From major laughing stock to top-four challengers: what has gone right at Newcastle?
A horrible pre-season and the departures of Nolan and Barton are ancient history for unbeaten side who are third in the table. Jason Mellor outlines Alan Pardew's six-point plan for success
Wednesday 02 November 2011
1 Don't panic
As the advertising slogan almost once ran, if Carlsberg did pre-season build-ups, then they would have made sure it was not anything like the one overseen by Alan Pardew in the summer. From an embarrassing mass pitch invasion by their supporters at Darlington, to the at-times shambolic tour of the United States, where the shattered players racked up enough air miles to last them a lifetime, things did not go well at all. Throw in the earlier departure of last season's top scorer Kevin Nolan, a fresh long-term injury to Hatem Ben Arfa, and the doubts regarding the futures of Joey Barton and Jose Enrique and preparations were about as disrupted as they could be.
Thankfully, Pardew and his players remained calm – even when the promised reinforcements failed to arrive late in the summer transfer window – and the real thing has been far more fruitful than the phoney war.
2 Create team spirit
In recent seasons, the likes of Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce have mis-managed to an extent that despite an often rich array of talent at their disposal, when it came to Newcastle, the sum was always notoriously far less than the parts. To his credit, Chris Hughton began the reversal of that dangerous trend, and Pardew has built on that by fostering an undeniable team spirit. It may be something of a cliche, but whatever that "spirit" actually is seems to be squeezing an indefinable extra 10 per cent out of each and every player in black and white so far this season.
3 Lose the plot
In short, Newcastle have lost the plot – the soap opera-like plot, that is – and what a difference it's made. St James' Park has rivalled Albert Square for its off-the-field dramas in recent seasons, from several Barton-inspired "you really couldn't make it up" episodes to the return and swift departure of Kevin Keegan in 2008. Then there was Andy Carroll's burnt-out Range Rover last season.
In their place, a welcome dose of decent football, based around a miserly defence, has filled the void. Given their past record, it may only be a temporary return to the back pages until something else crops up to interest the news hacks, but as far as supporters are concerned, long may it last.
4 Ditch the ego
Let's face it, to survive in top-flight management, you have to have a healthy ego, and to say Pardew reflects that is not meant as a slight, far from it. Yet since being appointed last December, the manager has been sufficiently willing to swallow his pride to work, extremely successfully it must be said, within the relatively strict financial boundaries imposed by owner Mike Ashley and his right-hand man Derek Llambias.
Many of his peers would have let their rampant self-belief get the better of them by this stage to put a strain on the manager-owner relationship. Not Pardew. He is cute enough to fight his corner without overstepping the mark against the notoriously stubborn Ashley. His is an ever-shifting compromise that seems to be working. If Newcastle were losing regularly, Pardew would quickly be seen as nothing more than a "yes man" to the regime. However, as long as positive results are maintained, his is a diplomatic approach many a foreign minister could learn a thing or two from.
5 Honour the scout
Along with being the father of comedian Alan, Graham Carr has emerged as a talent spotter of some repute over the years, no more so than since taking over as chief scout at Newcastle last year. The 67-year-old rightly takes credit for his part in the capture of the highly influential Cheik Tiote, while Newcastle are also reaping the rewards of acting swiftly to tie down a deal earlier this year for Yohan Cabaye, the France midfielder who has taken instantly to the Premier League. Pardew's contacts at his former club, West Ham, proved invaluable in securing the signature of Demba Ba (below), who with two hat-tricks already this season looks to be, if he can remain fit for the entire campaign, an inspired piece of business.
6 Use a bit of Lady luck
It is a key ingredient that to some degree or other usually accompanies sides that find themselves prospering. Newcastle have so far largely steered clear of significant injuries to their key players, which given their relative lack of strength in depth is a state of affairs that must remain if they are to maintain their elevated position.
That may not be quite as simple given a run of games in the next month which includes trips to both Manchester City and Manchester United and a visit by Chelsea, but the fixture computer must take a small slice of credit for their unbeaten start after handing them home games with the less-than-daunting trio of Wigan, Blackburn and Fulham, plus an out-of-sorts Arsenal. It's helped them to hit the ground running, but as is often said, you make your own luck in this game.
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