LONDON – Newcastle United fans had one wish granted on Jan. 2 when Alan Pardew left to become manager of Crystal Palace. The “Pardew Out” banners could be thrown away.
Toon were a comfortable ninth when Londoner (a bad word for most Newcastle supporters) Pardew quit with the team having won 26 of a possible 57 points. Geordie John Carver was given interim control and because he is a local lad the former assistant manager was given a collective nod of approval, if only because of his background.
Under Carver, who on Thursday maintained he was “the best coach in the Premier League”, Newcastle has won nine of a possible 48 points. It is 15th in the table, two points above the relegation zone. Imagine where it would be with an ordinary coach.
On April 2, Newcastle had 35 points and seemingly doomed Leicester 18. Going into the weekend’s fixtures Newcastle still has 35 points, but revitalized Leicester has 34. If Newcastle loses to West Bromwich on Saturday it would be its ninth straight defeat and the Championship will be a reality rather than a possibility.
In contrast, Crystal Palace, which seemed to be heading for the drop when Pardew took over, is safe with 42 points.
Newcastle is like a juggernaut out of control. Carver cannot put the brakes on the rapid decline, the team conceding three goals in their last three games. Steve McClaren this week rebuffed the chance to leave Derby and take over from Carver on a permanent basis and who can blame him?
Who would want to manage the footballing equivalent of a dysfunctional family whose head runs the club like a personal fiefdom?
With Pardew gone, Mike Ashley, the club’s owner, is the only villain left for Newcastle fans to turn their vitriol on. For most people, being the most disliked person in the city would be enough to move on, but if and when billionaire Ashley goes it will be on his terms.
Ashley, who has the skin of an armadillo, does not care about criticism, protests or “Ashley out” banners as long as his business plan is working which it is. The fans may not like the way he runs Newcastle, but Ashley knows a thing or two about making money. He built up Sports Direct into one of the UK’s most successful companies and uses the club — his club — to give the discount chain store free advertising space around the stadium.
His policy of bringing in young players and selling them on for a profit is pragmatic though it means Newcastle, which Ashley bought eight years ago, will never compete for honors. That would not bother Ashley unduly, though.
Since 2009 Newcastle has made a surplus of nearly £30 million in the transfer market, while last month posted profits of £18.7 million for the past financial year.
Mid-table mediocrity with profits is all right for Ashley, but this does not align with the passion and ambition of Newcastle’s success-starved fans. It is 60 years ago this week that Newcastle won its last domestic trophy, the F.A. Cup.
Should Newcastle be relegated Ashley’s vision for the club will simply be adapted to the finances of the Championship. The top earners will be moved on and players on reduced salaries brought in. The bottom line with Ashley is always the bottom line.
The players should be grateful Newcastle’s owner is such a hated figure because they have got off lightly as the club plummets down the Premier League. To a man, they have performed consistently abysmally, with Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran particularly poor. The Player of the Year will really be the least worst player of the year.
Newcastle needs the fans to focus on supporting the team rather than any anti-Ashley gestures for Saturday’s visit of West Bromwich. They have lost their last four home games and only once before in their league history have Newcastle lost five consecutive matches at St James’ Park, in 1953.
CHELSEA CLINCHED the Premier League title with victory over Crystal Palace, though its display in the 1-0 victory did little to silence those who believe Jose Mourinho’s side is boring.
Whatever your view on Chelsea’s excitement level, if it wins its remaining three games it will have 92 points, the highest total in the top flight since Mourinho’s side of 10 years ago which won a record 95 points.
This season, Chelsea has only been behind for a total of 171 minutes in the Premier League.
That is subjective, but even their detractors must admit Chelsea is an exceptional side, any boredom brought on, as much as anything, by a lack of other teams challenging it for the title.
NOT ONLY is Lionel Messi the best footballer I have ever seen, I am beginning to wonder if I shall ever see anyone better.
Is it possible to be better than the Barcelona genius?
I am beginning to doubt it.
His performance against Bayern Munich was breathtaking, as near perfection as is possible. While it is a contradiction of terms, at times Messi did manage the impossible, making space when there was none and dribbling past World Cup winners as if they were Sunday morning footballers.
It must be wonderful to be a Barcelona beat guy covering Messi et al, but at the same time this presents problems. One columnist from Mundo Deportivo wrote: “I have exhausted every compliment about Lionel Messi” — the rest of the page was blank.
Watching Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real Madrid highlighted the huge difference between the best in the Premier League and Europe’s elite. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United will spend big this summer to bridge the gap, but the suspicion is it will take at least two years for England’s finest to match the masters of European football.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5