Since Sir Bobby Robson was relieved of his managerial reigns at St. James’ Park, there have been a steady succession of suitors to his throne. Most notable and arguably most successful was Chris Hughton who was ignominiously sacked by villainous millionaire owner Mike Ashley. After that disgraceful dismissal last October, Alan Pardew was handed the eternally poisonous chalice of Newcastle manager. For many, including myself, it was a baffling appointment. How could Ashley justify the sacking of Hughton if the man lined up to replace him was not markedly better? It seemed not only unfair on Hughton, but slightly deranged to the Magpies faithful and the wider football community. However, after a year with Pardew at the helm, the Toon Army are starting to look like a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.
It may only be October and too early in the season to start praising the brilliance of a squad which has yet to face most of its sternest tests in the league this year but, what cannot be doubted is the confidence and quality that Newcastle have already demonstrated so far this season. The Magpies are currently sitting fourth in the league with a mean defensive record matched only by the big-spending Manchester clubs and with the potential bonus of the return to fitness of highly-rated Hatem Ben Arfa. I’m not predicting that Newcastle will maintain a top four spot. In fact I would be surprised if they can finish in the top six but, the mere fact that they have made such a good start and earned some notable results along the way, suggests that Pardew has managed to instil a level of belief in his squad that has to be admired.
Perhaps Pardew is the man that Newcastle have needed ever since Sir Bobby was forced out. Many would argue that, given the same amount of money and time, Chris Hughton could have crafted an equally strong squad and perhaps would have held on to fan favourites like Barton, Carroll and Nolan, but sadly we’ll simply never know. For years though Newcastle have been a headline club, populating the back pages with scandal and catastrophe rather than glory and success. The sad thing is that when you visit St.James’ Park you invariably come away with the impression that the club is massive, and in many senses it is. The stadium is top-class, the fans show immense passion and the mood of the city itself is often an indication of the teams latest result. What disappoints so many Newcastle fans is the sense of a great potential which has been consistently wasted over recent years. When Magpies’ supporters look around the Premier League and see the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City achieving Champions League qualification it’s hard for them to justify why they are not there instead.
Newcastle had the head start on both these clubs in the early years of the 21st Century when Sir Bobby was achieving great things and building a team that looked as if it could genuinely mount a challenge to Arsenal and Manchester United, the big boys of the Premier League in the pre-Abramovich era. What followed was unpredictable and hugely disappointing from a Newcastle perspective, after finishing fourth in 2001-02, third in 2002-03 and then fifth in 2003-04, the club only managed one more top ten finish before the decade was out and eventually slumped to a crushing relegation in 2008-09. In those years the club was making headlines with the departure of Craig Bellamy, the costly purchase of Michael Owen, the arrival of Mike Ashley, countless changes in management and just about every other negative headline a football club could hope to attract. All of these meant that Newcastle United had turned into a soap opera and, rather than the emblem of the city that its fans wanted, it had become a slight embarrassment.
Fast forward to the present day and Alan Pardew is working relative wonders with the team. He’s already had his fair share of controversy and scandal to deal with in the shape of Joey Barton, Nile Ranger, Andy Carroll and of course Mike Ashley, but Pardew has dealt with all of this in such an understated and peaceful manner that he pulls the legs out from under such stories before they can run wild and cause havoc. Most importantly the team looks exciting in attack yet solid at the back, an illusive balance which evaded Kevin Keegan and ultimately cost him a Premier League title with the Magpies over a decade ago. The hope at St. James’ Park then, is that Newcastle can begin to realise some of that huge potential and get on the long road to becoming one of the big boys of the Premier League. What every Newcastle fan can be assured of however, is that the journey will be filled with chaos and commotion but the hope is that in Pardew Newcastle have a man capable of managing the surrounding furore as competently as he manages the team.