On Friday the first of June, the Premier League released two fairly mundane looking lists. Usually such a release would be met with little interest, however, these lists contained a comprehensive statement for every player released or retained by every team who competed in the 2011/12 Premier League season.
Players of substantial reputation were contained within - such as Manuel Almunia, Dider Drogba, Ledley King and
Vince Grella, as tightening budgets have turned clubs ruthless. Of course, Newcastle were no different, and in fact in releasing 11 players from their registered squad only Queens Park Rangers and Bolton have shed more from their respective squads. As is a common occurrence, most of the departed are made up by youngsters who failed to make the grade in ability and / or attitude – such as Tamas Kadar who has done so to great disappointment. However, there were a few notable seniors joining them who have featured extensively in the first team squad over past few seasons.
Danny Sean Guthrie
Easily the most disappointing of all the departures, this season Guthrie appeared to have finally found the perfect position to harness his natural talent for creative passing. From his arrival from Liverpool in 2008, Guthrie always looked comfortable on the ball, however a lack of athleticism for a competitive Premier League midfield battle and a drastic lack of intelligent runs in front of him (no surprise with Obafemi Martins) saw him struggle to gain consistency, and was part of the relegated team in his first season.
Like only a few other hardy souls, Guthrie opted to stay after our demotion and flourished in the Championship with crucial extra seconds on the ball. The signing of Checik Tiote and the re-emergence of Joey Barton saw Guthrie’s chances limited after our instant promotion, only managing 15 appearances after playing practically the entire season previous.
A similar theme continued for Danny after the signing of Yohan Cabaye – however, after injury, suspension and midfield departures created spaces in the midfield, Guthrie seized his opportunity and looked excellent in a deeper role, showing a superb range of positive, attacking passes. But the absence of key players was short lived, and when Guthrie was dropped to the bench to accommodate Cabaye (returning from suspension) it seemed pivotal in him deciding his future lay elsewhere. Indeed, the writing was on the wall when Alan Pardew stated in his late season radio interview ‘I’ve told Danny if he wants first team football he’ll have to look elsewhere’.
Guthrie’s decision to leave does seem slightly strange given our European involvement next season will open up a host of opportunities for him to play more regularly – not to mention an opportunity for him to play abroad. But as he looks to establish himself as a Premier League player, it’s hard to blame him for looking for a club where he’ll be a first team regular. Personally, I only hope he opts for a club which can both match his ability in league position, and play him to his strengths – Danny Murphy’s departure from Fulham creating what looks like a perfect opening for him, if it is indeed available.
All in all, Guthrie has proved a very handy squad player to have and performed with great professionalism despite occasionally being on the end of some heavy handed groans. We here, simply wish him all the best for the future.
Elder statesmen Peter Lovenkrands and Alan Smith also followed Guthrie out of the door after new deals were not offered to the pair. Being no more than squad players at the ages of 32 and 31 years old respectively, their departures were widely expected – Smith in particular having no way back here with the burden of his reputed £60k of week contract hanging heavy on the club’s wage bill.
Smith was brought in under the first, and thankfully only, splurge of the Sam Allardcye / Freddy Shepherd nightmare combo – moving from Manchester United where he had fell out of favour but retaining a generous remuneration in his shift. Smith always looking willing, as you would expect, but the horrific leg break he sustained when at his previous club had clearly taken the edge of a player who had looked very promising at an young age. Smith played an important role in the Championship winning team of 09/10 – his finest moment in Black and White shirt arguably coming in a 1-0 away to Cardiff where he threw himself in front of attack after attack. But upon promotion Smith was quickly replaced by the far superior Cheick Tiote and his involvement drastically diminished.
Overall, Smith shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as the likes of Owen and Viduka, having always tried his best, even if his best was no longer up to a sufficient standard. But the huge imbalance between wage output and playing contribution is hard to ignore, as is the fact that his 85 appearances failed to produce a single goal – and as such Smith sadly leaves having effectively been a failed signing. Nevertheless, we hope he can at least see out his playing days to greater effect at a lower level.
Peter Lovenkrands on the other hand leaves Newcastle having been a greatly effective stop-gap addition. Although his three goals in 12 in his first stint wasn’t enough to prevent relegation, his 13 goals in the following Championship season were a huge boost in our run to the title. In particular, his equaliser in the pivotal league fixture against West Brom that season, just days after his father had passed away was as a crucial an act as it was selfless – something which I for one will not forget.
The Dane struggled in his return to the Premier League, with his infamous pace having long since been diluted. However, having maintained a good level of fitness and adapting his game effectively to his striker’s role, Peter managed another seven goals, followed by three in a far less involved season afterwards. In the end, 22 goals in 75 games is far from a shabby return for a man who has predominantly been a squad player – and only impresses more when remembering he was signed (twice) on a free (once from Germany, once from nobody…). An excellent character, and a man who should always be welcome on Tyneside – if he chooses to continue his career we can only wish him the best.
A few notes on the retained…
As mentioned earlier, a retained list was also submitted to complete formalities. Although that list was far more, shall we say obvious, than the other list (“Ameobi, Foluwashola – retained”) there was a couple of interesting points. Contract offers are still active to highly rated youngsters James Tavernier and Michael Richardson, and to the-not-so-highly-rated Brad Inman, Connor Newton and Paul Dummett.
An offer to Tavernier is unsurprising, with the Yorkshire born full-back having made excellent progress over the last two seasons. However, it has come at a slight surprise (as you may have guessed) that messrs Inman, Newton and Dummett have survived the cut where so many have not. We can only presume their inclusion will see them more involved in first team activities over the next season – otherwise things are a little unclear as far as they go. We can only wait and see…
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This is the third and final part of our end of season review, reflecting on everything Newcastle United in the 2011/12 season. We end the trilogy with a review of the opposition:
RD and Smith: Manchester City. This could perhaps be seen as an easy choice, but as far as opposition go (particularly at St James’ Park) the eventual Champions were simply incomparable in ability, organisation and work-rate. The biggest shame for City’s plaudits was only winning the title on goal difference, despite being vastly superior to their illustrious neighbours: “United” a shadow of their previous self in both fixtures this season.
