Among all the thrills of the opening weekend to the Premier League, one contest in particular appears to have drifted under the radar. Arsenal's offer, inducing calls for the immediate resignation of their manager before the season was an hour old, was an outstanding effort for which they should be duly applauded, but Newcastle United seem to have upped the bar. The calls for Alan Pardew to be removed on Monday night seemed so real, so vociferous and so complete that they may have just stolen the crown for the earliest loss of faith in a manager in English football history.
At least, in the wake of a 4-0 loss to Manchester City that confirms something is desperately wrong at St. James' Park, Newcastle supporters can content themselves with the knowledge that there's an easy reference point to be made in their recent relegation at the hands of Alan Shearer.. That in itself may not be a great source of comfort, but the fact that they have a team several orders of magnitude better than the one that bit the dust in 2009 may be.
That side was, after all, a real mess - a rag-tag mob of overpaid, underthought transfers, the past-it, lost-it, and never-had-it. This team is not remotely comparable - there are good players in every position. The squad has been compiled via a rigorous and fruitful scouting operation, the scattergun approach of yesteryear gone with the exorbitant wages. They have a superior squad to when they managed to sustain a legitimate challenge for fourth, and yet seem to be flirting with relegation.
It's common to hear the line "this club is run like a business." Depending on the context and the source, it can be a boast, a lament, or a dull statement of fact. Newcastle United appear to be a very extreme example of it - they have nailed a very effective business in sourcing players for low fees who can double or triple in value over the space of two or three years, yet they don't seem to be able to put these good players to use on a football pitch.
Were the club currently competing for fourth place, as they may have harboured expectations of following their 5th-placed finish, it would be difficult to see where to improve them. By now, they have solid players in every position, and they probably just need some more reliable firepower up front to theoretically be at a level far above what they're presently achieving. But mulling over striking options and backup wingers when a team that should be at least battling for the Europa League spots puts in abysmal performances is a waste of time.
There is clearly a deeper malaise at St. James' Park. That's been obvious ever since Mike Ashley took over, with his bizarrely-timed stunts that seem deliberately constructed to wind up the home fans, but even the ludicrous appointment of Joe Kinnear can't explain their current predicament. The blame can only (unless you're of the Gary Neville school that Newcastle were doing just fine until they signed all those French guys. And people think this guy is a great pundit or a breath of fresh air?) lie with Alan Pardew - appointing your manager in a casino seems about as reliable a recruitment policy as overhearing things in pubs is for intel gathering, and the appointment looks to have come back to haunt the club.
The ludicrous 8-year contract bestowed upon him (although there are suggestions it may be a relatively one-sided arrangement that merely prevents Pardew from breaking loose, rather than the club sacking him) was vaguely understandable after a season in which Newcastle surpassed all expectations, but Pardew hardly had an illustrious track record - it was his best season at any club by a considerable distance, and he was extremely lucky to keep his job after last season's fiasco.
Although the supposed lack of loyalty is lamented by ex-pros and other dullards, it's actually difficult to find a club who've scuppered themselves with what is perceived to be a short-term philosophy. Nigel Adkins' sacking at Southampton was unfair, but the club improved in the aftermath. Martin O'Neill's sacking came as a surprise purely because of his reputation, but the decision to appoint Paolo Di Canio possibly saved them from relegation.
And conversely, there are few clubs who have stuck by a floundering manager and been rewarded for their patience. Paul Lambert was perhaps one example, but Aston Villa were improving under his direction. Newcastle are getting worse, and have been for some time. The start to last season was excusable with injuries, but players returned and new signings were made in January and their form got no better.
Instead, Newcastle might want to look to a club who really did stand by their man despite results failing to improve. They won't need to travel too far to find out, either. How have Middlesbrough been doing since permitting Gareth Southgate to take them into the Championship?
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