ON the day Alan Pardew pondered enlisting former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman to help clarify Newcastle United’s European status, there was a bigger conundrum for the Magpies chief to crunch.
Vorderman, a confused Pardew joked, might be the only person in England capable of explaining just what European fate lies ahead for the Magpies. For the record, United need to better Everton’s result this weekend to be sure of a top-six place. But then the fun starts, with Chelsea poised to turn the entire race on its head if they manage to complete a remarkable two-leg semi-final defeat of Barcelona and triumph in the Champions League final in Munich.
To add to the confusion, United are unsure exactly when they will be parachuted into the competition if they make it. Would they be required to pre-qualify if they finish fourth and Chelsea deny them in the Champions League, or would they get straight into the Europa League group stages?
For a club who pride themselves on their forward planning, these are things that matter. And Pardew knows it will have a knock-on effect in terms of how transfer and pre-season plotting progress.
“What I do know is that this European qualification is about as complicated as it gets – we need Carol Vorderman to work this one out,” a relaxed United boss said yesterday.
“Let’s just say there’s a bit of confusion over it in my mind.
“You’re talking about qualifying games for the two competitions, for example when we might come in to the qualifiers. There seems to be a little bit of confusion over which position gets you where.
“I’m not having a dig at the FA or anything – the most important thing for us is to win the game, then I suppose the Chelsea-Barcelona thing all sorts itself out.
“The most important thing is to win your games, but we are keeping one eye on the other results as you’d imagine and Arsenal losing to Wigan was a big loss to them and puts them in touching distance of the three clubs below them.
“Both of those slots are reachable for all those four clubs and we’d be silly not to try to attack that.”
All of these numbers need to be crunched, but perhaps the bigger issue for the club would be how to progress if they did achieve Champions League qualification.
In reality it would probably be too soon for this squad, but Pardew would have no fear or anxiety about attacking Europe’s premiere club competition.
And as for modifying the transfer plans? Not a problem, he insists. There are hundreds of players that he would want to sign.
“We haven’t really discussed the Champions League budget, if I’m honest. I don’t think we need to – I think that’s still a bit of a dream for us.
“If we suddenly get that influx of money I don’t think it will take me longer than 10 minutes to spend that. I haven’t got a problem with that!
“It’s the other scenario – not making the Europa League – that would suddenly impact on us. Would the player come? Players are looking at us at the moment and thinking ‘Are you going to be in the Europa League?’ Now we’re not guaranteed that so if we don’t make it for whatever reason – I don’t know, Chelsea win the Champions League – suddenly that player might not want to come to us.”
Would the Europa League be a burden though, given the obvious demands that it places on a wafer-thin squad?
Saturday’s opponents Stoke City have struggled to fight on an extra front, slipping to 14th place after their Europa League exertions. Tony Pulis admits his players have been fatigued by the competition, while Tottenham – a direct rival in the battle for the Champions League – fielded a second team for most of their games.
So is it really worth the bother?
“It depends which angle you’re coming from. Tottenham were in the Champions League last year and then suddenly the flavour probably isn’t as great,” Pardew said.
“For us, we were promoted two years ago from the Championship and, although we carry a great heritage and everything else, it would be a great achievement for some of these players to have European experience.
“We need to gain that experience, not just as a manager and coaching staff, but players as well. It gives you a different standing in the game and a different standing in Europe and if you don’t want to accept that challenge then I think that would be disappointing.”
With all this talk of Continental adventures, it must be hoped that Newcastle don’t get ahead of themselves. Although we assume Europe is back on the agenda, there is still scope for surprises. Saturday could be a difficult one if Pardew can’t get his players to concentrate on the task at hand.
“Focusing the players isn’t really an issue if I’m honest,” Pardew responded.
“Although it gets discussed in the dressing-room, it isn’t too much. We’re not leaning on it, we’re not all planning our holidays around getting into Europe, we’re very much focused on beating Stoke.
“The situation can change very, very dramatically in the Premier League, as the Wigan-Arsenal result (on Monday) showed.
“You thought ‘okay, Arsenal are in the Champions League’, I don’t think anyone would have questioned it and now of course there’s a big question mark there and they’ve got a very tough game (against Chelsea on Saturday). So it’s all to play for.”