Suddenly, Alan Pardew’s future is back on the top of the agenda after the furious reaction of Newcastle fans at Arsenal.
Five key factors will be taken into account at the key end-of-season summit before a decision is made. Pardew needs ticks in at least three to give him a mandate to continue.
IS HE REALLY MAKING THE MOST OF THE RESOURCES?
A common strand of Alan Pardew’s post-match briefing on Monday was that United were on course to hit a top ten target that was set for the club by Mike Ashley at the start of the season. Ticking that box will put him in a more commanding position and also protect his reputation. Sky analyst Gary Neville said that ninth was on par for what Pardew has at his disposal.
But there is an alternative theory here and it runs like this: Ashley, who had taken a hands-off role at the club until the last month, underestimated the squad his manager has been bequeathed.
On Monday he fielded six full internationals. Among them are players being monitored by those with Champions League commitments to fulfil, the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Loic Remy and Tim Krul. This is not a squad of Championship standard wastrels that Pardew is working with.
A charge by Hatem Ben Arfa in the dressing room fall-out that followed the Manchester United defeat was that Sylvain Marveaux and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s careers had been suffocated by working with Pardew. That will cut deep. Why are they playing so listlessly? Why have they been set up so conservatively? What are the reasons for the decline of good players like Fabricio Coloccini, Krul and Moussa Sissoko?
Perhaps the most important question for Ashley will be whether many of these players recruited in good value deals have appreciated in value over the past 12 months. Good money has been invested in the likes of Gael Bigirimana, Davide Santon and Massadio Haidara but their value has decreased. Overall there haven’t been many improvers, which must be troubling.
THE POPULAR VOTE
It takes a lot for a crowd to turn. Disenchantment and discontent can fester on the touchlines for a long time but transferring it into vocal displeasure does not come easily to most football fans.
In a compact away support of a few thousand hardcore it happens a bit quicker but Pardew has major problems if the St James’ Park crowd begin to turn. Contrary to what has been suggested they aren’t led by anyone with agendas and the general tendency is to support and show loyalty. Which is why it is so important for Pardew that they do not make life difficult for him and, by extension, his team. Saturday suddenly has the look of a referendum on Pardew, which is why he sought to speak directly to them on Monday. Even if the recruitment drive he predicts happens and soothes some of the concerns, it will mean starting next season on the back foot.
THE BATTLE FOR UNITED’S SOUL – TO GO BRITISH OR NOT?
Behind the scenes, Pardew has long petitioned for the club to resurrect its domestic scouting drive. He wants British players and it isn’t difficult to trace the reports linking United with Jonjo Shelvey back to a manager who had him at Charlton.
Pardew, understandably, wants players that he knows. He wanted Darren Bent, Colin Kazim-Richards and Adam Lallana. Among the recruits this summer he wants at least a couple of characters he can relate to and talent of the sort that he has worked with most of his life. This would be a major change in direction for United, who have been led by Graham Carr’s trusty picks. He is renowned as one of the world’s best operators in the transfer market and seems to firmly believe that with the budget handed down by Ashley and his innate belief of what constitutes a player that Newcastle fans will buy into, the foreign market represents the best bet.
Does Ashley really risk sidelining or frustrating one of his key employees?
HATEM BEN ARFA
With each game that he sits stewing on the sidelines, Ben Arfa becomes more of a cause célèbre. This is unfair on Pardew because he is not the only one who has become disillusioned by Ben Arfa’s attitude and application.
As one insider pointed out to me, if Ben Arfa was so desperate to be a success at Newcastle, why did he not sign the contract offered to him last summer? He was also cracking jokes after Southampton – hardly the actions of someone cut up by such a desperate display.
But he is also Newcastle’s most creative player. Was Pardew overly suspicious? Would another manager have got more out of him? His fall from grace has been alarming.
To put it bluntly, can Ashley really be bothered with the process of firing and hiring?
He would secure a replacement, of course – Newcastle remains a huge job for someone – but he has had his fingers burned employing outsiders before. The biggest asset he looks for in employees is trust. He wants people to get on with their jobs with what they are given.
Would David Moyes or Frank de Boer – who mentioned Newcastle yesterday – operate under those restrictions?