Of course, the timing of when Newcastle played the Citizens this season will have helped facilitate this view, but Man City are no less worthy having looked every bit as impressive when observed in their other fixtures. The only sour point of note was the involvement of Carlos Tevez after going AWOL – yes, refusing his return could have cost City the Premier League title, but from an outsider’s perspective it’s hard to find affection for such a man. Nevertheless, for one Tevez there was an array of admirable players and performers – such as the influential, model professional Vincent Kompany and the colossus Yaya Toure – players who are a delight to watch even when they are upstaging your own in the process.
Opinion isn’t exactly unanimous on whether City’s surge to their current lofty position by way of financial doping is good for the English game (personally thinking it’s more detrimental to the progress of the likes of Newcastle) but it the sheer footballing ability and professionalism Manchester City possess cannot be overlooked, and should not be overlooked. Simply a brilliant footballing outfit.
RD: Blackburn Rovers. One of just 3 sides that we took maximum points from, in the company of Bolton and Stoke, Blackburn edge it as the worst opposition that we have faced this season. Not just because of the aforementioned 6 points that we picked up from them, but more so because of their lack of quality and, criminally, their lack of application.
In the fixture at St James’ Park, we were 2-0 up within half an hour as Blackburn were hopelessly outclassed. On 64 minutes, Martin Olsson was dismissed for a second yellow card (remember that lack of application?), and we eased to a 3-1 victory. In truth, with 21 shots to Blackburn’s 3, it could have been a much higher score line. In the return fixture at Ewood, Rovers put up more of a fight, but ultimately lacked the quality to get on the score sheet in a 0-2 defeat, even failing to convert a penalty with the score at 0-1. Lacking consistency and an effective manager in the hapless Steve Kean, it was of little surprise to see Blackburn relegated in the final weeks of the season.
Smith: Likely to be received as a surprise choice to most, Swansea were in my opinion the worst opposition faced this season, simply due to the sterile football served up in both fixtures. As QPR’s fans sang to them “it’s just like watching paint dry”, Swansea are the only team I’ve known who will see the game out for you if you’re winning with a string of sideways and backwards passes – as they graciously did when we played them at the Liberty Stadium. 77% possession – 0% goals.
‘Sterile domination’ probably the best description I’ve heard of their football – a bluntly honest statement in a footballing world who’s slightly bizarre fixation with debatable possession stats has seen Swansea elevated to a team who apparently ‘play the right way’ (presumably with the only alternative being for a team to hoof and rush). It remains to be seen whether much will change in their play after Brenden Rogers’ departure to Liverpool, taking key back room staff in the process – here’s hoping for just a little more positivity…
Best opposition player
RD: Emmanuel Adebayor. Although we didn’t exactly do ourselves any favours with our overzealous attacking approach and defensive play, Tottenham’s on-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor was simply unplayable as he helped his side to a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane.
Adebayor’s all-round forward play was impressive, but it was his intelligent movement that stood out in particular as he regularly drifted to the right to find space and link up with Kyle Walker and Niko Kranjcar. He was involved in everything good that came from Spurs and played a part in all 5 goals with 4 assists in the first half alone, 2 of which originated from his taking up of that position on the right. Adebayor then deservedly scored a goal of his own in the second half to cap a memorable performance. 4 assists and 1 goal; quantity and quality.
Smith: Yaya Toure – narrowly edging it over his exceptional team-mate Vincent Kompany. The younger Toure was a colossus in the Champions 2-0 win at St James – simply the difference between a very good side and a Championship wining side. He dominated Cabaye when playing in his more regular deep midfield role, and then Tiote when moved forward, as City pushed to win the game. And indeed it was Toure who won the game for them, almost single handedly, scoring twice and dictating play for the opposition. Newcastle gave a very good account of themselves that day, but titles are won and lost by performances like Toure’s, and in my view it was a performance completely worthy of a champion.
Worst opposition player
RD: Ahmed Elmohamady. The man nicknamed ‘Elmo’, put in a performance worthy of his muppet namesake in our 1-0 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Deployed on the right of Sunderland’s midfield, Elmohamady’s task was presumably to use his pace to unsettle the out-of-position Ryan Taylor at left back. Yet, for all that Raylor performed his defensive duties admirably, Elmohamady was of little threat and lacked any semblance of quality in the final third. Having pace is one thing, knowing how to use it effectively and consistently is another and therein appears to lie Elmohamady’s failings. Unsurprisingly, he is yet to start a game since Bruce departed and the party with Marty began.
Smith: Anthony Modeste – Blackburn (A). Presumably one from the Dennis Wise school of player scouting. On first viewing, Modeste ‘looks’ to have the makings of a fearsome striker –the wide shoulders topping his 6ft 1inch athletic frame suggest a pacey, powerful, dominating front man. And it couldn’t be any further from the truth. Modeste was woefully ineffective in our sloppy win against Rovers at Ewood Park in January – failing to capitalise on an array of slack play, including missing what was to all purposes an open goal after a dreadful Krul clearance.
It’s comfortable to say with some half decent forward play that night we probably wouldn’t have left Ewood with all three points, let alone a clean sheet – but with the likes of Modeste in the ranks it’s little wonder Blackburn were eventually relegated. Having only been on loan from Bordeaux – it’s unlikely we’ll see Modeste plying his trade in England again. Unless of course he takes up a trade more suited to him than football…
Best opposition manager
RD: Only one side managed to record a home and away double over us in the season just gone: Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. Both Newcastle and City went into the meeting at the Eastlands in November unbeaten. Mancini gave his two wingers – Samir Nasri and James Milner – nomadic license to cut infield, helping to provide another option in central midfield and creating space for the full backs – Gael Clichy and Micah Richards – to push forward. Richards made the difference, winning a penalty and scoring a goal as City went on to win 3-1. A tactical victory for Mancini; however, it was at St James’ in the penultimate game of the season when his tactical nous really prevailed.
