Alan Pardew was asked if he could give his players assurances about his own future yesterday – that he would not be tempted to take the England position when Fabio Capello leaves at the end of the European Championship. He thought it was a joke.
It took a repeated assertion of where his lot is right now, 13 months after he walked into what was supposed to be a bear pit, to get any sort of a response. "My future is very much here," he said. "I'm absolutely loving it at the moment. I haven't considered any other issue outside this football club and I won't. It's important for me that the players know I will be here."
Of more pressing concern on Tyneside is that those key players are alongside their manager when the transfer window closes at the end of this month.
Last January was, by Pardew's own admission, his most difficult period at the club. By the time the window shut, Andy Carroll, a player he repeatedly said he wanted to stay, had gone.
Hence his huge reluctance to talk about the new spine that has taken Newcastle to within four points of a Champions League position. Tim Krul has had a revelatory first full season as first-choice goalkeeper. Fabricio Coloccini continues to emerge as a centre-half of resolve and a captain who leads by example. Cheick Tioté protects his back four like few in the Premier League and Yohan Cabaye's stunning free-kick against Manchester United on Wednesday was proof that Newcastle got a bargain when they paid Lille £5m for him last summer.
And then there is Demba Ba, the centre-forward who has scored 15 goals in his last 16 games following his transfer from West Ham. These are key figures who are catching the eye ... but having learned from bitter experience, Pardew will say little about their qualities. "I'm trying to keep them!" he said when asked to detail their strengths.
After Wednesday's emphatic win he praised his players warmly for both ability and attitude: "I couldn't ask for any more from them, they've been absolutely brilliant. They deserve the credit." Now he must prepare for the fight to hold on to some of them, with Tioté – off to the African Cup of Nations for the rest of the month – in particular the object of much speculation.Reuse content