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!
Papiss Cisse’s impressive 9 goals in his first 8 Premier League games has brought comparisons with Newcastle strikers of old, most notably Andy Cole, but how does his goal return compare to that of other top Newcastle goalscorers from their first 8 league games for the club?
Upon joining Newcastle from Freiburg in the January transfer window, for a fee believed to be in the region of 8-10 million pounds, Papiss Cisse’s goalscoring impact has been instant. It is an oft-trotted out line by managers and pundits that ‘players need time to adapt to their new club’s style of play’, often when defending the latest 35 or 50 million pound misfiring striker, but thankfully this wasn’t the case with Cisse.
Having scored 87 goals in 203 games prior to joining Newcastle, Papiss Cisse has continued his fine goalscoring record and wasted little time in demonstrating what it was that convinced the club he was worth pursuing and worth investing in.
In fact, the Senegalese International took only 57 minutes to open his Premier League account as he appeared off the substitutes’ bench to score a stunning match-winner in Newcastle’s 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in February. 7 games later, Cisse has maintained his remarkable goals-per-minutes strike rate which currently stands at a goal every 66 minutes.
Following Newcastle’s 2-0 victory at Swansea on Good Friday, in which Cisse scored his 8th and 9th goals for Newcastle, SKY displayed a table which showed Cisse’s goal return in comparison with other strikers from their first 8 Premier League games:
|Micky Quinn||8||10||Coventry City||1992-93|
|Papiss Cisse||8||9||Newcastle United||2011-12|
|Sergio Aguero||8||9||Manchester City||2011-12|
|Mark Viduka||8||9||Leeds United||2000-01|
|Alan Shearer||8||8||Blackburn Rovers||1992-93|
|Franceso Baiano||8||8||Derby County||1997-98|
As can be seen from the table, Cisse’s 9 goals from his first 8 Premier League games is on a par with the goalscoring starts made by Mark Viduka and Sergio Aguero, and is only bettered by former Newcastle man Micky Quinn, who bounced off the ground to score 10 in his first 8 for Coventry City.
Although SKY would have us believe otherwise, football didn’t begin in 1992 and, especially given the references to Andy Cole, I was intrigued to find out how Cisse’s start compared to that of other top Newcastle marksmen from their first 8 league games for the club.
After trawling through ‘Newcastle United: The Ultimate Record’, these are the findings: alongside Cisse, there are 8 other players who have averaged at least a goal a game in their first 8 starts:
As can be seen from the table above, after 8 league games of his Newcastle career, Cisse’s goal return is only bettered by Hughie Gallacher and Cisse’s arch-nemesis Micky Quinn.
Other notable Newcastle strikers worth mentioning, but who didn’t quite get off to as quick a start as Cisse, are:
Newcastle’s second highest scorer of all time – Jackie Milburn – joined the club in 1943 during the second World War. Up until the 1946-47 season, before the second division fixture list returned to normality, Newcastle and Milburn played in the Wartime League. As such, he has not been included in the findings.
Like Andy Cole, Cisse looks to have a natural finisher’s instinct in front of goal and it’s not surprising that the comparisons are being made; however, whereas Cole played the majority of his football in and around the opposition’s penalty area, Cisse looks to have a better all-round game.
Already in his short Newcastle career, Cisse has shown that he possesses an excellent first touch, intelligent link-up play and good movement; as well as an ability to lead the line, hold the ball up and carry out his defensive duties with minimal fuss.
He scores with his left (Aston Villa), with his right (Swansea) and with his head (Liverpool), as well as scoring instinctive goals (Norwich) and sublime chipped efforts (Swansea). Given the chance, he will, more often than not, take it.
Of course, unlike the team colours, the findings above aren’t necessarily black and white. There are a whole range of variables which stats alone can’t account for: form, injuries, chances presented, team-mate quality, opponents faced, etc. Nor do stats take into account that players will have joined the club at different stages in their career – some rose through the ranks, whereas others joined as already proven scorers – or that they may have converted to a striker from another position.
There is also the possibility that Cisse could go the remaining 6 games of the season without scoring, which would see him ranked lower in a table showing the goals-per-game ratio of Newcastle strikers after 14 games. However, stripping it down to the hard statistics show how well Cisse has taken to his new role as Newcastle’s number 9. At this stage, after his first 8 league games, he is the 3rd most prolific goalscorer in Newcastle’s history.
