What a time it is to be devoid of an opinion on Newcastle United! While press, tv and social media is awash with it, of both the well-considered and hysterical kinds, to be without is to be becalmed on Twitter’s salt uncaring sea. Who’ll pay attention unless you insist Alan Pardew is Newcastle’s worst ever manager? If you can specify the only acceptable team formation you are well on the way to finding some fellow travellers if not an audience. So if you can’t tell your Askew from your Emre and are looking for an easily digestible possibly unfounded heads-up, you’ve come to the right place because like the Ancient Mariner, I’m compelled to tell my tale of woe.
Starting from the top, though some men buy motorcycles in their forties, Mike Ashley chose to buy a football club. It was as if, in a twist on the premise of classic Roy of the Rovers strip ‘Millionaire Villa’, instead of buying a club to play in the first team like the story’s protagonist David Bradley, he bought one to become a member of the away support. His bid for love, to join the gang and have a bit of fun, was short-lived. Soured by crackpot decisions, his relationship with supporters is now one of mutual distrust, unable to escape each other and pulling in opposite directions like two convicts shackled together and on the run.
Alan Pardew is a charlatan. Like the Wizard of Oz, the paucity of his talents as a football manager are only concealed by the thin curtain of his many and increasingly implausible excuses. Booming out self-aggrandisement is no longer fogging people’s view of the increasing impotence of his actions. By his own admission unable to motivate his team, he is also evidently unable to find a system of play which suits his personnel, every selection seeing 3 or 4 playing out of position. An inability to either attack or defend has resulted, showing itself in a long series of heavy defeats without reply. Since the turn of the year his record is comparable to that at Norwich City of the man he replaced at Newcastle, Chris Hughton, who has already been sacked by the Canaries for that lack of achievement. Can’t compete, won’t compete.
Club captain Fabricio Coloccini is the Tin Man. Unable to love, but in Colo’s case it’s not through lacking a heart. Newcastle United is not the object of his affection and without a move back to San Lorenzo he can’t. Combine that with a loss of form almost to 08/09 levels and there doesn’t seem much point in forcing him to stay.
I have no information on whether he likes to wear red heels and a gingham dress in his spare time but nevertheless Yohan Cabaye is Dorothy. “There’s no place like home” is the mantra of the girl from Kansas, and so it proved for Wor Yohan. Best mucker Mathieu Debuchy will be trotting along in his wake soon, which I suppose makes him Toto.
I’ll finish off this increasingly tortured Yellow Brick road scenario by comparing Moussa Sissoko to the Cowardly Lion and Stephen Taylor to the Scarecrow. The Frenchman has the physique and athleticism to dominate opponents but backs away from using his advantages. Whether it’s a crisis of inner belief, some other character flaw or just unwillingness to engage in the rough stuff I have no idea but allied to his atrocious touch it makes him into a dead loss when he’s under pressure. Like the straw bird scarer of the tale Taylor lacks wisdom, in both his general play and his ridiculous on-pitch bravado and theatricals. That manifests itself in trying to scare Sergio Aguero by flapping his arms instead of trying to get closer to him milliseconds before he lashes it into the net, just as much as the fist pumping, dancing in front of goalkeepers and risible diving.
Hatem Ben Arfa is the Prince Across the Water for Newcastle fans, like Bonnie Prince Charlie the great hope, the saviour waiting in the wings for supporters of his cause. Also like Charles Stuart unfortunately, the legitimacy of his claim is undone by his spoiled nature, tactical inadequacy and inability to maintain a working relationship with those he needs to help achieve his goals. For all his undoubted talent, I’m unaware of any club HBA has played for which he hasn’t ended up falling out with before heading for pastures new. His failure to maintain basic levels of fitness when he’s been out of the team is unforgivable for someone paid to be athletic. Maybe a new broom can inspire him again. Maybe we’ll find out sooner rather than later.
Lee Charnley’s story reminds me of Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He turned up for a day’s tour around the factory and was running the place by the time he went home. In Charnley’s case it took longer than a few hours, but he did join in a relatively lowly position and end up in the top job in no small part because he’s last man standing in an organisation which has been steadily shedding staff for some years now. Short of making one of the Oompa Loompas MD, Mike Ashley was running out of options. Come to think of it, maybe they’re how he’s kept the club running while getting rid of most of the employees. Charnley might of course end up as the right man for the job. Just like an 8 year old boy might turn out to be the right person to run a multinational manufacturing empire.
This then is Newcastle United in 2014 in microcosm. People are appointed not because they are the best person for the job, but because it is easier to appoint them than to find that person. Players fail to fulfil even basic requirements of their profession, the manager is unable to persuade them to act otherwise, and the owner doesn’t seem to mind. What a time it is.