Pardew’s Lesson In Anger Management

Who would have bet on Newcastle battling out in the top four come late October? Not many people I can assure you, but alas it is the predicament they find themselves in at the moment and as a result of their rather surprise return to prominence Tyneside is buzzing with enthusiasm.

It is probably far too early to suggest that they can maintain such a strong challenge all season, but hopes are high that the Toon can force themselves into contention for a Europa league place with their early charge. To bring the glory days of European football back to St.James’ park must be the ultimate aim of their much maligned owner Mike Ashley and the man he placed in charge of the club almost a year ago.

Under Ashley’s ownership Alan Pardew endured a rather hostile beginning to his reign as Manager. Having been named the man to replace the very popular Chris Hughton he was immediately met with uncertainty and an air of disillusionment from the fans.

Hughton before him had successfully guided the side back to the Premier League and had safely seen them to a mid-season position of mid-table solidity. Sitting comfortably in the middle of the league table may not exactly be awe-inspiring, but the security that comes with it was exactly what the football club and it’s fans had been craving. Sadly for Hughton, Mike Ashley was one of the only people associated with the club that weren’t contented by this and saw fit to relieve him of his duties.

This unsurprisingly called Ashley’s loyalty and decision making into question. He was once again lambasted by the press and the club’s fans for his actions. Rather unfairly his new man at the helm, Alan Pardew, then had to assume the unenviable position of being one of the faces of what was at the time seen as negative change.

Not only had Pardew been asked to take on the role of living up to Hughton’s great record at the club, but he was soon fighting fires on the media frontline amidst the Andy Carroll transfer saga on January ‘Deadline Day’. If he was unsure before he took the role just how passionate the club’s fans were, then he was left in little doubt after this tough early period. The fans were angry and disillusioned with events that were unfolding before their eyes and Pardew was one of a few major channels for their understandable angst.

In spite of the sale of their talismanic striker, Newcastle continued to impress in the second half of the season and ultimately Pardew had maintained their mid-table position right up to the season’s finish. Having managed to pick up some admirers along the way, the first few months of his reign had gone just about as well as could be hoped.

However, Pardew’s role as a figure head for the club led to further personal strife as the powers that be decided to part company with three other key members of his first XI. Skipper Kevin Nolan, the perpetually controversial Joey Barton and classy left back Jose Enrique were all allowed to leave either on free transfers or for relatively small fees, which again calling into question the ambition of the club.

Fans were once again left fraught with nerves going into this season having sold big and seemingly failed to bring in proven quality. As it turns out though, such caution and worry was rather unnecessary. Pardew has thus far led the club with admirable dignity and at present has them in the mix fighting for genuine success. How he has managed to lead this current squad to where they currently reside is unclear really, but he is worthy of high praise for his achievements to date.

Amidst the worries about a lack of depth and real star quality, the likes of the previously rather unknown Yohan Cabaye have stood tall since joining the club in a low-profile summer deal. Cabaye has looked every bit a top class Premier League performer since his move, demonstrating great fight and tenacity coupled with a decent passing range. Fellow summer signing Demba Ba has also played his way to the forefront of Newcastle’s early assault on the top of the table with a surprisingly decent goal tally.

While the low-key signings have exceeded the expectations of many, so too have the players who were already on the books. In midifeld Cheik Tiote has continued to build upon an encouraging first season in the Premier League and has been supported by the efforts of ‘local lad done good’ Steven Taylor and new Skipper Fabricio Coloccini at the back. With their less celebrated players too coming out of the shadows it is little surprise that optimism appears to be creeping back into the stands at St.James’.

On Thursday evening BBC Newcastle’s radio show ‘Total Sport’ featured an hour long phone-in with Alan Pardew and his time in the studio provided interesting insight into his rather surprising success so far. Pardew insisted that his strength as a manager is “getting the best out of players” citing the likes of Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand as past successes under his tutelage.

Another moment of intrigue in the phone-in came when the presenters asked Pardew “how [he had] convince[d] Ashley to give [him] the job”. Pardew answered “I convinced him that I could bring success”. Exactly what success is to Ashley is a little unclear given his decision to release Chris Hughton when the overwhelming majority of the footballing world struggled to see why, but this answer from Pardew tells you a lot about the man.

He is humble and was willing to offer sympathy to Hughton who he said had done a “top job” for Newcastle, but he is also immensely optimistic and confident in his ability as a manager. Many have expressed an opinion that Pardew has had some hard luck in management, but he himself seems far more interested on his future endeavours and how he can continue to take the club forward.

