Alan Pardew wore the creased frown that you would expect of a man sent out to defend the indefensible.
In a cramped little room at the back of St Mary’s, Newcastle’s manager tried his best not to illustrate alarm at the shambolic display that had just played out.
Faced with the option of throwing his entire squad under the bus and brazening it out, he unsurprisingly chose the latter.
“It was a game where we looked like we had no process to win it,” he said, staring at his shoes.
“We need to know clearly what our process is.”
Quick translation for those who don’t speak manager-ese: we were witless.
Pardew cut a very different figure on Tuesday afternoon in the brilliant July sunshine.
Shirt unbuttoned and with a wide smile arcing across his face, there was no hiding his contentment at Newcastle’s most significant signing since Yohan Cabaye – and with just cause. With Siem de Jong in his starting line-up, Newcastle have finally plugged their brain drain.
Asked to describe de Jong’s biggest asset and everyone who knows him mentions his intelligence fairly high up.
“He is a clever player,” one said. “He’s pretty good technically and has an eye for goal but he has a massive football intelligence. He’s quick-witted.”
When Southampton set about Newcastle in April, United simply didn’t know what to do. They hope that De Jong – a player renowned for his bravery as well as his brains – will.
De Jong’s arrival is six years in the making.
The best scouts in Europe started to take notice of the 19-year-old with two volleyball internationals for parents in 2008, and it is a safe bet that Graham Carr or one of his team were among them.
A couple of years ago, Newcastle started to seriously investigate the possibility of bringing him to St James’ Park.
He was always keen, and his agent Louis Laros is one of those on Newcastle’s rollerdex.
He is a Dutch football fixer: an honest and proper man who was behind the deal that brought Siem’s brother Luuk to St James’ Park in January.
That was the start of the end game with Siem and the beginning of the charm offensive. The idea was that Luuk would hit the groundrunning and make himself a pivotal part of Newcastle’s plans, paving the way for the Ajax captain to come.
The complication arrived when the striker failed to find any kind of form. There were grumbles from some in the boardroom the way he was utilised: almost as a number ten when he is more of a number nine or a striker. It didn’t suit him. He also didn’t look fit. It says a lot for Newcastle’s pastoral care that he reported positively anyway.
Newcastle may yet go back for Luuk but enthusiasm has become a bit lukewarm. Justifying Borussia Monchengladbach’s £8m price tag is tough when he failed to score a goal. He is just one of a number of plates spinning at St James’ Park.
De Jong’s credentials are impressive. He scored 57 goals in 167 games and captained Ajax. He is a Champions League regular and scored twice against Manchester City.
He is a scorer of important goals as well, hitting the winner in a 2011 clash with FC Twente that decided the destiny of the Eredivisie title.
He arrived at St James’ Park with his wife, father and agent. He has craved this chance for more than a year and is an impressive person. “He has a brilliant attitude,” one source said.
He cannot do it on his own, of course. One report on the useful benefoot.com website put forward an illuminating theory: “At Ajax, he had his best years playing alongside Christian Eriksen. If Newcastle can find him a partner in midfield of a similar calibre, Siem de Jong might well be one of the signings of the season,” it read.
Newcastle presumably see Remy Cabella as that man.
The signing of de Jong is also very significant for Pardew. In the second half of the season he was collateral damage of Newcastle’s decision to bide their time until the summer transfer window before moving for the new recruits they desperately required.
Interest collected on that £19m cheque for Yohan Cabaye but Pardew’s stock plummeted. He begins next year in serious deficit and can have few complaints: he was dealt a disastrous hand but conspired to play it badly. Newcastle looked short of a plan and demotivated by the end.
For a proud man like Pardew it must have been difficult but he created those conditions with some ill-advised talk and some poor decisions. At times his position felt untenable before he was handed the most seamless of reprieves.
His counter argument – which was eloquently put by his friend Brendan Rodgers on the final day of the season at Anfield – was that he didn’t have the tools to put in practice the plans that he was imaging all week.
“When he had the players there, he just missed out on the Champions League,” the Liverpool manager said. “So it isn’t Alan Pardew’s fault.”
This is the other face of the sword for Pardew. De Jong is the start of the process of equipping his armoury in time for the new season – there will be no excuses and no mitigation if the plan that he has for Newcastle does not come off.
Ashley, you would imagine, will be less forgiving if Pardew fails having been backed in the transfer market. As we saw with Joe Kinnear, he prizes loyalty but not above everything. At some point, patience snaps.
Pardew will not be thinking that was as he considers the possibilities of de Jong in a Newcastle shirt.
After a damaging and poisonous period, he is about to be bequeathed a third tranche of talented players by Ashley – the task is to emulate 2012 and not 2013, when the French influx was ultimately frittered away. Third time lucky?