THE Europa League is too long-winded, and Alan Pardew’s main focus – besides the imminent closure of the transfer window – is on Sunday’s Premier League game against Aston Villa.
Yet the Newcastle United manager is relishing the return of competitive continental football to St James’ Park.
The trick is balancing priorities, and how best to serve the club.
United take a 1-1 draw into tonight’s fourth qualifying round second leg clash with Greek Super League side Atromitos.
Though the competition – with its Thursday ties – can be a distraction to more lucrative pursuits, Pardew recognises its paradoxical worth in offering him the opportunity to keep a larger, stronger squad, itself a necessity before further league progress is made, happy and fresh.
It is all part of his “best route to grow”, he says, an important staging post in their quiet, un-showy infiltration of the top-flight elite.
Of course, Premier League points – he wants six on the board by the international break – remain a clearer, more tangible means to direct improvement, hence the prioritising of the Villa game. So while Pardew is cannily aware of the need to give the Tyneside public what it wants, concessions to that end will be sparing.
A stronger side, yes. One he thinks can win, unquestionably.
But not full-strength, and that is where the Europa League, a burden to some, can instead nurture those who, in time, Pardew hopes will fortify his ranks into a force to be reckoned with. “I’m just going to put out a side which we think can win,” said Pardew, who believes United’s higher-profile hands opposite number Dusan Bajevic an advantage in this evening’s encounter.
“We’ve got 24 pros here and they’re all going to get used, whether it’s in the Europa League, Premier League, FA Cup or League Cup, and they all have to be good enough because we’re paying them good money to be professionals here.
“We have to get our worth out of them for the club, because it’s the club that comes first and the club want to win tomorrow.
“The likes of Shane Ferguson and Sammy Ameobi, who are both injured unfortunately, and Haris Vuckic, we have been working really hard on them in pre-season saying ‘come on, this is your year’.
“They are going to get games this year and we are going to find out if they are Newcastle United players.
“So this is their moment and I am really looking forward to putting them in the team, that’s what you want. There is nothing worse for a manager than not offering a player a game, trust me.
“There’s nothing worse for me to only pick 11 players when I have 28 or 29 pros to train. I want to play them and I want them to do well. These competitions are therefore good news.” Pardew added: “My main focus is Aston Villa this week, without a shadow of a doubt, because I want six points and Villa are going to strengthen between now and then.
“I feel a bit sorry for the manager (Paul Lambert) there because they’ve lost some senior players, but he’ll have them back on Sunday.
“On the other hand is the European campaign and the experience we’ll gain as manager and players, and we want a piece of that. So it’s a balancing act, and I’ll hopefully get it right.
“I want to be fair to the fans, because firstly we need to progress and secondly I need to make sure we’re at the right levels to win the Aston Villa game. I think that’s a really key game during the season, I really do. I don’t want to put pressure on ourselves, but we’re going into an international break and we’re really desperate for those six points.
“For me, the bonus would be to get through into Europe and to be in that draw on Friday for those games. As players and coaches and managers and as a club it’s a great vehicle for us. But it’s about the season really. It’s not just about the Europa League, it’s about the Premier League and the FA Cup, in particular, because we do want to bring success to the club.
“Anybody who knows me and who knows my management would tell you that I’m desperate to win something. I think I’ve got a team that potentially can do that. Will we win the Premier League? I think that’s probably beyond us, with the size of squads that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have got.
“It makes it very, very difficult for us to bridge that gap unless we get into the Champions League. I still think that’s our best route to grow as a club.
“Having said that, a cup win would certainly raise our fans’ morale and the club’s morale.”