With the score at 0-0 and Newcastle providing sturdy opposition, Mancini withdrew Nasri for holding midfielder Nigel De Jong. With De Jong taking up his place alongside Gareth Barry, this allowed Yaya Toure to play in a more advanced position off Sergio Aguero and proved to be an inspired move by Mancini. Freed of his midfield responsibility, Toure opened the scoring 10 minutes later and scored again to seal a 2-0 win with only minutes remaining to all but secure City their first title in 44 years.
Smith: Although tempted to agree with my counterpart on this one, I’ve opted for the since departed Norwich manager Paul Lambert. While his tika taka infatuated, newly promoted counterpart Brendan Rogers was elevated to near genius status by the media, Lambert guided his equally ill-experienced squad of lower league purchased success stories to an impressive final position of 12th place in the Premier League (two points more than ‘established’ ‘top ten contenders’ Sunderland, I must add).
What impressed me mostly about Lambert is his ability to identify critical weakness in an opposition and change his team’s strategy to exploit that weakness. Our 4-2 loss at Carrow Road was perhaps an example which doesn’t do the extent of his success justice – with Norwich far more impressive in their narrow 1-0 loss at St James’ Park, strangling Newcastle’s play through an industrious five man midfield and looking positively to create their own chances when in possession.
His move to Aston Villa is on paper a sensible one – a natural progression at the perfect time when establishing Norwich as a stable Premier League team would take years of hard work. However, it is Aston Villa and although we try to remain as objective as possible in our opinions I can’t extend my best wishes to him on this occasion. Regardless, Lambert looks to have all the attributes to be a top class manager, and on his newly elevated platform could very well prove that sooner rather than later.
Worst opposition manager
RD: Tony Pulis.
“His guidance in simplistically but effectively undoing NUFC on two occasions was as equally frustrating as it was admirable“.
That was our verdict of Tony Pulis, through gritted teeth, last season as we suggested him for best opposition manager. This season, however, Pulis has been tactically out-thought by Alan Pardew in both meetings between Newcastle and his Stoke side and has watched his side comfortably beaten – 3-1 and 3-0 – on both occasions. Of course, this isn’t playing down the superb performances put in by Pardew’s men, but Pulis showed little in the way of a plan B when his team’s direct approach failed to pay off.
Smith: Kenny Dalglish. In short – his management in the fixture at St James could only be described as clueless. From the off, his rigid front three struggled to really cause Newcastle problems relying mainly on the efforts of Andy Carroll for a spearhead, only to substitute Carroll despite his efforts and laying him open to a torrent of jeers in the process. Dalglish was also instructed off the field by his team captain whilst remonstrating, and paid so little attention to his own changes ordered substitute ‘keeper Doni to get stripped to fill in for the dismissed Pepe Reina, despite having already made his three substitutions.
After the game, our former gaffer could have praised the purring Newcastle side which had outplayed his, but instead chose to mumble moans at the officials for poor decisions, in particular saying anyone who didn’t see Danny Simpon’s ‘handball’ would need to “go to Vision Express” – despite himself making no appeal at the time…
Dalglish’s handling of the Suarez incidents (take your pick) only further built a just reputation of a grumpy, delusional old man to further alienate him from the rest of the footballing world – ironically taking a large amount of attention away from his inferior tactical and strategy decisions. He may have been a legend off the field, but I hope to see little of him again involved in football off it.
Opposition goal of the season
RD: For the importance of the goal and the sheer composure of the finish, I’m going for Yaya Toure’s 1st in the home defeat to Manchester City. As mentioned above, the younger of the Toure brothers had been pushed into a more advanced position by this point, as City looked to break the deadlock, and his opening goal was one of calm and class.
With 20 minutes to go, Toure received the ball from Nigel De Jong 25 yards from Tim Krul’s goal. A quick one-two with Sergio Aguero allowed him to lose his marker – Yohan Cabaye – and get into a more central area. Receiving Aguero’s return pass on the edge of Newcastle’s penalty area, and with Coloccini closing him down, Toure stepped up to the ball and confidently curled a powerful shot with the inside of the right foot, low into the corner of Tim Krul’s net. Unstoppable.
Smith: Franco Di Santo – Wigan (A). An unlikely source for a goal of stature from an opposition player, Di Santo’s goal was as admirable as it was hard to take in our 4-0 reverse at the Dave Whelan (Dave Whelan, everyone) Stadium. Only Di Santo’s sixth goal from a paltry seven all season, the young Argentine took the ball centrally on the field and roughly 25 yards from goal, ignored the attention of the onrushing Tiote by talking a deft touch then side-footing a beautifully controlled shot at an angle over a helpless Tim Krul.
Everything Wigan hit in that first half went in as we were blown away by their vastly superior passing and movement – Di Santo’s goal personified a brilliant half of football from Wigan and a minor disaster for Newcastle. Credit also goes to Steven Piennar’s similar long distance strike on the final day and Junior Hoillet’s rocket into the Gallowgate end in the first our four fixtures against Blackburn.
Part 3 concludes our review of the 2011/12 season – a season which has been as thoroughly enjoable to watch as it has to have been part of. Here’s to the future!
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This end of season review is part 2 of 3 and will reflect on everything Newcastle United in the 2011/12 season. Unlike some, we decided to wait until the season was complete before conducting our post-mortem. We continue our review with the players:
Player of the season
RD and Smith: We naturally start with the big one, and after a season like Newcastle have had it’s difficult to quickly pinpoint any one player as the catalyst for our success. But after much deliberation, we both agreed upon Tim Krul. The young Dutchman has had a storming first full season for Newcastle, and we feel he has performed at an extremely high level, more consistently than any other player this season – saving us countless points (well beyond the 10 Alan Pardew predicted pre-season), ending the season with an impressive 15 clean sheets to his name.
Credit also goes to Alan Pardew – firstly for having the strength of conviction to make and state Krul as his number one for the season, rightly ignoring the sentiment bound to the loyal but aged Steve Harper, and secondly giving Krul the confidence to rise up to the role.
With Maarten Stekelenburg struggling for fitness, Krul looks set to be first choice for The Netherlands in this summer’s European Championships, and should that campaign prove successful, Krul has all the potential to be both Newcastle and Dutch number one for years to come. He’s a superb professional with the world at his feet, and all of it in a Newcastle shirt – here’s to the future!
