The shock sacking of Chris Hughton in December 2010 with Newcastle sitting comfortably in eleventh position made all Newcastle fans confused and angry as to what owner Mike Ashley was trying to achieve with their football club. This was even further highlighted when it became clear that Alan Pardew was one of the favourites to take over. Just 1.8% of fans backed Pardew in a local newspaper poll.
The board pressed on with this appointment only to face more of a fans backlash when they sold star striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool for £35 million in January 2011 and failed to replace him. Newcastle ended the season twelfth, which was a respectable showing for their first season back in the top flight.
Many pundits predicted a similar finish this season for the club after a summer in which they seemed reluctant or unwilling to spend the money they had made by selling Carroll, Jose Enrique and Kevin Nolan. Little was known about Davide Santon, Yohan Cabaye or Sylvain Marveaux, who all arrived for under £5 million. Whilst Gabriel Obertan arrived after a unimpressive spell at Manchester United and Demba Ba on a free from relegated West Ham.
The transfer policy of buying affordable young talent from abroad has worked incredibly well for Newcastle though. When you compare it to Liverpool’s strategy of buying young British talent, the Tyneside club have found better players for a fraction of the price that the Reds paid for the likes of Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing.
Demba Ba has proved the bargain of the season. He had scored 15 goals by the time he left for the African Cup of Nations to propel Newcastle into contention for the Champions League places. He also won Player of the Month in December and was also voted signing of the season by Premier League managers in March. Newcastle again unearthed a superstar with the signing of Papiss Cisse from German side Freiburg for around £10 million in January. The Senegalese hitman proved a revelation with 13 goals in just 14 games this season including a couple of contenders for goal of the season in a 2-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Whilst these two strikers have grabbed the headlines the contribution of Yohan Cabaye must not be overlooked. Four goals and six assists in his first season means that the France international has become the man that makes Newcastle tick and dictates the tempo of their play.
Alan Pardew must be credited with the way he has organised the team and turned them into one which is very difficult to break down. The spine of their team is very strong from Tim Krul in goal to Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson in defence. Cabaye and Check Tiote give steel and creativity to the centre of the park whilst Ba and Cisse guarantee goals. Added to this strong core are the hard working Jonas Gutierrez and the mercurial talent that is Hatem Ben Arfa.
Pardew has rightly won the Barclays Premier League Manager of the Year and followed it up with the LMA Manager of the Year voted for by his fellow managers. Pardew has proved himself to be a passionate and tactically astute manager and it was no surprise that this has led to speculation linking him with the England and now the Liverpool job.
Newcastle may find it more difficult next season as teams rise to the challenge of playing them. This summer will be another test for the Newcastle board. It will be crucial for them to hold on to their big players and add more depth to the squad, with the added games in the Europa League next season. If Pardew’s men can do this then they will certainly be in contention for the top four again next season.
By Chris Newman