Newcastle United: Improvement Expected Again...

Last year's tenth-placed finish was probably about as much as could have been expected on the budget - but now there are new players and more is expected...

Last Updated: 11/08/14 at 09:16 Post Comment

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Emmanuel Riviere (C) of Newcastle celebr

Emmanuel Riviere (C) of Newcastle celebr

LAST SEASON
Premier League
10th, 49pts, -16 GD FA Cup Third round League Cup Fourth round Top league scorer Loic Remy 14 Bookings 54 (15th=) with six red cards

Manager Alan Pardew (since December 2010; age 53) Odds on being first out of his job 12-1 (4th=) from 6-1 (3rd=)

Players in Remy Cabella (Montpellier, £12m), Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco, £6.3m), Siem de Jong (Ajax, £6m), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord, £5m), Ayoze Perez (Tenerife, £1.5m), Jack Colback (Sunderland, free), Facundo Ferreyra (Shakhtar Donetsk, loan).

Players out Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal, £12m), James Tavernier (Wigan, undisc), Dan Gosling (AFC Bournemouth, free), Jonathan Mitchell (Derby, free), Conor Newton (Rotherham, free), Romain Amalfitano (Dijon, free), Sylvain Marveaux (Guingamp, loan), Shola Ameobi, Steven Logan, Brandon Miele, Jonathan Mitchell, Michael Richardson (all released).

Club turnover in 2012-13 £96m, 7th

Wage bill in 2012-13 £62m, 11th

Mediawatch was all over Alan Pardew when he completed the signing of Remy Cabella. The Newcastle manager said: "I'd like to pay tribute to my staff, in particular Graham, myself, Lee and Mike and everyone on the board who worked really hard for this one because he's a player we think is important." Thanking yourself is a big show of ego even for a football manager. And yet...

First, with Siem de Jong, Ayoze Perez and Jack Colback already in the bag, Emmanuel Riviere and Darryl Janmaat followed Cabella swiftly, so while Pardew was blowing his own trumpet it was one of a set of new, very shiny trumpets he was in the process of acquiring. Second, there is the sharp contrast with the past two transfer windows, when Newcastle's market operations were in the hands of Joe Kinnear, foisted on Pardew by Mike Ashley after some unwise remarks at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.

Kinnear's failure was almost heroic, with not a single permanent addition to the first-team squad, and he was out the door in February after his sole piece of January business was selling Yohan Cabaye for less than Ashley expected. The manager and his team have even had time to plan for the future, with Jamaal Lascelles, 20, and Karl Darlow, 23, bought from Nottingham Forest and loaned straight back to them.

Pardew's self-congratulation over Cabella was surely aimed more than a little at the erstwhile director of football, and he may even have been trying to make a point to the owner. A little petulance is the norm for Alan - and at least he didn't headbutt Kinnear.

Usually the odds quoted for a manager being first out of his job used in these previews are picked at a single moment, for ease and consistency, and Pardew was 6-1 joint third favourite at that moment this year. However, the impact of his work this summer has seen those odds double to 12-1 in the past few weeks. Last season was awful at times - a goal difference of -16 is grim despite a rise of six places, there were early exits from both domestic cups - but in terms of league placing 10th may be just about par performance. In 2012-13, at least, Pardew was operating with the 11th biggest wages budget. Still, had Kinnear not been in charge of transfers, and had Yohan Cabaye not been sold to Paris Saint-Germain in January, then last season would surely have cost Pardew - 2-1 favourite for the axe 12 months ago - his job. Instead Kinnear took the rap and Pardew even survived the incident at Hull.

But...a summer of extensive recruiting does just raise expectations, even for a club whose top scorer (Kinnear loanee Loic Remy) is set to be elsewhere and who have lost Mathieu Debuchy to Arsenal.

Every club bar Manchester City are haunted by their past to some extent, even Manchester United all of a sudden unless Louis van Gaal quickly restores glories. Liverpool obviously are and for all the optimism at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho knows it will be harder to be successful this time around. But Newcastle's haunting is more mournful than most, because it is not a hankering back to a trophy-winning era.

Kevin Keegan's 1996 title near-miss is now almost a generation ago but given you have to be maybe 55 to have a decent memory of Newcastle's 1969 Fairs Cup win it remains the touchstone for the huge swathe of fans born between the early 60s and late 80s. But Pardew also made the mistake of overachieving in 2011-12 with fifth place, after challenging for what would have been a hugely surprising Champions League play-off slot. That season earned him his absurd eight-year contract extension, albeit that it carries a break clause, and plenty of fawning over his Francophone cleansing of the Joey Barton era - including a little here. Though in previewing the 2012-13 campaign I did write: 'Last season's success has raised expectations and the difficulty for Pardew now is of managing them and matching them...it is reasonable to expect a dip of some sort.'

That dip was worse than I thought possible, to 16th, and last season was hardly a convincing recovery. Yes, there are grounds for optimism but Pardew will know how swiftly the situation can turn around.

Indeed Newcastle start at home to the champions, Manchester City, so the first day will be a difficult one. After that, though, Pardew will surely hope to make some hay, with a trip to Villa and the visit of Palace in August, followed by games at Swansea and Stoke sandwiching the home match with Hull.

Sadly, there is only one place to end a preview of Newcastle's season. Amid the summer's good news came shocking tragedy, with the deaths of fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney, along with hundreds of others murdered on flight MH17. As we have seen already, with Millwall supporters pouring vitriol on Leeds over Jimmy Savile to the consternation of Ian Holloway, there are few depths to which the game's grubbiest adherents will not stoop. Let us hope that there is at least one.

Philip Cornwall

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