Newcastle and Swansea drew 2-2 on Saturday, and Mike Ashley rubbed his chin as the final whistle sounded. An obscured supporter filing out of the stadium said something to Newcastle’s unpopular owner on his way past, and Ashley raised his eyebrows and smiled in that falsely-interested way you do when people you don’t know talk to you. The stranger said his bit, Ashley smiled again and nodded in polite agreement. The punter then continued on up the stadium stairs, but Ashley’s wry smirk remained, the unknown witticism tickling him for a lingering moment. “I ‘spose you can’t sack him till he loses, right Mike?” might have been the quip, but who knows?
Alan Pardew’s team twice came back from a losing position against the Swans. The equalising goals here were again thanks to Papisse Cisse, who seems to be doing it all himself, scoring 4 times in his last 3 matches. Still, though Cisse and co fought well, the result did little to dispel the hollow ache of doom that the Newcastle manager’s tenure is currently suffering through. A loss against Swansea would have turned that ache into a pain wholly more urgent, needling and rippling through Pardew’s already broken frame, so this draw at least delayed that horrid fate, for a while. A win would have been Manna from Heaven for Pardew, but Newcastle hardly deserved to win here, and are yet to earn one in 7 league matches this season. The Magpies have managed to take just 20 points from an available 78 this calender year, and already it seems logical to look past the pained and craggy face of the current manager, to the gallery of replacements behind him, and assess their suitability.
One face stands out, as naturally craggy and pained as Pardew’s is, although that shouldn’t dissuade Newcastle from considering him. David Moyes, starting only now to emerge from the infirmary after suffering mortally at Manchester United last season, looks a most intriguing candidate. The problem is, if Pardew is to be sacked at some point, it will only be when the sickle of relegation is near enough to scare Ashley into action. The suspicion is that Ashley, concerned chiefly by the potential financial gains that come with owning a well-supported, mid-table football club, would allow Pardew and the team to rot in their own acrid juices only until relegation is an imminent threat. Many would argue that, with the team barely treading water as it is, relegation is already a very real possibility, and a change in management would be better made sooner rather than later. Additionally, David Moyes, more than any other candidate available, would be a choice that the fans would be content with.
The reason’s for Moyes’ failure at Manchester United are varied, though one overhanging feeling tinges every one of them; the scale of the job was too much. His failings in the transfer market, his tactical floundering against his rivals, his inability to command the respect of the senior players, all of these blunders betrayed Moyes’ lack of experience and comfort at the acme of the sport. But because of Moyes’ ‘Unightmare’, it’s very easy to forget how admired he was at Everton, how well he did on a shoestring budget, and how fantastically defiant his teams were when they were visited by the bigger clubs. At the risk of sounding patronising, a club of Newcastle’s upper-mid table stature fits Moyes perfectly.
Those who defend Alan Pardew argue that Newcastle’s quagmire is explained as much by the decay of their squad as much as it is by Pardew’s shortcomings as a manager. And though the loss of Yohan Cabaye marked the departure of the team’s main creative fulcrum, it’s not as if this single absence justifies the subsequent collapse. Newcastle’s squad has been strengthened considerably since Cabaye left and, on paper, is one that all three of this season’s promoted teams would long for, with full internationals in every department. Cabaye himself has come out in support of Pardew, and has piled blame on his former colleagues:
I keep looking at the club and at the results, and I’m a bit sad about the situation because the people there deserve much better. The manager is in trouble now but he shouldn’t get all the complaints because it’s not only about him, so I am sad for him and want to wish him all the best. When I was there and the second season wasn’t good, the fact was that we were the players on the pitch,” Cabaye said in an interview with BT Sport. “OK, the manager told us the way to play, but after that the players are on the pitch. We took the criticism two years ago because as players we knew that the job wasn’t good enough. Now I hope that it’s the same and that the players work harder to get the club higher up the league.”
Of course, it’s very easy for Cabaye to speak about Newcastle’s decline, draped in PSG’s blue and standing next to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. More often than not, the issues that have plagued Newcastle of late have been motivational. There have been games when the players, fine players when they want to be, have meandered through matches, devoid of any hunger or spirit. Surely, the blame for this lethargy should be jointly-shared by the manager as well as the players. A manager’s job is to not only set up the team tactically to play, but also to set the tone in the dressing room, to incite them to lift their performances, to demand they give their very best. The slumped, uncertain figure that Pardew cuts nowadays is anything but inspirational, quite the contrary; it seems to suck the life out of the stadium in the manner a phalanx of Dementors might.
Could Moyes succeed here, in this crucial motivational realm, where Pardew has so obviously failed? He couldn’t at United, but with Newcastle’s squad, and in a context where the expectations are so low, he might. Whether Mike Ashley would pay Moyes’ now inflated wages is another question entirely, and might prove a stumbling block if he were to be approached to replace Pardew. Moyes was earning £3.5 million a year at United, and would be unwilling to reduce that significantly. Pardew earns a reported wage between £800,000 and £1.5 million a year, with the potential for more written into his highly incentivised 8 year contract. That’s a large gap to make up. Speaking of that 8 year contract, if Pardew were to be dismissed, the payout that Ashley would owe him would be considerable, another factor that would delay a sacking until absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, the path to a swift and merciful end to Pardew’s ordeal is one littered with obstacles.
Sir Alex Ferguson spoke briefly about David Moyes at a Q&A at a Lancashire cricket club recently. “It was going to be difficult to follow me, whether it had been David or anyone else,” he told the audience. Even though Moyes has spoken airily about taking a managerial position on the continent, as it stands there’s hardly an easier act to follow in the Premier League than Alan Pardew at Newcastle United.