Davide Santon last night made the strong case that Newcastle United can only succeed if they stay together as a tight group – as the Papiss Cisse situation showed little sign of being resolved.
The Newcastle players, including Santon, underwent their first training session in Braga, Portugal, yesterday, but were without the club’s star striker whose problem with wearing the Wonga kit on religious grounds has upset what had been an excellent pre-season.
The club are set to wait a few days until once again attempting to reach a compromise with Cisse and his advisors, and it does seem that it is the player who will have to concede some ground if this is to be sorted out.
Cisse wanted to travel to Portugal and would have featured in one of the two matches, beginning with a game tomorrow evening against Rio Ave in Braga.
Despite the lack of any signings, Pardew is delighted with the first two-and-a-half weeks of training because his squad were free of injury and generally in far better condition than this time last year.
But the Cisse situation has cast a cloud over Newcastle’s preparations.
Newcastle fans are split between those who admire his and support his stance, while there are others who believe this is simply Cisse trying to win a move away from St James’ Park.
One thing they all agree on is that this situation cannot be allowed to go on for much longer.
Italian defender Santon, now fully fit himself after picking up an ankle injury last season, spoke about the need of everyone pulling together in the right direction, something made more difficult if the team’s main goalscorer is training on his own back home when his team-mates are in Portugal until next Wednesday.
Santon said: “Portugal will be important for us because you need to have a week away just as a team to make us one group. You can’t have a French group, Italians and English. To be a good team we have to be compact and all together. Portugal will be really good for everybody to try to achieve that.”
Pardew and his players have little alternative but to simply get on with training at their Braga base and not allow Cisse’s absence to distract them.
Rio Ave, who finished sixth in Primeira Liga last season, are the opponents tomorrow, then it’s the side who finished third in Portugal and earned a Champions League spot, Pacos de Ferreira, on Tuesday night.
Santon said: “I think the games in pre-season are really important because if you can’t do it in training (and practice matches) you won’t be able to do it in a game when we start the Premier League.
“I don’t know when I will play because I’m just coming back from injury. There’s five weeks before the Premier League starts and it’s all about concentrating and getting yourself ready for that.
“But if I’m in the squad I’m ready. If the manager decides he wants me to do a little bit more training first, I’m happy because I know I have to improve.”
First choice goalkeeper Tim Krul has resumed training, a welcome boost for Pardew. The Dutchman dislocated his shoulder in the derby game at St James’ Park in April, which ended his season.