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Pardew's contract under scrutiny
The tone of the announcement when Newcastle United revealed a contract extension for their manager, Alan Pardew, back in September was bright and breezy. The club gave the impression they were cruising on an open road, the engine purring to perfection, sun streaming overhead. They were confident they were on the right road and enjoying the ride. They certainly didn't envisage the remote possibility of a car crash over the horizon.
The striking thing about the contract was its length. Eight years. Even though Newcastle and Pardew seemed to be bringing the best out of each other, the scale of the deal was astounding. An eight-year contract? Who in the world of football coaching has an eight-year contract? Although the intention was admirable, it felt overloaded with risks.
But the Newcastle hierarchy were so hopeful, so keen on a long-term strategy and some rock-solid stability, risk assessment was apparently the last thing on their minds. Prior to Pardew's arrival, the previous eight years had seen the club go through managers at the average rate of one per season. They juggled five between 2008 and 2009. Constant upheaval hardly seemed to work miracles. So, when Pardew strolled into town in 2010, engineered a fine improvement and was honored by his colleagues as the manager of the season, they were smitten.
Managing director Derek Llambias outlined the new long-term vision for the Pardew era when that infamous contract was announced to the world: "If you look at clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have shown that stability gives you the best platform to achieve success and that is the model we wish to emulate here."
It was inevitable that Pardew's situation came up over a sobering weekend. Newcastle's implosion against Liverpool was startlingly bad. Coming so soon after a defeat that hurt them to the very core as they lost to local rivals Sunderland, even louder alarm bells started clanging at St James' Park. Pardew swatted away questions about getting sacked seven years ahead of the contract expiry date. "I've got to make sure I put things right," he said.
A team short of confidence, cohesion and stamina after a sapping Europa League run needs plenty of correcting. Newcastle have lost their last two home games by an aggregate of 0-9. They have won only one of their last eight games. They look flat out, shattered. Experienced players are making basic mistakes. The bunch of new imports that arrived in January seem to be suffering a bout of delayed culture shock. All in all it is not pretty. And unless Newcastle can pull themselves together, the prospect of relegation tugs sharply at their heels.
One more win will probably be enough to ease the anxiety and maintain their Premier League status. Newcastle travel to West Ham and already relegated QPR, before hosting Arsenal on the final day, so the opportunities to redeem themselves are there. "We've got to show we've got the fight for this because I think a lot of people will look at us and think we've got a great chance of being relegated," said Pardew. "We've got to prove them wrong but I genuinely believe we've got enough quality to get the points we need."
Now may not be the perfect time to debate the merits of Pardew's eight-year deal - although some fans have made it clear what they think regardless of the team's fate this season. It has been alarming to see how quickly a vibrant and optimistic club has been transformed into something so dishevelled. As they were being trounced by a Liverpool team which looked so slick, speedy and sparkling in comparison, the point was made that exactly one year ago Newcastle were in the top four, upbeat and aiming for a Champions League place. Although they didn't quite make it, they had a thrilling go, and it felt like something special was brewing in the north east.
Liverpool, inspired by the precocious, string-pulling Philippe Coutinho, had Newcastle under seige for the entire 90 minutes. The feedback from watching Geordies ranged from sorrow to angst, from disillusionment to disgust. The Daily Mirror's North East correspondent pulled no punches with his match ratings. Every player bar one was granted the princely score of zero (out of ten). Yohan Cabaye, the composed midfielder who is an important hub for the team but who - like many of his team-mates - simply looks exhausted, was the exception. He was considered worthy of a one.
"Alan Pardew is allowed a bad season..." So said Llambias when the thinking behind that eight-year contract was being explained. For Newcastle's long-term plan to recover, this bad season has to end with a fresh start in the Premier League to look forward to.
Amy Lawrence is a contributing writer for FOXSoccer.com who has been writing about the game since USA `94, covering the Premier League, Champions League, European leagues and international soccer.
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