Eight league games to go and after a scintillating attacking win away to West Brom, talk has began to intensify about a potential European tour next season.
But, no sooner had talk began than a complex situation started to unfold with permutation after permutation emerging. In a bout of insanity, we’ve decided to unravel the situation as it stands at present and gauge how the massively unexpected European qualification could actually become a reality.
Firstly, let’s clarify a few points before we start.
- The FA cup runner up only receives the Europa League place if the cup winner qualifies for the Champions League
- If the only remaining English team in this season’s Champions League, Chelsea, win that competition, they will take a place in next season’s CL, regardless of their league position.
- Liverpool have qualified for next year’s Europa League, regardless of what happens, therefore only 2 Europa league places remain.
- Any English team to win a cup will play European football next season – regardless of league position.
A few permutations…
There are, a frankly ridiculous list of permutations possible with the league and cup competitions remaining so fluid, therefore here’s a non-exhaustive list from the probable, to the mere possible, which all work on the basis that Chelsea do not win the Champions League.
- Scenario 1: Everton wins the FA cup and all teams remain in their current position (as of the w/c 26th March). Everton qualify for the EL (Europa League) as does 5th place in the league.
- Scenario 2: Liverpool reaches the FA cup final and all teams remain in their current position (as of the w/c 26th March) – both teams contesting the final have already a route into Europe by way of League or cup. 6th place opens up for Europa League qualification. Should Liverpool finish in 6th place, the EL place then moves to 7th.
- Scenario 3: Everton reaches the FA cup final but lose to a team who gain CL qualification by league position. Everton qualify for the EL via way of being FA cup runner-up. The Mersyside duo remain in their current league positions, therefore the EL place stays at 5th place in the league.
- Scenario 4: Liverpool wins the FA cup. Having already qualified for the EL by way of their Carling Cup win their ‘second’ qualification then passes to the league, to 6th place.
- Scenario 5: Everton wins the FA cup, but a late (and unlikely) surge from both them and Liverpool combined with a collapse of the teams above them means they take up both 5th and 6th places. With the Merseyside clubs having both already qualified for the EL via their cup wins, the league spot moves to 7th place. If only one of those clubs makes a late surge to 5th place, then 6th place becomes an EL qualifying place.
Complicating things further…
Confused? It only gets worse. A far from impossible Chelsea Champions League win throws everything up into the air – with the FA having confirmed that if they do indeed win the CL then they will take the coveted 4th qualifying place – regardless of where they finish in the league. If Chelsea win the CL and also finish 4th then nothing changes. But Chelsea winning the CL, winning the FA cup but finishing 6th (again, entirely possible) then we arrive at a unique situation.
For example, take the above hypothetical event – 6th place Chelsea beat an 8th place Everton in the FA cup final then win the Champions League final 2 weeks later. Everton would qualify for the EL by way of being FA Cup runner-up and Chelsea would take a CL place – despite both being off the pace in the league. The presumption from there is the Europa League place will then be moved to 4th place and 5th place would not be a qualifying position.
An equally complex scenario would manifest itself should Tottenham win the FA cup and finish 4th, then Chelsea win the CL after finishing 5th. This combination would see Spurs enter the EL, Chelsea enter the CL and the 6th place team qualify for the EL by way of League position. If Liverpool were to finish 6th then the spot would move further down to 7th.
As you can see, things are very far away from being clear, and the permutations will only begin to drop once it becomes clearer who will be contesting both the CL and FA cup finals, respectively. A 14 day period of time separates first the FA cup final, then the end of the Premier League season, then the Champions League final – in which technically a team could qualify for one European competition only to find themselves in another.
As far as Newcastle is concerned, we can only look to win as many games as possible from our remaining eight – particularly the home games against Bolton and Stoke; and the trip to Wigan. It would be a crying shame that such a strong season could end up being rewarded with little more than a few plaudits and extra positional reward money, but the stark reality is with the cup competitions holding dominance over the destination of the European qualification places, things are as much in our hands as they are out of them.