I must admit that I was expecting Newcastle to struggle this season, as were many I might add. Pardew though has always impressed me. I agree with the many people who think he has at times been dealt a rough hand, particularly given his role in returning West Ham to the league and then to a showpiece game against Liverpool in the FA Cup final, which by the way, they were very unlucky to lose.

Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle have managed to offload the likes of Barton and Nolan at the right time and if Tiote and Cabaye can continue to inspire the side all the way to European contention come May then Pardew will have worked a minor miracle. If this is to happen then they will need to continue to make hay in the ‘easier’ games and strengthen their attacking and defensive options in January, but if they do this there is no reason why they and their Manager can’t continue to surprise a few people.

The Tales of ‘Bad-Boy’ Barton: Indispensable or just a Complete ‘Twit’?

Never one to blend into the background, Joey Barton has again found himself subject to major media scrutiny over the past fortnight over comments made through social networking site Twitter.

Barton has consistently maintained a role in British football’s media circus since coming on to the scene early in the 2000’s, and generally speaking it has been because of his off-field antics.

Under the glare of the media as always

His career has at times descended into chaos as a result of his behaviour but until this latest saga there had been major signs of a revival and a reformation of character.

The personal changes being undertaken by Barton seemed to be reaping the rewards both on and off the pitch and last season he was outstanding. He was the heartbeat of the Newcastle side that were promoted back to the Premier League and continued this form upon their return to prominence. While team mates Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll may have taken the majority of the headlines in the North-East for their goal-scoring exploits, Barton went rather uncharacteristically under the radar en route to being rated their most consistent performer over the campaign.

Barton was subject to huge praise for his form last season

It is this improvement in character and on field performance which makes the current situation all the more bizarre. Of course football club’s in modern society are about more than just performances on match-day but this time around has Barton really done that much wrong?

Personally, I don’t think he has. Sure he has voiced his concerns in recent times but if you don’t want that to occur then why on earth would you have a player like Barton on your books in the first place? It seems odd to me that the Newcastle hierarchy would be so perturbed by Barton’s recent statements on Twitter and a potential character clash with manager Alan Pardew when in the past they have shown faith in him and supported him in the face of criminal charges. Couple this mystery with the fact that he is now a far more mature and clever footballer and you start to see why Barton’s agent Willie McKay is describing Newcastle’s desire to offload his client as “suicidal”.

Waving Goodbye?

One must feel that such an opinion is evidence that McKay shares the concerns of his client in disagreeing with the club’s recent decisions to sell on two of their very best players. They aren’t alone in this view either, with Barton’s Newcastle team mate Jose Enrique having also faced scrutiny for airing his frustrations regarding a seeming lack of ambition.

It seems that ‘Bad Boy’ Barton is for the first time in his controversial career on the receiving end of a barrage of sympathy, when he is far more accustomed to dealing with a lack of support. He has repaid the faith shown in him by the board at Newcastle with a high level of performance and has developed a real affinity with the club’s fans and the City of Newcastle. However, it is apparent that the Newcastle board are prepared to lose such a great asset in order to demonstrate authority and a show of solidarity.

As well as being outspoken on the board, Barton has also expressed his love for the football club

Though the Newcastle board have acted strangely on several occasions before, this moral crusade might just take the biscuit. Ask any Newcastle fan who their best four players have been over the past two seasons and the response will be Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and the man in question Joey Barton. The first two of these have already left the club and the latter two appear to be on the verge of doing so.

Some might argue that it is hard to hold on to such players when you’re not at the peak of European football but it really is hard to have any sympathy for the Newcastle board. The reasons being cited for them losing their top performers seem to be focused on a perceived lack of ambition and lack of desire to hold on to the cream of their crop, Barton and Enrique are just the latest subjects of such frailties.

If Newcastle do part company with the likes of Barton and Enrique then they are set to endure a very tough season. As yet signings haver been few and far between and their has been little evidence of the board fulfilling the promises made to spend the entirety of Andy Carroll’s £35,000,000 transfer fee on new signings.

Mike Ashley and his supporting staff are not exactly backing up their reported desire to impress the club’s fans by selling their prized assets, or in the case of Barton simply letting him go for free before the end of his contract. It is therefore easy to see why their top players are beginning to feel the need to go public with their worries, and who could blame them for seeking pastures new?