Without doubt the surprise of last season was the performances of Newcastle United. Returning to the Premiership after a one year absence following their relegation in 2009, no-one gave the magpies much though about what they could achieve, with many pundits predicting a difficult season and a relegation struggle ahead. Newcastle had other plans. After a strong start which included early wins against Aston Villa, Sunderland and Arsenal, manager Chris Hughton looked to be in a safe position which made his sacking in December 2010 a strange one. Enter former Charlton and West Ham boss Alan Pardew to a mixed reaction from the Toon Army on a five-year contract. Their fears started to disappear quickly as Pardew settled the squad and with key signings Cabaye, Ba, Ben Arfa and Cisse continued their form to the end of the season recording memorable wins against Liverpool and Chelsea on the way to a 5th place finish.
Off the back of the success of last season and their first venture back into Europe since 2004, Newcastle have rewarded manager Alan Pardew and some of his backroom staff with new bumper 8 YEAR contracts holding them to the club till 2020. Managing director Derek Llambias said Newcastle want continuity to match English football’s top clubs like Arsenal and Man Utd. It’s a bold move from owner Mike Ashley who feels that to achieve success in this league long-term you need to build strong foundations in coaching, scouting and youth acquisition. The risk however that he faces is if the results on the pitch don’t come. The average time spent at a club for a manager is decreasing (down to 18 months now) with only 4 managers in the Premiership (Ferguson, Wenger, Moyes and Pullis) having spent more than 5 years in the same job. In a business where results mean money, sticking with an under performing manager may be a costly mistake as Ashley discovered previously when Newcastle were relegated. Added into this, the severance package given to disposed managers often relates to the length of their contract at the time, Ashley may be setting himself up for a fall by offering Pardew and 5 of his staff lucrative deals.
However the gamble may pay off if the strategy is in place. Newcastle is a changed club from years gone past. Gone are the expensive multi million pound signings of internationalists in favour of the investment in talented youth who can develop with the club. The arrival of Romain Amalfitano from Reims, Davide Santon from Inter Milan, Vurnon Anita from Ajax and Curtis Good from Melbourne Hearts is the start of this process of building for the future and with the blooding of their youth academy hopefuls – Shane Ferguson, Haris Vuckic and Adam Campbell in recent months, Pardew has cause for optimism about what lies ahead in the next 8 years. The question will be if he and his staff can successfully blend this talented youth in with more experienced players like Coloccini, Cisse and Cabaye and establish the continuity that Ashley and Llambias so desperately want.