With Newcastle United currently sitting in fifth in the Premier League, equal on points with Tottenham above them, and two clear of Chelsea below, despite the generally held pre-season expectation that the team would struggle having shed the likes of Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, people are beginning to turn more attention to Alan Pardew’s men in the North East. And why not? Newcastle have made a mockery of those expectations, making pundits and fans eat their words in turn, and finding success not only on the pitch, but also on the books with finances looking impressively healthy.
Success invariably courts envy, and while other clubs may look to acquiring Newcastle’s on-field talents as a solution to stealing some of that success, they would do better to replicate the model for growth that the backroom and management teams – including much-maligned owner Mike Ashley and openly hated Managing Director Derek LLambias – brought in to the club following the disaster of relegation at the end of the 2008/09 season.
Because no matter how many rival fans insist Newcastle are trading on luck and the unfair advantage of a few shining star players, they are merely reaping the benefits of a new way of thinking.
1. Invest in the Scouting Network
One of the single most important influences on Newcastle’s successes in the past two seasons, and especially in the last twelve months has been Graham Carr – father of Alan, and former footballer – who, as head of Newcastle’s scouting network, has achieved miracles under what has been called ridiculously tight constraints. His work to identify and bring in players like Cabaye, Tiote, Ba, Cisse and young talent Mehdi Abeid (watch this space) has been amazingly successful, especially considering the cumulative outlay required to confirm them as Newcastle players, and there is no doubt that the team might not be anywhere near their current league position without him.
2. Be Frugal
Spending masses of money on over-priced stars based on past successes is not the future, no matter how much Man City insist it might be, with even oligarch-backed Chelsea looking at more sensible measures for player recruitment going forward. The joke, of course, was that Newcastle had the only billionaire owner who was unwilling to put his hand in his pocket, but with the books almost balanced, and the club now almost breaking even (bar the interest free owner loan Ashley sanctioned), Ashley’s approach to running his club now looks even more logical.
That frugal approach has had its detractors, with fans, and the sensationalist media grasping with two hands onto the saleability factor, and the fact that every player has a price that makes their continued association with the club the least favourable option. But Ashley has perhaps been misunderstood when it comes to player sales – while he categorically states (through mouth piece Llambias) that no player sales will be ruled out, he is also a self-confessed “difficult seller”, and is not in the market to simply sell for a profit to the detriment of the team and the club. That does mean that big offers can prise star players away from Newcastle, but fans will do well to consider the feelings of dissatisfaction when Carroll, Nolan and Barton left, and what those players have done since leaving, as well as what has come in to replace them. And make no mistake, this Newcastle team is not the finished article, with more players incoming this summer (and some departing no doubt).
3. Take Risks
Demba Ba. Hatem Ben Arfa. Sylvain Marveaux. All three have had massive injuries, which could have resulted in major costs to their careers, and yet the first two have shone this season, and the third showed considerable promise before another injury curtailed his own season. All three were bought despite their injuries – in the case of Ben Arfa (as well, in fact as Dan Gosling) while he was still recuperating – and probably against conventionally sound medical advice. It just goes to show, you should never write any player off regardless of injury, or the muddled opinions of medical “experts”.
4. Never Rest on Your Laurels
Heading into the January transfer window, to a man Newcastle’s fans could have been forgiven for hoping for nothing but the retention of certain star players – based on Mike Ashley’s apparent policy for selling stars at a profit – as well, perhaps as a centre-half to cover the season-ending injury to Steven Taylor. But, the management team had other ideas, seeing Demba Ba’s impressive goals tally as merely a starting point, and pushing forward with their intention to bring in another striker to compliment Ba, and ease his goal-scoring burden. And even more impressively, in the acquisition of Demba Cisse for £8m (and not the £10m that is roundly suggested by other news outlets), Newcastle managed to find a striker so good that he has taken the lime-light away from his compatriot, and quickly out-done his goal-scoring feats with 10 goals in his first 9 games.
That simple policy of bringing in better players, when available and for the right price, is what under-pins the entire transfer policy at the club, with the summer move for Yohan Cabaye to replace Kevin Nolan making a mockery of those who suggested that the team would falter badly without their free-scoring attacking midfielder this time out. And provided any move into the transfer market is progressive (no matter how criticised – like the acceptance of £35m for Andy Carroll) and to the benefit of the club, it should be welcomed.
5. Plan Meticulously & Adapt
A phenomenal amount of work goes in away from the pitch at Newcastle’s training complex to assess and analyse match performances – as with almost every top flight club these days – but what makes Alan Pardew’s team stand out (especially recently) is the team’s ability to adapt to opponent’s based on their own specific strengths and weaknesses. The recent away match at Swansea was a case in point, with Pardew’s men happy to sit back and invite Swansea to pass the ball around harmlessly, while looking for opportunities to counter, and leave their opponents up the pitch helpless. That approach was in stark contrast to the performances against Manchester United at home, where Pardew saw the opportunity to play two strong centre-forwards to pressurise Man Utd’s wobbly central defense, and West Brom, where Newcastle turned the tide on the counter-attacking experts to stunning effect.
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