Alan Pardew interview - ‘We’re stronger than a year ago’

Neil Cameron talks to Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew from the team's base in Braga, Portugal

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew

Let's get back to the football. Do you remember the football? Eleven guys play another eleven guys and whoever gets the pigskin into that net thing the most times wins.

It’s all too easy to get dragged down by the, shall we say, left-field would-be appointments, suspicion of clandestine plots and even who will and won’t be signed.

As far as Newcastle United is concerned, by far and away the biggest priority is how this season pans out on the actual park. How many points are won and what cups, if any, can be acquired.

It’s all Alan Pardew actually cares about and he sincerely believes that no matter what may happen behind the scenes, this is going to be a good campaign for the football club.

Speaking to The Journal from the team’s base here in Braga, the Newcastle manager agreed that he felt a lot better going into this season, even with no new faces as of yet and Papiss Ciss�’s future looking somewhat uncertain.

A year ago, something wasn’t quite right for the recently-voted Premier League manager of the year.

Europe, he correctly suspected, would be tough for this group of players to cope with when you took into account the demands of the domestic card.

Some returned from the break tired in body and mind. Yohan Cabaye needed a rest. Demba Ba needed to join Chelsea.

He didn’t say it at the time, but Pardew feared the season was going to be a struggle.

However, 12 months on and a lot of things have changed – for the better.

We speak at the side of Braga’s lush training pitch, where the Newcastle players have been put through a hell of a tough regime by the club’s coaching staff.

Ciss� apart, they are all out there working their socks off. They do weights, sprints, stretches and, of course, play a bit of football.

The manager is happy with what he has seen so far. It’s why he is perhaps the one person in Newcastle that is blissfully calm about what this side can achieve over the next 10 months.

Pardew said: “It’s been a fantastic week. I honestly could not have asked more from the players. The attitude and work we’ve put in means that without question we are stronger than we were this time last year.

“We will continue that through pre-season because we need to be really, really ready to make our mark when the season begins.

“I am more confident than I was a year ago when I felt apprehensive about the Europa League because it was a leap into the unknown, and little did I know that we would suffer injuries as well that compounded our problem.

“But this year, without that distraction, it feels as if there is no mystery to the season. We know what we’ve got in front of us.

“We got Premier League games, a League Cup programme and a FA Cup programme and we can cope with that easily with the squad we have.”

When the session is over, one player in particular looks done in.

Hatem Ben Arfa sinks to his knees, gasping for breath. For someone who can be accused at times of not putting in a full shift during games, he’s not been shirking in Portugal. He’s in good shape. Any extra weight that was on him has been shed and his hamstring has healed. Newcastle’s most exciting player is ready to roll again.

Pardew said: “Hatem looks really good. He is working hard and had no problems at all with the really tough running in regards to his hamstring. The big test has already gone, in my opinion, so it’s just a case now of us making him fit and strong enough to play 90 minutes.

“We are protecting him a little bit. He has had plenty of rest, which we thought was probably the best thing for him. Now it’s just about work. I think he’s done the best you can do in terms of that injury. He’s rested the hamstring over the summer and that was the right thing to do.

“So now there will be a slow, controlled progression to stretch it.

“Hatem is an incredible talent. You need players that have something special that can open the door for you and Hatem has that. He’s really important for us.”

Ben Arfa will start against Pacos de Ferreira tonight in the last game of Newcastle’s seven-day stay in north west Portugal. Pacos de Ferreira finished third in the top league last season, so they will be a good side, even better than Rio Ave, who beat United 3-1 on Saturday.

Pardew would like to win, of course, but it’s the players’ condition that matters, not the result.

He said: “We are going to play a very strong team. Pacos de Ferreira are a Champions League side and we can’t take them lightly. We will still be entering the game in fatigue, so we will take and make a lot of substitutions.

“Collo (Fabricio Coloccini) will play, as will Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye will get another game as well.

“We have worked them really hard over here and especially today (yesterday). But in terms of the international players, they are all ready to show their hand, so to speak.”

There are four further friendly games to go after this evening match before Manchester City on August 19.

A lot can happen between now and then – hey, it’s Newcastle we’re talking about here – but so far things are going well. It’s important to remember that.

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