As winds of change whip up another storm, where will they blow Newcastle next?
A breathless celebration had barely abated when Alan Pardew stood in front of the television cameras – hair sorted, shirt back in his trousers – and commended his players. “I asked them to find a way before kick-off,” he said. “They found a way.”
Pardew had jumped into the crowd at St James' Park following Papiss Cisse's dramatic 93rd minute winning goal against Fulham. At that point it felt like a significant victory. Newcastle could prepare for a Europa League quarter-final second leg with Benfica and a derby with Sunderland. "It will be a massive week," he said.
The Fulham celebration is significant now more for how much has changed in the course of the 20 days that have followed. Twenty days later and the ever fluctuating winds that swirl around Tyneside's only football club have whipped up another storm.
Now it is Pardew himself who must find a way.
It is 11 months since a text arrived as Pardew sat at a table in the chairman's suite at St James' Park to confirm he was the LMA manager of the year. It followed the Premier League Manager of the season award. There were congratulations, a new bottle of wine was opened. A toast followed.
Pardew was the special guest on Radio Newcastle later that evening. At the time, the Northern League side Dunston UTS were preparing to appear in the final of the FA Vase. The Newcastle manager was asked to wish them luck. 'Come on Dunston!' he roared on radio. The show of emotion went down well. Dunston won. Pardew was winning. Newcastle finished fifth.
At times it feels like nothing has gone right since.
Newcastle's move for Cisse in January of that season for £9million was bold, too bold for some in the club. He scored 13 goals from 13 starts. A feeling existed that the team had overperformed. Cisse was bought on the recommendation of chief scout Graham Carr, as all Newcastle players now are. (Pardew advocated the signings of David Santone, Gabriel Obertan and Rob Elliot). Carr was eager for the club to sign Vurnon Anita in the summer for £6.7 million. Anita has hardly played. He was their only notable signing.
By the end of November they had won just three Premier League games but Pardew, after Carr, had signed an eight year contract. By then all momentum from last season had gone. In February, managing director Derek Llambias admitted to the error. "Did we make a mistake in the summer? I think we did," he said. "We did not give ourselves enough slack.”
By that point, Newcastle were 15th, which has been their place in the Premier League for most of the campaign. Newcastle have suffered more than 70 injuries to their players this season. There will be an assessment as to why this summer. There was an inability to adapt to the Thursday-Sunday football the Europa League brought.
There have been off-field controversies. On October 9, Newcastle announced a shirt sponsorship deal with Wonga, the payday loan company. It sparked outrage. There was a call for the club's Muslim players not to wear branded shirts for the 2013-2014 season on account of Sharia Law. St James' Park was renamed St James' Park (after a spell as the Sports Direct Arena) to a huge fanfare.
There have been on-field controversies. On January 10, Fabricio Coloccini met officials from Newcastle and told them he wanted to return to Argentina for personal reasons. He threatened to walk out later that month until he was threatened with a lawsuit. Coloccini has barely played since because of a back injury. Hatem Ben Arfa has been peripheral because of a hamstring injury. His recuperation took place in Clairefontaine and the club has not been happy with his fitness since he returned. The clause in Demba Ba's contract allowing him to leave for £7 million was activated in January, when he moved to Chelsea. Ba is still Newcastle's top scorer in the Premier League.
On January 19, the club owner Mike Ashley watched Newcastle lose at home to Reading and sanctioned a spending spree that, according to those inside the club, cost £31 million.
They were Carr's signings; Mathieu Debuchy had arrived and he was followed by Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Moussa Sissoko and Massadio Haidara. Gouffran revealed at his unveiling that he had just met the manager at his medical. Haidara was carried off at the DW Stadium following another moment of controversy when his foul by Callum McManaman was missed by referee Mark Halsey.
Breathless. And so Newcastle stumbled into the biggest week of their season after that win against Fulham. Pardew considered resting Cisse and Yohan Cabaye for the second leg against Benfica (Newcastle trailed three-one) but did not. They drew and exited Europe. Three days later, they were swatted aside by Sunderland, at home. No game had been given priority. Europe, a bugbear in the boardroom, offered protection from mounting unrest. Without it, Pardew has become Hadrian minus the wall.
There are now concerns within the club that Newcastle have become too direct in their style of play (there has been tactical complacency throughout the campaign) and yet there remains an interest in bringing Andy Carroll back in the summer (despite his prohibitive salary).
The futures of Ben Arfa, Coloccini, Tim Krul and Cabaye are uncertain.
Today they face Liverpool, still unsure what division they will play in next season. This time last year Newcastle were fourth. Pardew must stem a decline that has so far been beyond him. The parameters for the Newcastle manager are not easy, but he was aware of that before he joined.
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