ALAN Pardew was joking yesterday with a throwaway remark that suggested Mike Ashley’s orders were for him to win the Premier League this season and to do so with less money than was spent last year.
Or at least you would hope it was a joke.
As the manager himself said, and he will never speak a truer word, nobody should ever try to second-guess what Newcastle United’s next move will be.
But, in a sense, what Pardew said in jest was actually not a million miles from the truth.
Of course, Newcastle won’t win the league, but they are expected to press on and improve on a much smaller budget compared to the teams who finished above them last time, and many of those who United were able to look down upon once the 38-league campaign had finished.
“We are a big club who are expected to do big things. (But) in the financial scenario we are probably eighth or ninth and that is where we should finish, if not above,” said Pardew yesterday as he faced the media for the first time since the final match of last season at Everton.
That in a nutshell is his task for the 2012-13 campaign.
Don’t dare finish below any club with less spending power and at the same time try to beat teams who have millions more to splash around.
The two Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham, last season’s top four, are all willing to pay bigger fees and wages. Let’s face it, champions City could buy just about any player in the world bar the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The only thing stopping them is Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations, although it’s hard to see too many billionaires in Abu Dhabi lying awake worrying about that.
Chelsea have spent £35million on just one player, Eden Hazard, Liverpool may have to sell before they buy big, but new manager Brendan Rodgers is hardly pleading poverty.
Sunderland’s days of throwing silly money around are gone, but Martin O’Neill will work with a similar budget just a few miles away to Newcastle.
David Moyes at Everton has a similar problem to Pardew – big club, big expectations, not so big spending power – although the Scot has to be cannier in terms of bargain hunting.
The message coming out of Newcastle United yesterday via the manager was for the supporters not to expect too much, even after last season.
It seems the message got through some time ago and the Toon Army are more educated than most.
Pardew said: “We had a great season, but our fans are realistic. I have met a lot of people on my travels over the summer, including in the city, and they all were very pleased with last year.
“People keep telling me that the fans’ expectations are going to go through the roof and that they are us to improve or get the same as last year. I do not see that.
“They are realistic enough to know that until we break into the Champions League it is going to be very difficult to compete with the top four or five clubs. Obviously, that is what we are going to try to do, but it is difficult.
“The summer was a nice time to reflect, but for managers it is always about the next thing so I spend all my time thinking about how can I squeeze a little more out of this group, what do I need to take us further than where we were. We were fifth last time and the next jump is considerable. We got past Chelsea and Liverpool, which was a fantastic achievement, but still did not make the top four.”
This isn’t a defeatist attitude from Pardew; rather he is just stating things as they are.
It also doesn’t mean that Newcastle United can’t have a successful season, especially if none of their more cherished players leave and the squad is bolstered with some real quality.
Pardew said: “We are looking at various options of players coming in. The good news is that we have not lost anyone and are doing everything we can to ensure that this team that bedded in so well last year goes forward together.
“I am just pleased that the successful players we have had all came back fit and well and all look strong. They all look like they are ready to go again now, let alone in four weeks’ time.
“If they see one or two come in before then, it will give them a boost. Sometimes with signings, timing is very important – like Papiss Cissé last year. We are keeping an eye on when players should come in.
“There were a few players who enhanced their reputations within the European Championship.
“One of our own, Yohan Cabaye, was one of the stand-out midfielders in the tournament.
“There were one or two who we thought might do well had had a decent championships and one or two who didn’t. We will keep an eye on their progress during pre-season.”
Pardew’s primary concern is keeping what he has and getting even more out of them.
One of those who the manager would like to rely on is Steven Taylor, who seems to be fitter now than he has ever been.
The defender has looked strong in training so far, even if he has a slight problem with a hamstring, and that spells good news for Pardew, who is a big fan of a footballer who has not had his problems to seek over the years.
Pardew said: “Steven trained the whole summer and looks fantastic. He has a slight hamstring (problem), but I am okay about that.
“It is just a question of toning his body and getting a full season out of Steven because we have not had that in last few years and he is aware of that.
“We are trying to protect him to get through the season.”