Note: credit also goes to Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez – two model professionals who have performed excellently all season and only miss out for the individual contribution of Krul.
Goal of the season
RD: Papiss Cisse 2nd vs Chelsea (a). There were so many superb goals scored by Newcastle players this season that you could easily fill a top 10 list. But for the sheer audacity and uniqueness of Cisse’s 2nd in the 2-0 win at Chelsea, I can’t look past it. In fact, I must have looked at it over 100 times by now. On the night it was scored, I sat in front of my laptop at midnight just staring at a GIF of the goal on loop for about 20 minutes. Like Demba Ba after Ramadan, I just couldn’t get enough.
To hit a shot from that angle, with the outside of the foot, and to lob Peter Cech who was practically on his line at the time, takes some beating. It had it all – pace, power, spin, accuracy. Magnificent. I’ve seen a few try to dismiss it as a fluke or that Cisse was trying to put the ball out of play to waste time, with the latest hilarious reasoning being that ‘anyone could have done it’. No, Cisse knew what he was doing and there was a reason why he received the Barclays, Match of the Day, and Sky Sports goal of the season awards. An unforgettable goal, like Alan Shearer’s volley vs Everton, that was set up by Shola Ameobi.
Here’s the goal of the season described by pundit of the season, Gary Neville:
Smith: A near impossible task given the quality of goals on show – from individual shots, to individual skill to team goals. But for me, Hatem Ben Arfa’s piece of individual genius against Blackburn in the FA cup was a simply astonishing goal – a goal only a rare few players are capable of.
Picking the ball up just past the centre circle, towards the dug-outs, Hatem was instantly under pressure, having his shirt tugged by Pederson. He quickly broke free, skipping a sliding challenge from Givet and breezing past Formica to the corner of the 18 yard box. He then feinted to cut inside Martin Olsson, only to head straight for the goal-line sandwiched between two Blackburn defenders. Space was running out, but with a lightening twist he was free – rifling a shot over the well placed Robinson from the edge of the 6 yard box.
The ball hit the back of the net with no less than three Blackburn players on the floor, with another two standing completely shell shocked at the improbability of what had just happened. It’s fleeting appearance on ITV’s FA cup coverage was nothing short of scandalous – meaning the goal will be largely lost to the mainstream, living on mainly through Youtube and personal recollection. A great shame for it’s probably the best goal I’ve personally witnessed in my lifetime.
Here it is, viewed in the only way it’s possible to properly digest it – in slow motion!
Assist of the season
RD: I’m tempted to agree with Smith on his choice – a perfectly weighted pass that the majority would have been unable to see, let alone complete – but, as I’m a sucker for a Trivela pass with the outside of the boot, my vote goes to the lesser spotted assist by Gabriel Obertan vs Nottingham Forest in the Carling Cup.
With the scores level at 3-3 and in the final minute of extra time, Obertan received the ball on the left of Forest’s penalty area; being predominantly right footed, he used the outside of said foot to delicately and accurately curl the ball to the back post for Coloccini to head the winner. Completely unexpected, given that Obertan’s delivery from the right has been mixed at best, but an excellent piece of ingenuity and technique from our Gallic winger nonetheless.
Smith: Cabaye’s assist for Cisse vs Stoke (h) gets my vote – an assist that simply got better on every subsequent viewing. His individual performance in that game was flawless, only being narrowly beaten for that award (more on that later), scoring twice to go with his assist. And it was that assist which was the diamond of that performance – a defence AND midfield splitting pass to create a chance simply out of nowhere.
Picking up the ball midway in the Stoke half, Cabaye was presented with a simple lay-off for the breaking Ben Arfa who had clear ground in front of him. Instead, the intelligent vision of Cabaye spotted Cisse making a run across the Stoke defensive line and opted to play a ball so perfectly positioned and weighted it almost defied belief. Simply – the world moved one way, whilst Cabaye passed the ball the other… absolutely superb.
Best individual performance of the season
RD: Jonas Gutierrez vs Stoke (a). I was tempted to go with Danny Guthrie’s performance in the home fixture vs Chelsea – such was his range of accurate passing and control of the midfield area, by far the best game I’ve seen him play – however, Gutierrez’ selfless performance in the away game at Stoke set a tone for the fixture and indeed the season in terms of hard work, determination and putting the team first.
Gutierrez played almost as a second left back in front of the out-of-position Ryan Taylor at left back to double up on Jermaine Pennant, Stoke’s preferred attacking option on the night. Jonas sacrificed his own attacking ambitions and dropped deep whenever Stoke attacked on their right. He made 5 tackles and 2 interceptions, not bad for a left midfielder. Even on a night when Demba Ba scored a hat-trick, it was a stand-out man of the match performance by Spiderman. Gutierrez’ performance also didn’t go unnoticed by Gary Neville, on pundit duty for Sky Sports, who described it as one of the best individual performances he had seen up to that point in the season.
Smith: The nature of our season has meant the majority of wins have been attributed more to a team output rather than an individual to credit. However, Hatem Ben Arfa’s performance in the 3-1 away win at West Brom was as good as it got from any Newcastle player this season. Scoring once himself and assisting both others, Hatem was simply unplayable, being the fulcrum for all our attacking play – only being denied a further assist by the usually ruthless Papiss Cisse failing to score when 1 on 1 and another goal by a smart save from Ben Foster.
In my opinion, this was the first time we’ve seen what Ben Arfa is really capable of – rather than the very memorable but very brief flashes of brilliance shown previous. The first time his true potential has been harnessed in a Newcastle shirt and one which gave huge hope for the future.
Most improved player
RD and Smith: James ‘Perchinho’ Perch.
“In his 6th game he managed to direct a bullet header into his own net to give Stoke the match-winner, capping a disastrous start to his Newcastle career.”
Those were the words we used to sum up the start of James Perch’s Newcastle career just last season. The turnaround he has made since then is testament to the character of the player that the fans now refer to affectionately as Perchinho.
