FOOTBALL is filled with strange and unexplained quirks.
One example of these idiosyncrasies is that all too often whenever someone, be it a player or manager, signs a new contract then things immediately start to go really wrong for him.
The star striker is rewarded for his 40-goal season with a big pay rise, and all of a sudden he forgets where the net is.
A manager’s long-term future is secured, just before the team embark on a losing streak that would have many fearing for their job.
It doesn’t always happen this way, of course – it’s just that it’s more memorable when things do go pear-shaped while the ink on a contract has still to dry.
Alan Pardew has done little wrong during his two years as Newcastle United manager. Then he shakes hands on an unprecedented eight-year deal and the team begin losing games – five from the last six in the Premier League with Manchester City due at St James’ Park tomorrow.
So what’s the reason for this? That’s what supporters quite rightly want to know.
There are a number of factors. However, one thing that cannot and should not be levelled at Pardew and his backroom staff, is that they took their feet off the gas the moment Mike Ashley offered them new terms.
But the manager is canny enough to know that is what some people out there will be thinking, blogging and tweeting.
Pardew said: “This is an area fans are getting a bit of a misconception about us. Because of the length of our deals, there is a suggestion we’re not working as hard or something like that – it’s absolutely ridiculous. You actually work harder in these periods. It’s not a question of security or money; it’s about winning.
“We want to win. We are hurting, all of us. What you can’t do is overload the information. The preparation we did for games last year is no different. We’ve kept it very similar.
“Tactically, we’ve changed certain things about preparation, but the way we prepare for the opposition, what is said, and where our mindset is before we go into a game is very similar to last year, when we were winning five or six games on the trot.
“For me, I have to try and not be too over-analytical. I have to try and get the balance right. That’s what you have to do.
“It’s a difficult time. A lot of the players here have only experienced good times at this club.
“This is the first time since relegation that this club has faced a difficult period like this – one or two players are finding that difficult to deal with.”
So what has gone wrong?
Newcastle are 14th in the league, a place and a point ahead of Sunderland, whose manager Martin O’Neill has openly admitted that his team face a relegation fight.
Was it a case that Pardew’s men quite simply surprised everyone last season?
The manager said: “No, I think that’s a little bit unfair, because I think that if you’re a good side, you’re a good side and you find a way. But the injuries and the suspensions and the Europa League; you can’t say that hasn’t had an impact. Any logical football person, even our harshest critic as a fan, would say it’s had an impact.
“It’s knocked some momentum out of us, whereas last year, when you have that momentum, you don’t really have to think very much.
“Are we working as hard as we were? Yes. In fact, you don’t have to work so hard when you have some momentum, because the players are in a good place and you rollover from game to game, tweaking things here and there. When results are bad, you’re working a lot harder. It is a combination of things. There is not one big reason for it. You have to balance some of the criticism.
“Some of it has been fair; some of it has not been fair. I have to sift through that and I do with that the players privately.” After a summer that could hardly be described as busy, Pardew needed his players either to remain at the same top level of performance or for nobody to get injured.
You just might get one, but never both at the same time.
Injuries have hurt last season’s fifth-best team in England, but the form of some of the go-to players has hardly helped, such as Cheick Tioté and Jonás Gutiérrez. Pardew said: “You have to think about what stimulates the player. Cheick’s performance against Fulham was hot and cold; actually, he did a lot of really good things in that game.
“His stats look really good, but he made two or three big errors that almost cost us a goal, which is unusual for him.
“It’s not a major issue. It’s not like he was struggling to get around the pitch or that his percentage of passing was way down. That would be a major concern, but there isn’t a lot to be concerned about with him.
“Jonás, on the other hand, has had a difficult season and I think we’re looking to get a little bit more from him. We want him to be more positive and give us a little more je ne sais quoi in the final third. He is battling for that at this moment in time. He’s a player who has done great for us and I have faith in him. I hope he repays that.”
Pardew’s contract actually brought calm to Newcastle United because continuity is vital for the club to progress.
It is merely a coincidence that results over the past two months have been poor. Pardew said: “That contract, by the way, was probably agreed before Tottenham (first game of season) – the timing of signing it was insignificant in terms of results.
“He (Ashley) wants stability at the club. He has put me under no pressure during this period, other than to ask ‘can I help you any more’. That’s it.
“But there is always going to be external pressure, from fans who want more and the media, because that’s their job.
“I have to look at the bigger picture and take a balanced view. But that doesn’t mean my total focus is not on Manchester City and getting a win, for my fans and for the team.”