After guiding an overlooked Newcastle United side to an impressive fifth-place last season, Alan Pardew was named manager of the year, an award that is voted for by all 92 managers across the four professional English leagues.
Previously an unpopular choice for the fans who were irked at the dismissal of Chris Hughton, Pardew guided a team over 2011-12 that was hugely economical in front of goal. They had a shots-per-game average similar to that of the relegation-threatened teams, and had the second worst percentage for possession in the opponent’s half, but still maintained a good scoring record.
It was largely down to the shrewd buys of Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba over the summer that Newcastle performed so admirably. Ba started where he left off at West Ham, his pace, work-rate and intelligence were rewarded with 16 goals over the campaign. Cabaye’s vision and energy were a constant threat.
The purchase Papiss Cisse in January improved them further, and his prolificacy was so much that it pushed his compatriot Ba out wide.
Pardew was lucky to already have a decent bunch of midfielders when he arrived in December 2010, too. Jonas Gutierrez is a hugely underrated player, and his trickery on the flanks bamboozles full-backs, making him the most fouled player in the league during the 2011-12 campaign. Chieck Tiote gives much strength to the Magpies, and has fantastic composure on the ball. The wonderfully talented Hatem Ben Arfa returned from injury last term and showed he hadn’t lost any of the tight control and trickery that made him so popular with the Newcastle fans.
After such a great campaign and five games into this Premier League season, Pardew was awarded a huge eight-year contract at the club. It was a fine reward for his efforts and it’s no surprise that Graham Carr, the club’s head scout, was also handed an eight-year deal. It’s almost unheard of for a manager to get a contract of that duration, so Pardew had the scouting team a lot to thank for.
But since Pardew signed that deal in September, Newcastle have won just two league games.
There have been plenty of injuries to contend with. Their biggest loss has been the influencial Cabaye who had to undergo groin surgery at the end of November. Since his last game on Nov. 11, Newcastle have dropped four places and collected only one win: 3-0 against a Wigan side weakened by an early red card and resulting penalty.
The biggest surprise for fans of the Premier League and is that Cisse has cut a perplexed and hesitant figure this season. After 2011-12, Cisse boasted 13 goals in 13 league starts, but in 13 starts this campaign he has scored just twice; producing enough misfired shots to make a Bond villain’s henchman blush.
The in-form Ba showed signs of discontent at the start of the season too, with his agent Alex Gontran suggesting that if he was not played in his favoured position up front or left on the bench they would have to look at “other solutions.”
Senegal failed to qualify for 2013’s Africa Cup of Nations after losing in a two-legged qualification playoff so Newcastle won’t lose Ba and Cisse. Pardew will lose Tiote, however, who plays internationally Ivory Coast, from mid-January until what could be mid-February. That coincides with Cabaye’s predicted return, so Newcastle’s midfield could be very lightweight for about a month.
But the Magpies need points now: they are just two points ahead of the drop. It could be hard over a difficult December where they welcome Manchester City to St James’s Park on Saturday, an improving QPR the week after, before away fixtures at Manchester United and then Arsenal.
Pardew has one of the safest jobs in English football, it just happens to be one of the most testing at the moment too.