Signed by Chris Hughton, Perch must have thought his short-lived days at Newcastle were numbered under Alan Pardew, as he travelled to Holland for pre-season with the reserves, rather than to the United States with Pardew and the first team. Yet, Perch didn’t make a fuss. He simply kept his head down, worked hard and looked to make the most of first team opportunities to come his way. And that he did: impressing, growing in confidence and improving with each game he played. A notable defensive performance against Didier Drogba, perhaps being the one which caught Pardew’s eye.
From looking like he was not going to feature for Newcastle this season, Perch played 25 games and has shown a willingness to fill in where the team needs him. Maybe not as technically gifted as some of his teammates, his determination and desire is second to none. Featuring at both full back positions, centre back and central midfield – and performing well in each – his versatility has been vital for the club this season. A sound tackler and reader of the game, the ever understated and reliable Perch has developed into a key member of this Newcastle squad.
Most disappointing player
RD: Nile Ranger. I hate to sound like a preacher, I mean, if I was on the type of money Ranger will be
earning getting when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I’m sure I would have done some regrettable things (the drinking, not the law-breaking). He’s still a young lad, after all. But, I’m pretty sure I would have learned from the error of my ways by this point. That’s where the problem lies with Ranger, though: he’s made mistakes, big mistakes, but he doesn’t seem to learn from them and know when he’s on to a good thing.
He has gone from a promising youngster, on the edge of first team football, to making the grand total of 0 appearances for Newcastle this season. Farmed out on loan to Barnsley in the Championship and then Sheffield Wednesday in League One, Ranger’s stock has dropped considerably. And the sad fact is that the raw ability that brought him into first team contention is probably still there, it’s just a shame the attitude isn’t. It’s the same tired rhetoric when it comes to Ranger, unfortunately.
After scoring for Sheffield Wednesday to secure promotion, Ranger wore a t-shirt with the message ‘I am a changed man’. I would love it if this were the case and Ranger could turn his Newcastle career around; however, I think it’s one misdemeanour and attitude problem too far for the self proclaimed ‘gangster first, footballer second’.
Smith: A player I had decent, if not very high, hopes for was Dan Gosling. The hope was he would recover from his various injury woes and slowly work back into being a useful squad player – perhaps mainly as an alternative/additional defensive midfielder. However, he’s struggled for fitness, which has made it impossible to gain any sort of reasonable match form which has abandoned him after such a long lay-off.
His dismissal in the away defeat at the hands of Norwich may have perhaps been a little harsh, but nevertheless epitomised how drastically he has struggled to regain Premier League pace. His contract does not expire until 2014, but it remains to be seen whether he will remain at St James’ – a loan move to the Championship could do him the world of good. Providing he stays fit, next season could be huge in the direction of his career.
RD and Smith: With resourcefulness being one of Alan Pardew’s many attributes, this question was one which we were almost unable to answer. However, a big area of potential for both player and team arguably being overlooked is harnessing the awesome pace of Gabriel Obertan.
Firstly, a role as an impact sub when pinned back (particularly away from home) was used only once to great effect, with him registering his first goal for Newcastle against Blackburn, back in January. The willingness for Obertan to contribute defensively and to break with the ball on his own can give us an excellent threat, without sacrificing the defensive position of, say, central midfielders in doing so.
Secondly, a more positive role since our implementation of the 4-3-3 system could see him playing as left sided forward, with the potential to open up his pace and cut inside onto his favoured right foot after one of his infamous slalom dribbles – his height and physique also suiting the role very well.
Of course, we’d not expect him to be transformed from the willing but inconsistent Obertan he is now, to an equal of Ben Arfa overnight, but we certainly feel harnessing that attacking talent and the blistering pace could certainly make a very useful player of Gabriel.
One to break through in 2012/13
RD: There are many youngsters who are in contention to step up to regular first team football next season – Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and those identified by Smith below – and a few probably will, but choosing just one I would go for Haris Vuckic.
The young Slovenian, surprisingly still only 19, has been spoken of highly in the last few seasons and featured in a couple of Premier League games in the season just gone, against West Brom (h) and Liverpool (a). It was against West Brom that he impressed, looking composed and certainly not overawed, he demonstrated his primary attributes – driving forward from central midfield and unleashing a number of efforts from range with his powerful left foot.
With the Europa League campaign potentially adding 17 extra games onto next season’s schedule, and hopefully with lengthy runs in the FA Cup and Carling Cup to come, we are going to need to use all our playing resources and I can see Vuckic getting his opportunity and prevailing in the role of the most attacking of the central midfielders in our new-found 4-3-3 formation.
Smith: For the first time in some years there are a number of very exciting youngsters on the fringes of the Newcastle squad – enough to get more than a little giddy about any substitute glimpse or naming on the bench. From Sammy Ameobi at the forefront, to Remie Streete at the further end of youth, any of these fledglings could break the first team should circumstances and progression prove favourable. However, the player I would most fancy like to make a serious break onto the first team stage would be Mehdi Abeid.
The French born midfielder was brought to St James’ under the pretence of having a season in the reserves first, before being seriously considered for first team duties – and having excelled in doing so on the field, whilst building a very promising partnership with Haris Vuckic, this season ‘should’ see Mehdi far more involved in the first team.
Also, as a wildcard mention, should transfer activity not go as hoped and Danny Simpson depart as it appears he will, it would be difficult to understate the chances of James Tavernier being fast-tracked into first team football. The 20 year old has earned rave reviews whilst on loan at a variety of clubs and could provide a cheap, organic alternative to any potential right back vacancy.
Next up, in the last of our 3 part end of season review, the opposition…
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This end of season review is part 1 of 3 and will reflect on everything Newcastle United in the 2011/12 season. Unlike some, we decided to wait until the season was complete before conducting our post-mortem. Beginning with the team and management:
High point of the season
RD: From a season in which we exceeded expectations on a regular basis, and with so many to choose from, it’s difficult to pick just one high point. Ryan Taylor over the wall, Jose Enrique’s stint in goal on his return to St James’, Phil Jones’ putting us 3-0 up against Man United (h) off his forever gurning face, or the 3-0 victory over Stoke (h) to all but secure European football, to name but a few. Therefore, I’m going to throw a curveball and pick a high point that came off the pitch: Alan Pardew’s end of season phone-in interview with BBC Newcastle.
