Newcastle were without doubt the shock performers of last season. After some sterling performances against the supposed big guns of the English Premiership – Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Newcastle finished last season in 5th place, their best finish since the Bobby Robson era. The style in which they did so was also a shock with some breathtaking football that could be admired by both sets of fans. January signing, Senegalese striker Pappis Demba Cisse provided the goals, including a candidate for goal of the season against Chelsea, beautifully crafted shot with the outside of his boot that dipped and swerved past the experienced Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal. The midfield was marshalled by Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye whilst Hatem Ben Arfa ran riot on the wings with his mesmerizing runs. Even Demba Ba, who started the season off well but faded towards the end, contributed to a share of the points. Pardew for his part gained recognition from the board who gave him and his staff bumper eight year deals keeping them at the club till 2020 in an effort to maintain consistency. As the season ended, an air of optimism had returned to St James Park for the first time in a long time as the fans looked forward to the next season and to european football again.
Under owner Mike Ashley, Newcastle are adopting a new approach, one that eradicated the past and the former days of multi million dollar transfers and exorbitant wages. It is a policy of investing in the future – in talented youngsters and promising internationalist like Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Tiote. This summer saw some activity from Pardew as he looked to strengthen his squad, bring in youth players like Australian centre back Curtis Good, central midfielder Gaël Bigirimana from Coventry and French midfielder Romain Amalfitano. The only real purchase was that of Vurnon Anita, a skillful holding midfielder bought from Ajax for an undisclosed fee. There were rumours of a return to the north for Andy Carroll, who had been sold to Liverpool only the season before for a whopping £35 million. The Newcastle born striker was a success in his home town but has struggled at Anfield as the replacement for Fernando Torres so was linked to a return before he eventually joined West Ham on loan for the season. But Pardew was in high spirits as he looked at his squad ahead of the new season, somewhat foolishly perhaps.
Newcastle’s start to this season has not been as expected. Whilst they have qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa league, Newcastle are lying in 14th place in the English Premiership, a third of the way into the season with things not looking good for Pardew and his men. Ravished by injuries and suspensions to key players like Cabaye and Ben Arfa and lacking the goal scoring touch that they showed last year, Pardew is looking towards the January transfer window to solve his problems. The squad is wafer thin and the new summer signing, with the exception fo Anita have hardly featured due to their inexperience. Good has been loaned out, Bigirimana has appeared mostly from the bench or in lesser games in the Europa league group stages whilst Amalfitano has appeared less only starting once in Europe and coming from the bench more times than not. But it is up front that Newcastle really have struggled. Cissie is no longer an unknown in the league and is being closed down quicker by opposition defenders than last year. The Ameobi brothers, Shola and Sammy have started a fair share of games but only contributed 2 goals between them whilst youngsters Campbell and makeshift striker Haris Vuckic are still raw talent that has not quite been able to step up. With Nile Ranger a liability and often making the press for off field antics rather than on field, the reliance lies solely at the feet of Demba Ba.
Ba, a free signing from West Ham, rocked the league last season with his games to goals ratio, shooting up the goalscoring charts in the first half of the campaign. The arrival of fellow Senegalese striker Cisse was meant to assist Ba in the goalscoring stakes but it had a negative effect, with Ba pushed out wide left in an effort to accommodate the new striker. Cisse to his credit wasted no time in announcing himself as the next Newcastle No.9, scoring 15 goals in quick succession after his arrival. Ba, clearly no longer the central figure looked content but rumour surrounded the club of Ba’s intend to activate a clause in his contract that would allow clubs to bid for him for only £7million. Newcastle, keen not to lose the player opened contract negotiations which went on through the summer, passing a deadline attached to the release. Ashley and the rest of the management team took a collective sigh of relief as they thought that the worse had past them but they were wrong. Ba continues to look for a better agreement, asking for his salary to be in line with the clubs highest paid players at £90k per week. Currently sitting at £40k and with strict policies to protect their bottom line, Ashey offered Ba an additional £10k a week but this was not accepted by the player and his agent. Added into this an apparent rift has started between Ba and Cisse over the way that they play, with Ba being accused of being too greedy with the ball, shooting instead of passig to Cisse when the opportunity presents itself. Ba is toon’s top goalscorer at the moment with 8 but Cisse sits on only 2 goals, some suggesting this greed is the reason for that.
Either way Pardew will need to resolve the issue sooner rather than later as Newcastle slumped to their 4th defeat in a row and look to stop the rot against Wigan tonight. Pardew knows he may have to sell Ba in January with Liverpool again interested in taking one of Newcastle’s prize assets. But regardless of the Ba resolution, Pardew will need to spend in January, if not in the millions, at least wisely, and bring in some valuable cover for his fragile squad. The priority is a creative player to cover for Ben Arfa as he recovers from injury. In addition another couple of striking options. If Ba is to leave, they need to secure a quick striker who can play off of Cisse and give him the space he needs to score again. The team needs cover in midfield as well as they face another transfer window of speculation around Tiote and Cabaye. Both players are rated highly across Europe and could fetch large sums but are both vital to the success of Newcastle this season. If he is to cash in on one or both players, equally capable players need to be brought in as a quick fix. In addition, speculation has already started around right back Danny Simpson who is apparently interesting Roma in Italy. The player has been in good form but whilst a move to Italy looks unlikely, Newcastle maintain watch on French defender Mathieu Debuchy as a potential replacement.
Whilst credit needs to be given to the approach at Newcastle in investing and building for the future, the team still needs to playing the now so investment in first team players is needed. Last summers lack of activity has highlighted weaknesses in the team and lack of depth to the squad that needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat of 2009 when Newcastle were relegated to the Championship after a dismal season in front of goal. The Ba/Cisse issue is top priority for Pardew to resolve as he needs to keep both men happy and at the club. If he can manage this and plays a more traditional two upfront with Ba alongside Cisse instead of pushed to the flank, then Newcastle have the potential to scare most teams in the league. If the two players can click again and start playing together, it will only be a matter of tim before the goals come rolling in and Newcastle march back up the table.