What a difference a year makes. At the end of the 2011/12 Premier League season, Newcastle United and Sunderland fans rejoiced after respectable seasons. Newcastle were sitting fifth, just five points behind a Champions League place while Sunderland were sitting mid-table with highly regarded Martin O’Neill at the helm.
Who would have thought just twelve months later both teams would sit in the bottom five of the Premier League table, narrowly avoiding relegation. Sunderland stayed up on the last day with eccentric manager Paolo Di Canio. And Newcastle only just confirmed their Premier League safety just one week early under manager Alan Pardew.
Long gone are the times where the Geordie faithful called their manager “Pardiola.” Instead, some are now calling for his head. Chairman Mike Ashley has given Pardew the vote of confidence this summer, but at the same time the Newcastle owner has undermined Pardew’s authority by hiring Joe Kinnear as the director of football, which is a recipe for disaster.
On Wearside, Di Canio has already set his stall out, ruling with an iron fist and looking to ship out those who have caused trouble in and out of the dressing room. Working with owner Ellis Short, Di Canio now has a new chief scout. But more importantly, the club now has a director of football for the first time in the club’s history.
This summer, Newcastle United have to keep their star players like Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa, while adding a striker and central defender. They need to keep the nucleus of the side together, and we need to see an improvement in the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran as they get accustomed to the English style of play, their teammates and the Newcastle public.
More importantly, Pardew needs to develop and tweak his tactics. Towards the end of last year, Newcastle were extremely predictable, and struggled to create goal scoring opportunities, scoring just 23 goals in 25 games in 2013. Papiss Cissé scored a respectable amount of goals, but the Black and Whites did not have a secondary goalscorer, and mounted no threat from corners.
The Newcastle board will not accept another season like the 2012/13 campaign, and Pardew will feel the pressure early next season from the fans, media and hierarchy. Which side will turn up? The 2011/12 Europa League Qualifying team, or the 2012/13 relegation fighters?
To the south, Sunderland are also in for a crucial season. The Mackems have sacked managers in the previous two seasons, so there is no doubt Di Canio will be on a short leash. Had they been relegated, there were rumours he’d have been sacked.
The former Swindon Town man has already stamped his authority on the Sunderland squad, jettisoning players and confronting casino-going footballers. Di Canio will want to bring his players in, so there will be a large turnover in players for the Black Cats.
Large turnover in playing staff is always problematic, but there are so many questions to be answered. Will all the players gel as a unit? With the fans get on the players backs early on if they do struggle? And what will be made of the eccentric manager in the local media? Will his personality and characteristics become a bigger talking point then the clubs on-field exploits? And will this be a help or a hinder his players and the fans?
One thing is for sure, there are a lot of questions that need answering from the North East duo. With impatient chairmen holding the reigns, it is sure to be a big year in the North East.