Recorded on Friday 11th May 2012, on the same day he was awarded Barclays Manager of the season and with European football guaranteed, Pardew gave us, the Newcastle fans, an hour of audible bliss. Alongside his right hand man, John Carver, Pardew was as enchanting, honest and media-savvy as we have come to know, but this interview was unlike the others. Somehow it was better. Far better. There was a spring in our manager’s step, his guard was down. To coin a favourite of Pardew, in using alcohol-based similes, if his previous phone-in interviews have been like a fine red wine, this was champagne stuff.
Pardew invited questions from callers and answered each one as candidly as he could. He spoke openly on the likely departures of Danny Guthrie and Danny Simpson, and his transfer targets. But it was the way he spoke about the players, the club and the area that had me beaming like Ashley Young at an outstretched leg. As I said on Twitter at the time, ‘he gets it’. He gets what makes this club, the fans and the city tick in a way that others that have went before him – Souness, Gullit and Allardyce – didn’t.
Pardew and the aforementioned Simpson were ‘tight’. He loves Demba Ba, to paraphrase: he’s the Madonna to Cisse’s Lady Gaga. He loves Shola Ameobi. I mean, he really, really loves Shola Ameobi – his ‘most important player’ – a man after my own heart. And again, there were little insights into the club that keep us fans involved at a level that we haven’t been witness to previously: that the club has been taking advice off Tony Pulis and Stoke on the logistics of the upcoming Europa League campaign, and that Santon has developed a habit of greeting people in Geordie, “Alright, son?”. Canny.
An excellent season encapsulated in an hour of radio, by the man largely responsible for it. Superb.
Smith: For myself it’s difficult to look too far beyond the 6 game winning streak towards the end of the season. The lengthy unbeaten run at the beginning of the season was superb on paper, but with so many games being scrappy victories and backs-to-the-wall draws it was difficult to enjoy that run far beyond the points on the board. The winning streak showed NUFC in a light that we’ve not seen for some time – a swagger of attractive attacking football with goals galore, including the gem that was ‘that’ goal by Hatem Ben Arfa against Bolton.
Those six short games saw us score 13 goals, concede only one and harboured the iconic win over Liverpool, the break-neck counter attacking win over West Brom at the Hawthorns and the cantering win over Stoke, where 3-0 was a flattering scoreline for the visitors. The run turned prospective European football into a near certainty, but paradoxically dangled the carrot of a Champions League dream so close it couldn’t be ignored. Our best run in decades – and one done *almost* entirely in style.
Low point of the season
RD: Unlike last season, when some off-field decisions threatened to disrupt the season half way through it – namely the sale of Andy Carroll and dismissal of Chris Hughton – there have been few low points to choose from this season. Off the field, the renaming of St James’ Park to The Sports Direct Arena left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, but the club is being run in a much more cerebral manner now and if that’s my only complaint, it’s a far cry to the many I had only three seasons ago under the same owner.
On the field, again there were few low points; however, there were a trio of archetypal ‘Newcastle of old’ collapses away from home in the league: Fulham (a) 2-5, Wigan (a) 0-4, and the one that pips it as my low point: Tottenham (a) 0-5. It feels somewhat cruel highlighting a low point in what was an incredible season, but those are the rules.
Going into the game, we had won our last 3 home games versus Manchester United, QPR and Aston Villa and had won our last away game 2-0 at Blackburn. Yet, our previous away fixture to that had seen us lose 5-2 in London to Fulham. We should have known what was coming. Pardew, perhaps naively, set his side up in an attacking 4-4-2 side to ‘get at’ the White Hart Lane side. However, already missing our usual central midfield pairing of Tiote and Cabaye, this left us exposed in midfield and on the flanks, which Tottenham, buoyed by the return of Harry Redknapp, clinically exploited. After only 34 minutes, Tottenham were already 4-0 up and the game was effectively over as a contest.
Smith: Brighton in the FA Cup was as low as it got for me in a season of very few lows. Although not as demoralising as the defeat to the poisonous rabble from Stevenage the season previous, hallmarks to that crash were startingly similar – a toothless display leading to a whimpering exit, followed this time by a highly debatable retrospective 3 game ban for Yohan Cabaye, much like Cheick Tiote’s highly debateable red in the same competition the season previous.
Best game of the season
RD and Smith: Liverpool (h) 2-0. Very slightly edging the 3-0 home victory over Manchester United was the 2-0 home victory over Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool. Prior to the game we’d recorded victories over Norwich (h) 1-0 and steamrolled West Brom (a) 3-1. We were just building up a nice little bit of belief, but remained cautious about a home fixture against Liverpool, who were only points behind us at the time, and the first return to St James’ for Jose Enrique and Andy Carroll. Yet, events were to unfold in perfect and amusing fashion for Newcastle on this gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon.
Andy Carroll booked early on for diving, when it would have been easier to slot the ball into the empty net. Doing a Chopra, perhaps? Cisse putting Newcastle into the lead with a typically accurate header, followed by a well taken second later in the game that involved 9 of Newcastle’s 11 players (documented in aesthetic fashion here by @tt9m). The fun was still to come, though, as Pepe Reina headbutted James Perch and received a red card for doing so. Dalglish wandered onto the pitch, only to be shooed off by his captain and Liverpool, having used all three subs, have to ask Jose Enrique to take his place in the goal. Not an enjoyable afternoon for our former left back, who had previously been loudly serenaded with a chant reminding him of our lofty league position.
We handled the pressure superbly and in the end made the result look comfortable, as we did on so many other occasions throughout the season. Like the Sunderland game, a defeat could have changed the course of the season but a victory helped to build momentum as we went on another long unbeaten run.
Worst game of the season
RD: Swansea (h) 0-0. We went into this game having picked up only 1 point from the last 12 available, courtesy of 2 defeats in our last 2 fixtures – Norwich (a) 2-4 and Chelsea (h) 0-2 – and previous tricky back-to-back games away to the Manchester clubs that only yielded 1 point – City (a) 1-3 and United (a) 1-1. A home fixture against newly promoted Swansea looked like a good opportunity to get our season back on track.
