Two years ago, Fabricio Coloccini was named in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year after captaining Newcastle United to the cusp of a UEFA Champions League berth. In attack, Newcastle flaunted a fluid, exciting unit comprised of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa, with Yohan Cabaye the architect from midfield.
The same strengths upon which that Newcastle team built its unexpected success and led to the Geordies becoming one of the most popular English teams on the LiveFootballTickets.com website have – in different ways – since developed into weaknesses that have left the club in a comatose state in the English Premier League.
Manager Alan Pardew has struggled under the weight of expectation generated by that stunning season, when he was voted by his peers as Premier League Manager of the Year. His relationship with fans has been strained by a combination of ill-advised PR moves and a regression in both results and the style of football being employed by his team.
The departures of Ba and Cabaye have hardly aided his cause however, with the latter’s big-money move to PSG sanctioned at the behest of owner Mike Ashley and his board. Newcastle’s tight wage policy and profits-first attitude has made replacing the world-class France midfielder a difficult task: the club has sorely missed his quality and presence.
Despite this, Pardew is not himself blameless. The dip in form of the aforementioned Coloccini and a public falling out with the temperamental but talented Ben Arfa (now on loan at Hull City) have at once affected this team’s defensive stability and potency going forward.
Worryingly for Newcastle, their situation has been mirrored by the likes of Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse, who have failed to recapture their promising form of two seasons ago. Even Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to command the same presence he had behind a previously settled defence.
Pardew’s man management has understandably been questioned, though the former West Ham boss has managed to avoid the sack despite one very nervy flirt with relegation. His squad remains lampooned in a curious state, still possessing players of international class but failing to show signs of gelling as a unit or developing a cohesive style of football.
A persistence with a failing 4-2-3-1 formation and the failure to replace Cabaye and Ba – despite a raft of interesting signings – have been at the heart of Newcastle’s struggles. Recent rumours that Coloccini himself will succeed Pardew in a player-manager role perhaps best surmise the state the club finds itself in, having lost any direction and unity previously fostered by the English coach.
This season’s slow start has visibly eroded the confidence of Newcastle’s otherwise capable and talented footballers. Whether a new manager would be able to coax consistent performances out of Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Remy Cabella is a moot point, given the Newcastle board’s reluctance to show interest in creating a football legacy.
For the moment, owner Mike Ashley has indicated his willingness to simply take advantage of the generous financial windfalls that come with simply surviving in the Premier League.
The eight-year contract signed by Pardew in 2012 is arguably the predominant reason he has not been jettisoned by Ashley, who seems unwilling to sack the coach given the generous compensation fee his contract would demand.
So Pardew remains in his position almost by default, and must now instil a fighting quality (at the very least) in a team that seems set for another relegation battle this season.
Trips to Tottenham and Manchester City, follow the visits of Liverpool and Leicester City to St James’ Park after the international break, in what could be a defining month for the club and its beleaguered manager.
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