Around 9:30pm on the 17th of January 2012, Newcastle United officially confirmed the signing of Papiss Demba Cisse from Bundesliga side Freiberg – the striker moving for a fee reputed to be between £7.5m and £10m and signing the now infamous five and a half year contract. Notably, he will wear the iconic no. 9 shirt.
Despite having made a move for the player in the dying throws of the August window, the move on this occasion caught almost all by surprise – much in the way the Sylvain Marveaux transfer did, with barely six hours separating first notification through the media to the signing being officially confirmed. To paraphase Winston Churchill, once again NUFC’s ‘precious’ transfer ‘truth’ has been ‘attended by a bodyguard of lies’…
Upon signing, Alan Pardew told the official website “Ever since Andy Carroll left, Papiss was my first choice in the specific role he has at the end of the play… He is a finisher with an already-established CV in the Bundesliga, where we have monitored him for the best part of two years.”
Club career in stats
|Season||Club||Games Played (all comps)||Goals|
|2011/12 (so far)||SC Freiburg||17||9|
*from his transfer to Metz onwards
So what do we get?
“If ever there was a natural candidate for a #9 position in the PL, it’s Cisse.” Raphael Honigstein
With Andy Carroll’s hastily vacated boots having long since been filled by the sometimes unplayable Demba Ba, NUFC have not struggled for goals, but the burden on Ba has been obvious – being accountable for 56% of Newcastle’s goals so far this season. The addition of Cisse promises to give NUFC both an alternative goal scoring option and the prospect of upping their goal tally. Indeed, the latter is an addition that could prove invaluable – NUFC’s 30 goals so far this season is a healthy return but it has been submissive to the defensive contributions in keeping NUFC in the unexpected lofty position they find themselves at the time of writing
“The fast, muscular forward has not only perfectly complemented Freiburg’s style with his exceptional work ethic, but he’s also proved to be an expert finisher” Raphael Honigstein - ‘ Cissé fuels SC Freiburg’s success’
Taking a slight deviation from the current, physically focussed stock of strikers, Papiss should provide more dynamism to the NUFC forward line – his quick turn of pace and intelligent movement in the channels in attack something we lack up front, whilst still maintaining more than enough presence through his 6ft frame. His relationship and previous international game time along-side Demba Ba should make his transition into life and playing in Newcastle a little easier, along with the sheer number of French speaking players at the club now. However, despite the similarities between the Premier League and Bundesliga, a period of adaption is still expected.
A word of warning though…
“A weakness? Can be petulant. Picks up needless bookings” – Martyn Fisher @bundesliga_wrap
Nine yellows in 34 games last season would tend to support this claim – one to keep an eye on perhaps…
Stats Comparison (this season)
|Name||App.||Goals||Assists||Shots PG||Aerials Won||S/Drib PG||Offside PG|
|Demba Ba||17 (2)||15||1||3.2||28/76||0.6||0.9|
|Leon Best||13 (2)||4||2||1.5||44/87||0.7||1.3|
|Modibo Maiga||10 (2)||4||1||2.1||45/96||0.9||0.4|
The transfer of Cisse is as clear cut as any NUFC transfer over the last few years. Whilst the incoming Ba, Santon, Marveaux et al had the undoubted potential to excite the masses on arrival, each individual excitement was tempered by its own respective, and crucial ‘as long as…’ Cisse has signed in good health, good spirits, good form and with no historical injury issues of major note – the question seems to be simply on how he takes, or how long it takes for him to adapt to our style of play and life in England.
Indeed, in a wider context Cisse’s signing lends itself perfectly to a progressive transfer strategy (at least in terms of incomings) we are still coming to understand. Much like Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote before him, Papiss has undoubted ability and is just about to hit the prime years of his football career as he takes to the St James’ Park stage – and all this for a very reasonable fee…
NUFC is slowly turning into a superb environment and stage for those wanting to prove themselves in the Premier League – long may it continue.
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“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” – The words of Winston Churchill, and also a rather succinct analogy for the quandary Newcastle fans find themselves in when deciding whether they want the club to pursue a bid for Manchester United midfielder Ravel Morrison.