The Swans, as they did later in the season when the sides met at the Liberty Stadium, attempted to suck the life out of the game with their brand of possession football, which more often than not plays out like a game of Rugby: MUST NOT PASS FORWARD. Newcastle, struggling to find space in the crowded central midfield area, often played down the wings and attempted 41 crosses into the box, but could not find a breakthrough. Swansea, to their credit, defended well and took the point that their defensive set-up had quite clearly set out to achieve. A tale told by the away side having only 3 shots to Newcastle’s 22. Not the worst result of the season, but in terms of entertainment and outcome it was incredibly frustrating.
Smith: Again, after the season we’ve had the options are limited, however the one I found most difficult to swallow was the 5-2 drubbing from Fulham. Having totally dominated the first half and finding ourselves 1-0 up away from home, it was expected we would have looked to protect that lead as had been done to great effect in a number of other away games previous. Instead, we maintained a high line and ignored the very blunt indication of Fulham hitting the ball long for their fast strikers to chase. It took just 16 minutes to concede four goals and turn a welcome away result into a collapse. Definitely a game from which to learn lessons.
Best result of the season
RD and Smith: Sunderland (a) 1-0. In only the second game of the season, Newcastle made the short trip to Wearside to face Sunderland in the Wear-Tyne derby.
We came into the game on the back of a disjointed and unconvincing pre-season and, after a 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal in the season’s opener, it was uncertain quite what we were going to get from Newcastle in the derby. Sunderland, meanwhile, also picked up a point against ‘top four’ opposition in their opening game, with a deserved 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield. Their mood was upbeat. We were told, by pundits and fans alike, how well Steve Bruce had bought – Brown, O’Shea, Larsson, Wickham – and how this time they were going to turn us over.
Sunderland began the brighter of the sides and shaded the first half, but were lucky not to concede a penalty and go down to ten men when Larsson handled on the line. Nevertheless, we were to have success from a set piece later in the game when stand-in left back Ryan Taylor hit one over the wall and into the corner of Mignolet’s net to put us 1-0 up. And that’s how it stayed until full time. Newcastle improved as the game went on and comfortably saw out the game, repelling Sunderland’s high balls into the area in the final 10 minutes.
Not the prettiest of wins, certainly. But there’s nothing like a win and clean sheet over your local rivals to build confidence, which we’re in no doubt was a huge factor in generating the momentum to go the first 11 league games unbeaten.
Worst result of the season
RD: There were a few heavy defeats on the road this season – the aforementioned trips to Tottenham, Fulham and Wigan – however, these were all teams that were playing relatively well when we faced them and, as such, the game that jumps out at me as worst result of the season is the 2-2 vs Wolves at home.
We cruised into a 2-0 lead after goals from Cisse and Gutierrez and, against the perennial relegation zone tenants, should have went on to win the game. Yet, somehow we conspired to allow Wolves back into the game who levelled the scores with 2 goals in 16 minutes in the second half. It was a remiss performance by those in black and white in the second half and certainly felt like 2 points dropped, rather than 1 gained. However, we are all entitled to our off days and, thankfully, this was just a minor blip in an otherwise superb home campaign.
Smith: The heavy defeats mentioned earlier were undoubtedly very difficult to take, but were more often than not dished out on days when results elsewhere were favourable and damage limited. However, maintaining a theme of draws, the Sunderland 1-1 draw at St James’ was bitterly disappointing given the combination of numerical advantage and a clear superior footballing ability on the field.
Yes, the dramatic late equaliser may have broken makem hearts for a first win on Tyneside in 12 long years, but it wasn’t much more than a face-saver for Newcastle. What was perhaps most disappointing was falling so easily for Sunderland’s blunt tactic of sitting very deep and breaking, effectively wasting the entire first half being dragged down to a kick and lump festival in the rain. That draw came directly after the deflating draw at home to Wolves, and was flanked either side by North London losses to Spurs and Arsenal – three very winnable points missed.
Best managerial decision
RD: Whether it was by accident or design, the best managerial decision in my opinion is moving Hatem Ben Arfa to the right wing. Up until the QPR fixture at home in January, Ben Arfa had largely been used in a central role off a lone forward which Pardew had said on many occasions was where he wanted to deploy him and was where he could see him getting into double figures for goals. However, his time on the pitch was limited, due to a number of reasons – some that we covered here – and he had only managed 1 goal, away to Bolton.
In the QPR fixture, Yohan Cabaye was stretchered off on 25 minutes and Ben Arfa came on in his place. Ryan Taylor moved inside to partner Danny Guthrie and Jonas Gutierrez filled his usual role on the left, this meant that Ben Arfa lined up in an unfamiliar position on the right. Again, whether this was by design or a lack of bodies, I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m being disingenuous to Pardew – after all he did show his tactical nous in changing to a 4-3-3 later in the season to utilise Ben Arfa in the wide right forward role – whatever the reason, it proved to be a masterstroke.
Ben Arfa fast learned how to turn playing as an inverted winger to his advantage, frequently cutting inside onto his left and using his pace to devastating effect. At times, he was unplayable. He went on to score another 4 goals – 3 of which he cut in from the right and blasted home with this left, the other his wonderful solo goal against Bolton – and was instrumental in providing another dimension in our end of season run that saw us achieve 5th spot. The right move for Ben Arfa and the right move for the team.
Smith: Whilst in particular agreement with my counterpart over the management of Hatem Ben Arfa, instead I’ve chose the numerous tactical decisions made which facilitated our 3-1 win at Stoke, in October. What made this victory particularly pleasing was for every mistake which had been made in our 4-0 reverse on the same ground a season earlier, there was a lesson patently learned and counter tactic deployed.
Newcastle lined up with a high line to squeeze Stoke’s forwards and gather knock downs, they identified Jermaine Pennant as their only source of consistent delivery to the front line and allowed Jonas Guiterrez to abandon his wing role to nullify Pennant alongside Ryan Taylor. We countered quickly through Obertan’s blistering pace and benefited from the ruthless finishing of Ba. We took time with every throw-in and, infamously, demanded the towel on every occasion – frustrating the crowd and crucially bringing Stoke deep back into their own half on a number of occasions, to prevent them building pressure.
