“Newcastle missed a huge opportunity in the summer” he began, continuing:
“Having punched above their weight last season and almost made it into the top four [sic], this was the time to spend. The club was up and running again after so many years mired in uncertainty. There was once again a feel-good factor and even Mike Ashley was enjoying it. But he needed to put his hand in his pocket and strengthen with two or three quality players. The best time to buy is when you are in a position of strength.”
Which is fair enough, especially the last sentence which is very true. “Momentum” is vital in football, something which the ex Toon hitman acknowledged himself when he continued later in the piece:
“Sadly the momentum built up by Alan Pardew last season has been lost and Saturday (Newcastle’s 1-3 defeat to Man City) was a stark example of that.”
We have certainly lost momentum. However, to be fair to Pardew and the squad we already have, losing the way we did to what was one of the best performances from the League champions so far this season certainly wasn’t the starkest example by any means. The team did try to play in a better way, and we actually didn’t look too shabby in parts. Perhaps there’s even been the odd sign of “green shoots of recovery” in some bits of recent games. We Toon fans often suffer from delusions though!
We’ll have to start winnning now however, even if the club is planning to make a major investment in the squad. If Ashley makes a belated decision to improve the squad in the January transfer window, all the clubs will know of his desperation if we’re hovering above, or even in the bottom three in January. Of course, desperation will leave selling clubs in a much stronger bargaining position, making his parsimonious penny pinching of the Summer, which reached ridiculous levels in the pursuit of players such as Mathieu Debuchy, Douglas and several others look like even more of an inept strategy. Besides that, you can be sure that any potential targets will find a club looking at a potential relegation battle and possible demotion to the second tier FAR less appealing than a club which, in the Summer, had just finished fifth in the Premiership and was looking forward to a season of European football.
However, although Shearer is completely correct that the club needed to strengthen to push on, to look to improve, or even just hold on their position amongst the European places, blaming a lack of more purchases in the Summer window for our current position of 15th (and falling) would surely be taking things too far? Just tell that to Alan Pardew’s predecessor, Chris Hughton, who is currently seventh in the Premiership with a squad assembled for a fraction of the price of Newcastle’s. You can bet that he would love to have players such as Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini, Papiss Cisse, Vurnon Anita and more in his squad.
Looking at the German football market site, “Transfermarkt,” they value Newcastle United’s current first team squad at a total of £140 million, the seventh highest in the Premiership. Meanwhile, Hughton’s at Norwich is valued at a mere £53 million, slightly more of the third of total value of the Newcastle squad, and the second lowest in the Premiership. I don’t wish to labour the point, or claim that Transfermarkt’s estimates of each individual player are accurate in every detail in a field which can be subjective and unpredictable (Andy Carroll has never been valued at anywhere near £35 million on there!). However, dear reader, I think you get the point as to the relative strength of squads such as ours next to those of several sides who are easily outperforming us in the Premiership. Swansea (£65 million), West Bromwich Albion (£70 million), Fulham (£72 million), West Ham (£80.5 million) and Stoke City (£81.5 million), all of whom are outperforming Newcastle United. Whatever the accuracy of those estimates, all of those teams have weaker squads in general than Newcastle United, and it shouldn’t be the case that Newcastle need a squad which is twice as good as anyone else’s to merely achieve mediocrity.
Of course, there is always the “Europe” card too, which has been played several times this season by our Silver Supremo (along with injuries and other things). When this explaination didn’t swim initially due to the club’s top “purple” players being largely protected, with several bairns and fringe players stepping into the fray, Pardew further explained that it was the break with routine involved in preparing for Thursday evening games which was the real problem. However, Roy Hodgson took a lesser Fulham squad all the way to a meeting with the mighty Atletico Madrid in the 2010 final of that competition while finishing comfortably in mid table that season (12th). In the world of revised expectations, I’ll bet that there’s at least a few fans out there who wouldn’t turn their nose up at another 12th placed finish right now?
|Newcastle United’s long balls.|
|Newcastle United v Manchester City – 15/12/12.|
|Fulham F.C. v Newcastle United – 10/12/12.|
|Newcastle United v Wigan Athletic – 03/12/12.|
|Stoke City v Newcastle United – 28/11/12.|
|Southampton v Newcastle United – 25/11/12.|
|Newcastle United v Swansea City – 17/11/2012.|
|TP – Total Passes.
LB – Long Balls (over 25 yards).
LB % – Long Ball %.
All stats by OPTA.
Finally there is the “Elephant in the room” (for Pardew anyway). That is the one dimensional “route one” tactics which have been employed for so many games of this season, with Newcastle beating the likes of Reading, Stoke and West Ham to be the biggest “long ball” side in the Premiership so far this season. Whilst there is no exact scale to determime how many long balls (defined by Premiership stats gurus OPTA as passes over 25 yards) constitute “too many”, but no team have ever managed any sustained success of the kind Newcastle United should be having in recent years with this method. Rather, it has been the way of the plucky underdog trying to even up the odds, not the style of a major club who can draw 50,000 through it’s turnstyles every other week.
Long ball high priests, Stoke, did manage a to make last season’s Europa League thanks to reaching the FA Cup final, but they only finished 13th in the League that season, and 14th in their Europa League season. Another direct side, Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City, also managed the same feat in the same season after winning the League Cup, though they were relegated the season they won their League Cup. The first example, if not the second, shows that like Fulham before them, form in the League need not be hugely affected, even with a limited squad, and certainly nothing like the same amount as Newcastle United’s has been this season so far.
A Toon goal machine of a more modern vintage than Shearer, Demba Ba, has very recently broken ranks and spoke of Pardew’s long balls problem in an interview for French TV programme L’Equipe du Dimanche. he told them:
“I’m not happy when the team does not create anything. Fans come to see beautiful games with beautiful actions and not long balls from the goalkeeper to the striker.”
In fairness to Pardew though, there have been signs of a different approach resulting in some better football. This is something which Ba himself mentioned later in his interview. Speaking on our next game against Queens Park Rangers he said:
“Next Saturday against QPR, if we make mistakes the fans will become more demanding. If we play like we did against City, we should win. Don’t forget it was the champions we played last Saturday.”
Pardew maintained that it was against Stoke where things started to improve, though I would say it was more in the game against Wigan when our style of play really started to change for the better. As you can see in the table above, the Stoke game was just more long balls. However, it was hard to gauge much that was significant from that Wigan game as we played nearly all of it against only 10 players thanks to a very obliging referee. So unfortunately, looking for any “green shoots of recovery” that could give us back the momentum we still only have a few defeats to go on so far really. Because of this, our next game against Queens Park Rangers will be a crucial point in the season. That the result will be the most important thing for now goes without saying, but the style of our performance will also be very important too.
We need to get back the momentum Shearer speaks of. Reinforcing the squad will be very important in that, but “spend, spend, spend” Shearer seems to think that money is the answer to everything, mentioning nothing about Pardew’s tactics. He takes the lazy and incorrect option of blaming the players instead:
“Last year when Newcastle had the ball there were options all around. Now, because they are struggling, options are limited. Players are hiding. It is easy to play well when everything is going for you. The real test comes in times of trouble.”
They are the same players Alan, that was the whole point of your article in the first place. They were the ones who made last season such a success, and they’ve had some of the same breaks they had last season too. The one for Tim Krul in our Europa game against Atromitos and the goal that wasn’t for Everton are the first two which spring to mind but there are a few more.
It’s Ba who is far more on the money in his quotes above. It’s the tactics and we’ve been rumbled, like many sides before us who have had initial success after promotion. Thankfully though, there have been some small signs that things are changing.
Let’s hope it continues.