2011/12 Campaign (5th in Premier League)
Last season was a dream for Newcastle fans and finishing fifth, despite gunning for fourth – though Alan Pardew would never have admitted it, was perhaps the kindest of finishes the Toon Army could have hoped for. Had they finished fourth, qualifying for the Champions League, their then unfortunate missing out of a Champions League place due to Chelsea winning last season’s edition would’ve been far more collectively upsetting than Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham missing out. Spurs had qualified for the tournament for the 2010/11 season – their first participation – and reached the quarter-finals before being knocked out by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
Instead, Europa League qualification for the 2012/13 season was a just reward for a valiant campaign, rather than a consolation for your rightful prize being snatched from you in the same vein that John Terry snatched the trophy from it’s rightful winners as soon as he could. Alan Pardew, who was doubted by many when he took the post as Newcastle manager in 2010, secured The Magpies their highest finish in nearly ten years in his first full season in charge. The last time Newcastle finished as high, it may have been a disappointment as it was their lowest finish in three years; Alan Shearer was the top English scorer in the Premier League and only behind Thierry Henry in the Golden Boot and Sir Bobby Robson was their manager. Pardew even managed to better Robson’s point tally by 9.
Ultimately, much of their success can be attributed to what MayCauseOffence.com pointed out in January: “With Graham Carr seemingly possessing a delicate palette for the succulent footballing market of France, Alan Pardew providing the tactical nous to far exceed Newcastle’s expectations to the point that they’re just as close to 3rd place Arsenal as they are 6th place Liverpool – eight points, and their Francophone squad delivering on the pitch week-in-week-out, be it Tiote or Cabaye, or Ben Arfa or Ba, Newcastle are poised for a strong finish to Alan Pardew’s first full season.” That was Newcastle’s strong point – consistency. What had brought them success up until January, continued to flourish until May – with the astute addition of Papiss Cisse.
Alan Pardew was rightly named the Manager of the Year.
Alan Pardew’s preparations for the new season have been fairly quiet – especially in the transfer market. Having secured the free transfer of French midfielder Romain Amalfitano from Reims early on, who last season were plying their trade in France’s Ligue 2, securing promotion to Ligue 1 in second place, Pardew has spent little over £1m. Joining Amalfitano, who is the younger brother of Marseille’s midfielder Morgan and yet another Francophone signing under Pardew, and more importantly the club’s chief scout Graham Carr, is Gael Bigirimana from Coventry and Curtis Good from the A-League’s Melbourne Heart.
Bigirimana cost Newcastle just over £1m and joins as the Apprentice of the Year, an accolade given at the Football League awards in March. “Bigi,” as he was fondly referred to at Coventry, was one of the Sky Blues’ only glimmers of sunshine in an otherwise clouded season, described by the SkyBluesBlog as “a dynamic 17 year old lad from Burundi pulling the strings in [Coventry's] first-team.” Now 18, Bigi will taste the Premier League just a year after signing his first professional contract at Coventry, where fans grew attached to a “cult-like” figure who caught the bus to training and had turned up at the training ground asking for a trial aged just 12.
Although similar to Cheick Tiote in style, Bigi is a rather antonymous nickname. The midfielder is short and technical in the absence of height and brute strength. Nonetheless, if Bigi is to mould into the player his potential holds his tackling will have to become more disciplined.
Continuing the pattern of the summer, Newcastle’s third signing Curtis Good is also a promising young player plucked from the lower echelons of the football leagues for a nominal fee. Good, a 6’1 centre-back, has just 25 professional appearances to his name, all in the A-League. The 19-year old has been handed a 6-year contract and thus, whilst he may not hold the immediate answer to the problem of a lack of strength in depth in Newcastle’s defence, it suggests there is talent there to protect – something Newcastle have done a good job of over the summer in regards to Danny Simpson and Demba Ba, who both look likely to start the new season in Black and White.
A fifth place finish is what a city like Newcastle deserves from their football club. Or at least expects. It has come when their big-money transfers on the wrong players has ceased. For years their transfer dealings were laughable. Now they’re shrewd and on-par with the Arsene Wenger of old. It’s a large provincial club, the face of it’s city, with armies of fans that grew only larger during the 90s. For too long, though, it was a club that was run by alleged legends and legends, when really a subjective methodological approach was needed. Now they have it, they must continue to harvest it. The connotations held when a Cockney took the helm in the shape of Pardew and how they feel for him now is a ringing endorsement to the footballing cliche: “its the results that matter.”
However, to secure another finish befitting of the city, Newcastle must continue to reap the fruits of consistency. The answer is found in the maths. Pardew was extremely consistent in delivering results. They finished 5th in the table: 6th in the home table and 5th in the away table. Their end of season form was entirely representative of this furthermore: their last six home games saw them as the fifth best side in the form tables, as did their last six away games. One undying, almost inherent Newcastle trait that seemingly outlives any manager’s tenure, however, was their love of goals – at both ends: over half of Newcastle’s games ended with 3 or more goals being scored. It’s what the fans want.
Yet, it will be hard to replicate. For Newcastle to have finished 5th last season they needed both Liverpool and Chelsea to have had a bad season. With Tottenham almost now an ever-present in and around the top four and Chelsea having had the summer to spend over £60m on reinforcements, finishing as high will prove hard. With a European schedule to tussle with too Alan Pardew will do well to achieve a back-to-back Europa League spot. A prediction of seventh place, nestling just outside of the Champions League with the teams from Merseyside should see realistic Magpies happy.