Leaner and meaner Magpies have reason to sing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2012, 12:00am


They are a Premier League club with a realistic chance of playing in Europe next season, whose sometimes-stubborn manager has overcome the odds with shrewd signings. And, in an era of excessive spending, they're in decent financial shape.

The description could be applied to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal but it also fits their Monday night opponents, Newcastle United. If the Magpies are able to record their 13th victory of the season at the Emirates Stadium, they will climb to 47 points, exceeding last season's tally with 10 matches to go. Alan Pardew arrived on Tyneside 15 months ago to face much negativity after the sacking of the popular Chris Hughton, who had brought stability after winning promotion. The BBC called the appointment 'twisted, madcap logic of a club that seems only comfortable with chaos'.

Pardew has not only proven the doubters wrong but also has slowly endeared himself to the Geordie faithful. This week, he was named North East Sports Personality of the Year. So much for shunning the so-called Cockney mafia at Newcastle. Pardew was born in London and owner Mike Ashley hails from Buckinghamshire in the capital's commuter belt.

It is almost inconceivable that Newcastle should be in the top six after parting ways with so many of their biggest personalities last year. Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique went to Liverpool, while Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan headed south to join London sides QPR and West Ham.

But thanks to the skilful eye of chief scout Graham Carr, Newcastle have barely missed a beat this season. Demba Ba, who moved from West Ham in a free transfer, has turned into one of the biggest bargains in recent times with 16 league goals. And his fellow Senegalese striker Papiss Demba Cisse has also made an instant impact since joining in January from SC Freiburg.

French midfielders Johan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan and Italian defender Davide Santon are among the other newcomers to have contributed.

After starting the season with an 11-game unbeaten run, Newcastle endured a shaky spell in which they went six matches without a victory. They were also thumped 5-0 by Tottenham and 5-2 by Fulham. But last weekend's battling draw against in-form Sunderland in the northeast derby is a sign the Magpies have rediscovered their mettle.

A quarter of the way through a 51/2- year deal, Pardew deserves a lot of the credit. Having achieved promotion with Reading and West Ham, he is known for making his teams well-organised and competitive.

A cautious yet strong start to the season provided the perfect platform. Newcastle kept clean sheets in three of their first four games of the campaign and had conceded just seven league goals by the start of November.

Pardew may not have the same emotional connection to the fans of Kevin Keegan or one-time caretaker Alan Shearer, but he is exactly what the club needs after years of instability and underachievement.

Off the field, things are looking up as well. They made a loss of just GBP3.9million (HK$47.74 million) for the 2011-2011 financial year with turnover rising from GBP52.4m to GBP88.4 million (HK$1 billion). The sale of former favourite son Andy Carroll to Liverpool for GBP35 million in January 2011 now appears to be a masterstroke.

Newcastle do have debts - a reported GBP140 million - but these are in the form of interest-free loans from owner Ashley, instead of the banks, meaning the club's financial future appears as solid as its central defence led by inspirational captain Fabricio Coloccini.

Argentina international Coloccini and Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul have committed to new long-term deals and Newcastle are understandably keen to retain their unlikely heroes.

The coming few weeks will be crucial to how the Toons' season will be remembered. After the trip to Arsenal, they will also face Liverpool and Chelsea over the next month.

With the renaming last November of the beloved St James' Park as the Sports Direct Arena after his own retailing chain for commercial reasons, Ashley will never win any popularity contests on Tyneside. But he has taken the tough decisions to turn Newcastle into one of the sport's most unlikely success stories.

Remember just three years ago when they were relegated, Newcastle could boast strikers such as Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins and Carroll. Yet they won only seven league games to finish in 18th position, two points off the bottom.

The age of excess is over. Under-performing fat cats no more, the lean and mean Newcastle are better value with a lot less fuss.


The fee Newcastle received from Liverpool for Andy Carroll, which now appears an excellent deal