You won’t have to conduct an extensive search to find glowing reports on how supremely talented Morrison is, even Brian Marwood (now DOF at Manchester City) discussed his admiration for the youngster, when talking to Henry Winter;
“I signed him at Nike at 15. I know the baggage there. United will work hard to get him back into line. A lot of other clubs give up on that side and indulge him because he’s a talented footballer.’’ (Via thebusbyway.com)
However as Marwood mentions, Morrison comes with a degree of baggage. Charged with two counts of intimidating a witness, to put it bluntly there’s a reason we stand a chance of getting him. Despite brushes with the constabulary and a reported poor attitude, Sir Alex Ferguson still wants to keep Morrison at the club. This week he intimated they had begun contract discussions with the 18 year old, but that his demands (at the present time) were unreasonable.
Of course this isn’t the first time Newcastle have looked to manage a difficult ‘character’. Nile Ranger was the south coast’s answer to Robin Hood while at Southampton. Having had similar introductions with the authorities in Newcastle, some fans have expressed a concern that Morrison’s situation seems all too similar to that of Ranger’s.
There is one notable difference however – Morrison is genuinely talented. Ranger for all his hustle and strength, lacks any real technical ability, and despite a proficiency in the reserves he’s unlikely to ever make it in England’s top tier. By contrast Morrison has been consistently earmarked as the pinnacle of his generation, to compare him to Ranger seems somewhat naive, given the glowing reports and the fact his name is fairly familiar to those with an interest in youth football. He is no overnight sensation.
It should also be remembered, that with any transfer it’s a calculated risk. Many thought that with Ranger, the chance to distance himself from potentially bad influences would settle him down, unfortunately the bright lights of the Bigg market seemed to only enhance the Tony Montana of Morpeth.
With balance an objectivity in mind I introduce an example of a rehabilitated character. Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa was perceived as something of an ‘enfant terrible’ in France for his fiery temper. Even in his youth at the Clairefontaine Academy he was somewhat disruptive, almost coming to blows with a young Abou Diaby (which can be seen on Youtube). Initially taking him on loan, the video compilations of his undoubted talent were often accompanied with warnings of a poor temperament. The fact Marseille were willing to sell a 12m investment for half that fee typified this.
Yet as we quickly saw, being away from the spotlight of his homeland seemed to address certain issues with professionalism. With similar ties in Manchester, the chance to severe those may provide Morrison with a calming environment in which to flourish, especially given how grounded the majority of our current young players (Ferguson, Abeid, Vuckic etc) seem.
Thursday’s press conference saw a tight lipped response from Alan Pardew as he fielded questions about a reported £500,000 bid for Morrison. With confirmation coming from Sir Alex Ferguson of the first bid, it now seems obvious that Pardew believes he can manage an unstable if not precocious talent
Given the recent quotes attributed to Davide Santon you can see why. The Italian struggled with a different kind of mentality issue when in Italy. The pressure of being dubbed ‘the new Paolo Maldini’ seemed to weigh heavy on the youngster, with injuries hampering his chance of a consistent run of games, he moved to Cesena where he appeared as a left back.
With his confidence somewhat diminished, it seems Pardew has played an important role in building him back up. While not always tactically astute, it would be fair to say Pardew’s strength lies in his ability to motivate and man manage. Whether that ability stretches to someone in Morrison’s position remains unclear.
To digress down a slightly more cynical path, there is no guarantee that all of this conjecture and speculation is not a calculated move from the player and his advisors. Now in the final six months of his deal, interest from other suitors (both above and below us) may force Manchester United’s hand in the same way Wayne Rooney did last season.
Press speculation has suggested that we will return with a further bid. There is no indication as to whether this bid will be accepted, but it raises further debate into how far the club should stretch. If Morrison was to achieve his potential, the windfall for the club could be huge given some of the fees bandied around for English midfielders.
As it stands Manchester United would receive around £300,000 from a tribunal were we to poach the player in the summer. Given the tight financial constraints of our January budget, how much we afford to his capture is a difficult question to answer. £2m? £3m? I’d personally struggle to justify parting with more than the former. After all we are far from bereft of young midfield talent. Haris Vuckic & Mehdi Abeid are both good prospects with neither even looking like being an ounce of trouble away from the pitch.
As December highlighted a centre back and a striker are our real requirements, meaning the purchase of Morrison is far from essential, quite the opposite in fact. Should a loan option arise with a future fee agreed, that may suit us far better. One thing does remain clear, Newcastle in the transfer window remains wholly unpredictable.
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