IT is a long way to go for Newcastle United’s young guns to learn home truths – 1,713 miles to be precise and almost to the tip of Africa.
However, Alan Pardew is adamant the journey into the unknown in Madeira will be a voyage of discovery for those prepped for a major role in the supplementary cups this year.
For a few of those trailed as the future of Newcastle United, these are critical days.
Futures are on the line and Pardew knows his own judgement calls will come into question if they fail to perform at the required level as Newcastle zig-zag around Southern Europe in an effort to navigate a wide-open Europa League group.
It is a perennial problem for young players in the Premier League – managers are fearful of putting them in the firing line because they just can’t be sure they’ll come up to the mark in the biggest games.
Faced with the sizeable task of fighting on four fronts with a squad which remains at the mercy of injuries and suspensions, the Newcastle manager has no other choice but to give those unproven players their opportunity.
To be fair, Pardew has embraced this philosophy whole-heartedly.
He is the man who gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his debut at Southampton and he also promoted youth at West Ham, setting Mark Noble on his way to a senior career at Upton Park.
Now he is prepared to do the same at Newcastle, but it is a policy not without its pitfalls.
The club-chartered aircraft which touched down on Portuguese soil yesterday afternoon included Mehdi Abeid, Romain Amalfitano, Shane Ferguson, Haris Vuckic and Sammy Ameobi – a quintet of players with a major point to prove when they step out against FC Maritimo tonight.
Let’s be honest, Newcastle have arrived at this point as a consequence of their decision not to spend lavishly in the summer.
It is a philosophy which has split opinion but Pardew is unapologetic about United’s approach to Europe – and the way it will affect his season.
He said: “I make no bones about it – this year our priority is the Premier League and getting a Champions League place if we possibly can.
“That’s our goal. Next on our agenda is the FA Cup because we need to win a major trophy here. I put that unashamedly in front of the Europa League and the League Cup.
“However, it is a great opportunity for the Fergusons and the Ameobis who come through the system and are probably the closest to the first team to break through this year and certainly be knocking on the door. The squad’s thin at the minute because of injuries and so they are going to get these opportunities.
“We have Man Utd next week and that will be a game where I should think Fergie and Ameobi will start.”
Pardew’s admission the Europa League is joint third on his list of priorities should not be taken as proof he is disinterested in Newcastle’s progress.
Advice has been sought from Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Tony Pullis on their experience of Europe – but Pardew is determined not to let United fall into the trap of becoming weary from their week-day exertions.
He added: “There’s no one who can tell me about the FA Cup but there are a lot of managers who can pass on a lot of experience about the Europa League.
“I spoke to David Moyes on Monday night about his experiences.
“I’ve spoken to Fergie and Tony Pullis and tried to get as much information as I can about when to travel home, what to do after games, how to prepare for the Premier League game, how many players to play, how strong you have to be, all those questions. I’m going to find out as I go along but so far in the qualifying games we’ve managed to get it right – but we’re taking a step up here from that game.
“They all have their own theories. My theory has been I’ve probably played less first-team players than anyone else in this competition. That will continue.
“I think the record of playing a Europa League game then winning the next Premier League is very, very poor outside of Newcastle and I don’t want that to happen to us.”
That leads Pardew back to his commitment to young players and a more fulsome explanation of why he sees them as potentially more useful than hired hands, expensively imported from abroad.
With a pointed reference to loyalty, Pardew sees the further progress of his Academy graduates as vital to Newcastle.
He said: “I didn’t want to bring in three or four players who could be first-team players because they probably wouldn’t be good enough.
“We’re better off bringing through hopefully the players we think will be good enough. I’d rather side with them than a pro who’s coming here for the finance or we have no loyalty to.
“We have tremendous loyalty to our players who’ve come through the academy.
“We have one or two outside of those as well who we consider our own, like Vuckic. We’re desperate for him to do well too.
“They have loyalty to us too and it bodes well for the future.
“It sets a great example for our under-10s who are entering the academy for the first time that there is a route into the first team. It helps in recruiting players.”
l Pardew is supporting the Budweiser Club Futures programme which will see £1m invested into grassroots football over the next two seasons.
His role as ambassador for this UK-wide initiative will see him encourage clubs to participate and also be part of the judging panel which decides the eight winners in the first season
The programme will give 16 £50k grants to teams across steps five to seven of the English football pyramid split across two seasons. For more visit www.TheFA.com/BudweiserClubFutures