All along the corridors at Newcastle United’s Little Benton training ground there are printed sheets detailing the statistical strengths and weaknesses of Manchester City – laminated and tacked to the walls to remind the players the start of the Premier League season is imminent.
Whatever else has happened during this tumultuous summer, in 14 days there will be a new beginning for the Magpies. It will be a fresh start for Alan Pardew too, the manager having both benefited and been hampered by the appointment of Joe Kinnear as the club’s “director of football”.
For while the arrival of Hurricane Joe might have wreaked havoc in the early part of the summer, it also took the edge off the criticism aimed at the manager for the previous season’s problems. Kinnear and Mike Ashley drew the poison while Pardew, a year into an eight-year deal, rediscovered fresh impetus.
It feels like that when you speak to him. Urgency and focus has been rediscovered. Addressing Jonas Gutierrez’s potentially damaging revelation that training last season was “too easy”, he agrees – and says that without European football there are now “no excuses” for not casting off the shackles that laboured United wore for most of 2012/13.
Yet as much as this is the dawning of a new era for Pardew, there are old issues to address first. Those who remember the ugly spectacle of a bruised United limping towards safety will not be pacified by the idea that a line has been drawn under the old campaign. Understandably, they want to know that lessons have been learned and admissions of culpability have been made. They want to see that Pardew is prepared to change.
“You’ve got to be open and honest about it as a staff,” he says.
“My staff – my immediate staff and myself as manager – need to be honest about it, mistakes were made. You need to be honest enough to admit them and look at when and why they were made.
“We didn’t purchase enough players in the summer to carry us through two programmes. We took injuries on board when those two competitions were running parallel and that impacted on us massively when we were moving towards Christmas and then we got ourselves into a bad situation.
“I also think that the Thursday-Sunday scenario took away from a lot of the good work we were doing on the training ground because we didn’t have enough time to recover.
“I think you see Jonas Gutierrez’s point about training last year was probably a bit too easy – well a lot of that was down to recovery. It was difficult to get in the amount of work we were doing the year before.”
To that end, there has been the recruitment of Faye Downey as a fitness consultant. Players, apparently, are very impressed with the work she has done in the pre-season campaign while Pardew hopes it will halt the spread of hamstring injuries through his squad.
There is a sense of lessons learned, although Newcastle’s familiar struggles in the transfer market – they remain, in spite of Kinnear’s bravado, the only team yet to recruit – might suggest otherwise.
Pardew chooses his words quite carefully, treading the line between boosting the confidence of the existing group while also admitting that he wants to add. They need a striker but a team has been selected for the trip to City that would be made up of current squad members. It might even include rookie left-back Paul Dummett – “the story of the summer”, according to Pardew.
Half-way through addressing the failures of last year, he breaks off. “There’s no excuses this year,” he says.
One of the criticisms levelled at Pardew last season followed United confirming their safety in the Premier League at Loftus Road when, perhaps relieved that a campaign veering towards catastrophe had been saved, he made a crack about being happy the team wasn’t in Europe this year.
It was definitely a joke – I was there – but it was taken to be symptomatic of a lack of ambition. So it should come as a reassurance that United have already talked about what would happen if they got back into the Europa League next season.
He said: “If we had a bigger group last year maybe we would have had a bit more intensity in the group that were training – maybe 10 (training) rather than four.
“Whenever we get back to Europe again that is something we need to make sure happens but as it stands we don’t have that problem. I think we’ve got a good team – I like to think we will bring someone in – but nevertheless we have a lot of very good players.”