A tale of two cities: How Geordie cloud drifted over Sunderland
At the season’s close the skies above Pardew looked gloomy, but now Poyet is the frustrated figure, as Martin Hardy reports
When Alan Pardew emerged from the dugout to issue instructions to his own players, at his own team’s ground against Cardiff on 3 May last season, the venom that fell from the stands at St James’ Park was so great he had to sit down.
Four times he tried to stand in the technical area in front of his own dugout. On each occasion he was bellowed back. It was the definition of untenable.
Pardew retreated, though there was never a genuine suggestion that the feelings of the Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, who was not there that day, would be swayed by the hostility of the fans towards the manager.
That was Newcastle’s final home game of a season that had collapsed. Around 2,000 supporters walked out of the stadium in the 69th minute in rebellion. Two transfer windows had passed Newcastle by. Only Joe Kinnear had joined the club, as director of football, and he left shortly after Yohan Cabaye was sold to Paris Saint-Germain in January.
Then on 11 May, 13 miles away from St James’ Park, the Sunderland manager Gus Poyet hailed a miracle. Sunderland were beaten 3-1 by Swansea, on the final day of their season but it did not matter. Sunderland had survived, the forward Connor Wickham had found form from nowhere, Poyet’s name rang round the Stadium of Light and Ellis Short, the billionaire owner of the club, breathed another sigh of relief. This was also a season in which Sunderland had reached a cup final as well – the Capital One Cup.
It seemed like momentum was building, but as the season closed Poyet’s future seemed uncertain. West Ham United appeared to be a possible destination for the Uruguayan. Phil Bardsley, Craig Gardner and Jack Colback all left for nothing. Sunderland reacted angrily after Colback left the club on a free transfer to Newcastle, posting an ill-advised Twitter picture of the player, who had been with Sunderland since he was eight, celebrating scoring against Newcastle.
Last summer Sunderland, under their then director of football Roberto de Fanti, signed 14 players. Only Vito Mannone shone. They wanted to bring in midfielder Tom Huddlestone but they could not match his salary requirements and he joined Hull City from Tottenham Hotspur.
This summer the two players most coveted by Poyet were Jordon Mutch and Fabio Borini. Mutch signed for Queen’s Park Rangers from Cardiff on Tuesday for £6 million. Sunderland had offered £3.5 million for his services eight weeks ago. Borini, who was on loan at Sunderland last season, has so far ignored their advances to stay at Liverpool.
Until the £10 million capture of midfielder Jack Rodwell on Tuesday, Sunderland had signed Billy Jones, Jordi Gomez and Costel Pantilimon without paying a fee. The squad had been repaired, not strengthened. A deal has not even been struck to sign Marcos Alonso, the Florentina left-back who played such an important role in keeping the club up last season while on loan. Two weeks ago, Poyet spoke of his unease at the lack of summer signings.
“We’ve got specific targets and it’s taking a little bit too long,” he said. “I’m waiting and waiting, which is not nice. You’re expecting to do a couple of deals, but they’re not happening. People say don’t be anxious or nervous.
“We need pace, which we have been looking for for the last year. We need a couple of midfielders too after we lost Craig Gardner and Jack Colback. There are things we need to do.”
Rodwell and former Chelsea left-back Patrick van Aanholt have so far been the only two players to arrive since then. Poyet still wants a central defender and a forward with pace.
Bringing in Rodwell will have helped, but Sunderland do not look stronger than the side who has escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth for the last two seasons. Lee Congerton, the club’s sporting director who replaced De Fanti, said at the start of the summer that there was not a great deal of money to spend. Momentum has been lost. Sunderland’s recruitment plan remains without a core philosophy.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s starting point in the summer was amongst the lowest of Ashley’s reign. Lee Charnley, the new managing director who was promoted from within the club, went into bat. He argued the malaise (five wins from the final 21 games of the season) had to end. He took the shopping list from the chief scout Graham Carr that had been ignored by the hapless Kinnear, and began making signings. Pardew, his relationship with the supporters at an all-time low and his position as manager in a precarious situation after his headbutt on Hull’s David Meyler last season and subsequent official club warning, was kept in the loop.
By Tuesday afternoon, Newcastle had signed nine players. The two additions from Nottingham Forest, centre-back Jamaal Lascelles and goalkeeper Karl Darlow, will be loaned back for one season.
Much will be expected from the former Ajax captain Siem de Jong, the France international Rémy Cabella, former Monaco striker Emmanuel Rivière, the Dutch World Cup right back, Daryl Janmaat and Colback. Ayoze Perez and Facundo Ferreyra have been added to give Newcastle more striking options.
A fee that could rise to £15 million has also been agreed for Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette, but the player is still in need of convincing that a season outside the Champions League will not be damaging to his career.
Eight days ago at Hillsborough in a pre-season friendly, 2,000 Newcastle fans encouraged the manager in the away dugout to give them a wave.
There were jeers and a chant for Hatem Ben Arfa, the enfant terrible who rowed with Pardew last season, when he did. But the light-hearted nature of the chanting was a million miles from the vitriol which rendered the technical area at St James’ Park towards the end of last season off limits to Pardew. It is a sign of a movement in the right direction. The same cannot be said for Sunderland.
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