BREAKING up is hard to do, as Newcastle United fans will testify.
Having endured messy splits from Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll over the past few months it was the bitter parting with Joey Barton some three weeks ago that left sizeable swathes of the Toon Army in heartbroken turmoil.
It wasn’t just the loss of a cult hero that troubled United’s support though, there was also the pressing question of who was left to stoke the fires in the midfield engine room following his big money move to Loftus Road.
Well events of the past few days prove Newcastle are over it and ready to move on stronger than ever. Indeed it is starting to look like the club is much better off for ditching him.
If that sounds strange given Barton’s obvious influence for new club QPR at Molineux over the weekend, consider the tiresome fall-out from his continuing spat with Karl Henry – the midfield enforcer he first tangled with in a Newcastle shirt. A goal for United’s former number seven and a 3-0 win for his new side was completely overshadowed by some crass Tweets posted in the aftermath of the victory.
A feud that was ramped up by Barton’s incendiary appearance on Sky’s Goals On Sunday programme the following day.
To quote Barton’s favourite band The Smiths: “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”.
Now whatever you think of Henry, labelling a fellow professional a “Sunday league player” in public is crossing a line that most footballers wouldn’t dare to breach, not that Barton seemed to care much as he again revelled in the spotlight.
Forty-eight hours of furore was whipped up by a man who then had the temerity to complain, late on Tuesday evening, that everyone was still talking about it. Quite simply Barton had made himself the centre of things again – swiping the headlines from a team performance that was, by all accounts, excellent.
While this hurricane of hypocrisy and hype was raging through Wolverhampton and the White City, Newcastle quietly took the wraps off a new generation of midfielders ready to fill the vacuum left by Barton. And for those in attendance, it was an encouraging exercise.
For while Hatem Ben Arfa’s pleasing return was eye-catching enough to take the headlines, it was the displays of Sylvain Marveaux and debutant Mehdi Abeid that proved there is substance to the cross-channel recruitment drive headed up by Graham Carr and orchestrated in part by Pardew.
Marveaux’s impact at St James’ Park has been a slow burner, the enthusiasm of his arrival partly dimmed by a series of small but frustrating injuries that prevented him from making a bigger impact in pre-season.
But fit and firing he certainly looks to offer more mobility and width than Newcastle had last season. His searing cross for Peter Lovenkrands’ opener on Tuesday was a particular highlight but there was threat every time he ran at the Forest defence.
Eighteen-year-old Abeid did nothing to dampen the excitement surrounding him either. He spoke on Monday morning of an impending choice between playing international football for Algeria and France but if he continues his current rate of progression, surely Les Bleus would be a more appropriate platform for his talent?
Economical with the ball, he rarely misplaced a pass and did not look out of place in a youthful Newcastle midfield that also benefited from some Ben Arfa sorcery.
No one in the Newcastle squad has quite the breadth of tricks and ability that former Marseille man has and if that can be protected enough to allow him a run of games, United have some player on their hands.
Add into the mix Sammy Ameobi, raw and not yet ready for a start but good enough to draw praise from Steve McClaren in the post-match press conference, and there are reasons for guarded optimism.
If events in the East Midlands gave us hope, they were merely confirming advances made at Aston Villa on Saturday – where Yohan Cabaye offered a tantalising glimpse of the class that he can bring to the heart of Newcastle’s play.
A 91% pass completion rate was the headline stat from a performance brimming with attacking promise. His set piece delivery, wrestling from Barton much to the Scousers visible contempt, is getting better too and there is a swagger and confidence about his play that suggests he is beginning to warm to life in the North East.
Given that there was no love lost between the France international and the man who felt he was being usurped, is the fact that the dressing room is a calmer, less confrontational place a factor?
No doubt some former team-mates who enjoyed the company of the high maintenance midfielder would say that wasn’t the case. Barton never left the club short-changed with performances and on his day he was an outstanding footballer nearly as good as he would have us believe.
But a United brushed with Gallic ingenuity have so far shown that they have enough in reserve to cope with the loss of their player of the year, while the club certainly doesn’t miss the messy fall-out when Barton decides to air his uncompromising views.
Newcastle’s French revolution continues apace.