From tactical disaster to tactical victory within the space of 8 months – a result which was every bit as valuable for points and goals as it was for morale.
Worst managerial decision
RD: Fulham (a) 2-5 and the high defensive line. I can’t think of another way to put it, so.. to use a well-worn football cliché, this was one of those games of two halves. We were comfortably in control of the game in the first half, knocking the ball around effortlessly and took a deserved lead on the stroke of half time with a stunning strike from Danny Guthrie. Yet, what was to unfold in the second half was probably the most testing 45 minutes that I’ve endured as a Newcastle fan this season.
After conceding an equaliser in the 52nd minute, via a Danny Murphy penalty, we simply fell apart. The fleet-footed Andy Johnson caused no end of problems with his pace, while Clint Dempsey was typically efficient in front of goal. Yet the most frustrating aspect was that the majority of Fulham’s goals were because our set-up and game plan was too easy to exploit, rather than the opposition’s creativity.
It became a case of déjà-vu as our defence pushed up high, continually leaving space in behind for Murphy to play in one of his teammates. 1-1 fast turned to 1-4 and a winnable game was suddenly beyond reach. Of course, it’s not all a result of tactics, it could be argued that it was a bad day at the office, but I can’t help but feel that if a deeper defensive line was adopted a defeat could have been avoided.
Smith: As an equivalent, disastrous, alternative to my counterpart’s answer, I’ve chosen the attacking line-up in our 5-0 loss to Tottenham. In a very bad example of playing the occasion, not the game, Tottenham came into this game with manager ‘arry Redknapp having been cleared from tax evasion charges only three days earlier and subsequently linked with the England manager’s role on the same day. The entire Spurs team was on a high and had only lost one of their previous 10 fixtures going into this game.
Newcastle should have been wary but instead Alan Pardew declared that we would be travelling there to “have a go”, opening our play up and abandoning our more familiar methods of cautious play away from home. A midfield duo of Guthrie and Perch were completely overran, Gutierrez and Obertan offered no outlet and the defence was constantly retreating towards our own goal – resulting in Newcastle being four goals down with only 34 minutes gone.
Nothing should be taken away from how good Tottenham, and in particular Emmanuel Adebayor, performed that day, but the ease in which they thundered into their four goal lead was entirely facilitated by a disappointing error of strategy.
Areas for improvement
RD: In terms of squad improvement, it’s fairly clear that if Simpson does leave, as expected, we will need at least one recruit at full back. New signing Romain Amalfitano, alongside promising youngsters Mehdi Abeid and Haris Vuckic, should help to cover for the likely departure of Danny Guthrie. Meanwhile, cover at centre back is still needed as it is up front should Demba one depart.
On the pitch, although we’ve generally been consistent, there have been a handful of games where a lack of concentration for a sustained period (I’m hesitant to use complacency) has cost us any chance of a points return. In each of the away games against Fulham, Tottenham, Wigan and Everton, we conceded 2 or more goals in a short period, which is a habit that needs to be rid of.
Perhaps one solution to this is squad rotation and resting players, given that Pardew generally picked his strongest available side for each game, especially considering that we could have up to 17 extra games in the Europa League. I would like to see the youngsters/squad players used more frequently as first team players begin to tire, rather than when they are just unavailable, in what could be an arduous upcoming campaign.
Smith: Beyond the aforementioned issues with squad size and coping with the addition of European football, on the field I believe there could be improvements in our consistency regarding our organisation and tempo. The performance of Everton in the final game of the season and that of Manchester City at St James’ should be seen as shining examples of what we should aspire to produce on a more regular basis – in particular for ‘upper range’ fixtures such as Everton, Tottenham and beyond.
Newcastle undoubtedly contain the individual ability within their players to match all but the very best, but on occasion a failure in the collective performance of all parts can let us down – being blown away by Wigan at the DW Stadium being arguably the best example. Of course, there will be off-days, but perhaps a little more attention to the conditioning of our squad in training, and in their rotation could provide a competitive edge to maintain our lofty postition – a position our players’ ability certainly justifies.
RD and Smith: What a season. On reading the above again, it gives the impression that it was mixed – based on our best/worst, high/low structuring of questions – but, as a whole, it far exceeded the expections that either of us had going into it. As we’ve said numerous times above, because of the seemingly endless high points that we have enjoyed, there were very few negatives to pick out when reviewing this season. Put simply, the good points have outweighed the bad ten-fold.
Before the season began we predicted a slight improvement on the previous season’s position based mainly upon the turmoil pre-season, but neither of us expected that we would be in the top 6 for the majority of the season and comfortably qualifying for Europe with games to spare. Only three seasons ago, we both stood at Villa Park and watched as Newcastle meekly surrendered their Premier League status, it was unthought of that we would be travelling to Goodison Park on the final game of this season with an outside chance of qualifying for the Champions League. A truly incredible turnaround.
It really has been a team effort this season. From our performances on the pitch, through to the management, coaching staff, scouting staff and at board level; all seem to be adhering to the same ethos – value for money, enthusiasm and a will to succeed – there’s a ‘Newcastle way’ in development. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if other clubs are eyeing what we’ve done and looking at how they could emulate the ‘Newcastle way’.
Not since the Bobby Robson days has there felt such a strong bond between players, fans and management. Each player, regardless of ability, has played their part and gave their all this season. That’s all we ask. It just so happens that we are also blessed with some incredibly talented footballers, as well as being hard-working, who have gave us so many enjoyable moments this season. We’ve witnessed an array of stunning goals, performances and results. It’s been a pleasure to behold. Here’s hoping for more of the same in 2012/13.
Next up, in part 2 of our 3 part end of season review, the players…
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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!
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- Has Captain Cabaye Failed His Audition? posted on May 16, 2013 |
- Captain Colo: A Stay Of Execution? posted on January 27, 2013 |
- Killing Honour: Lessons from the Managerial Merry-Go-Round posted on July 10, 2012 |
- Adding Insult to Injuries posted on May 1, 2013 |
- NUFC : All in… posted on January 28, 2013 |
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