a very handy player on finite resources.
From day one, Pardew has worked his time in the lime-light superbly, being open and honest in his statements, whilst maintaining positivity throughout. A brand of refreshing reality – but never too honest – his words always attempt to keep feet on the ground but eyes at the stars. His performances in radio broadcast fan Q&A sessions in particular have been exemplary, giving the general public a 1st person taste of situations behind the scenes, but stopping short of revealing sensitive information. It can’t be underestimated how crucial this has been with buying valuable time with supporters restless at the direction of the club upon his appointment – facilitating player and tactical changes with ‘wait and see’ grumbles rather than resentment.
The days of public falling outs with players or boardroom, and ‘insomnia’ style slips of the tongue are just a distant memory, as the circus has long since moved out of town…
Of course, many a man can talk a good game but the ultimate judgement comes on the field and in that we have seen arguably his most potent asset – an ability to change tactics and strategy to suit resources and opposition. In simplicity – NUFC have played, and won, whilst using 442, 433 and 451 formations – from backs against the wall ‘score and defend’, to fast paced counter-attacking, to possession domination.
Newcastle have shown a range of faces – a trait which has made it difficult for the opposition to second guess our play and rarely being out-thought. The fact that Newcastle have only lost two league games in a row once so far this season is testament enough to our ability to change to grind out a result if needed.
Beyond anything, Pardew has taken every possible effort for Newcastle to play to their strengths – from understanding the lack of firepower early in the season, to the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa and an advanced Yohan Cabaye to compliment the devastating Papiss Cisse. The use of the Raylor / Gutierrez partnership early season in particular being crucial in ensuring our season long lack of a left-footed left back never caused any real, serious problems.
Unfortunately for Alan Pardew, a high standard has now been set. Naturally, a manager of the season award is not expected yearly, but in him and his staff creating the exciting, driven and professional Newcastle United team they have the ambition is expanding at a rapid rate. There will undoubtedly be rougher times to navigate, but the man himself has proved on a number of occasions his ability to steer calmly through choppy waters.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the stage is now set to show how far he can personally take us. But even if this were to be his ceiling (and here’s thoroughly believing it isn’t) his part in stabilising, motivating and reinventing Newcastle United – in little over a year and a half – has been delightfully received. Congratulations Alan, and here’s to the future!