Newcastle boss Alan Pardew faces long slog on Tyne
A rebel player, angry fans and unhappy backroom staff mean it'll be tough in Toon
Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30
Some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing, others can never remember how much anything costs but are brilliant at quantifying an investment's true worth.
Mike Ashley, in his capacity as Newcastle United's owner, has exhibited a tendency to fall into the former category, with a prime example occurring last week when he ended the practice of offering backroom staff complimentary tickets.
Next, this infuriatingly self-destructive club announced an almost unprecedented policy towards the written press whereby newspaper journalists, already barred from interviewing players, have had their access to Alan Pardew, the manager, radically abridged.
At a juncture when many exciting new signings - accumulated for more than £30m and including the France midfielder Remy Cabella, the former Ajax captain Siem de Jong, the Holland right-back Daryl Janmaat and the former Monaco striker Emmanuel Riviere - are deflecting attention from Pardew's woeful record of seven defeats in eight Premier League games at the end of last season, there is a sense of needless battles being picked.
They are not restricted to the boardroom. Aware that the merest hint of civil war could re-establish his status as Newcastle's scapegoat in the wilderness, the sidelined Hatem Ben Arfa looks ready and willing to turn his petty exile to the reserves into a cause celebre. The France playmaker knows that, good as the recruits look, Pardew is only a couple of disappointing defeats away from reigniting the calls for his head that proved such a vitriolic soundtrack to the St James's Park spring.
Ben Arfa, whose camp claim he is being punished for criticising the manager's long-ball tactics during a team meeting, but whose critics say lacks fitness and discipline, will watch with interest as Manchester City visit Tyneside today. There is unlikely to be any repeat of the jeering that prevented Pardew from venturing out of his dugout during a 3-0 win over Cardiff in last season's final home game but relationships remain fragile.
A mood of rapprochement in all departments seems called for, but Ashley has never really appeared to understand the value of "goodwill", regarding it as far too woolly a concept to take seriously. Nonetheless the sports retail tycoon eroded plenty of it last week when Pardew's coaches and Peter Beardsley, the reserve team manager, learned they would no longer be eligible for four free tickets a match each.
It did not go down at all well behind the scenes, where those further down the food chain such as kitmen also lost their two-tickets-a-game allocation. No matter, defying such a widespread convention is the sort of metaphorical two-fingered salute at the status quo that Ashley has long relished.
Indeed a man who minimised water bills by drilling a borehole at Newcastle's training ground is now eyeing the possibility of "monetising" the written press. Co-operation has been restricted in the hope that a mooted "privatisation of information" scheme will entice individual newspapers to pay to become "preferred media partners".
A potential contract between The Sun and Ashley's Sports Direct company was believed to be drafted this summer, with rumours swirling that the paper would gain preferential status by perhaps helping sponsor the Academy. Eventually, though, The Sun said "no" and the agreement went unsigned, leaving Ashley's "cash for questions" vision unfulfilled.
His stance emphasises just how much the court of St James's has changed since the mid-1990s, when Newcastle's then owner, Sir John Hall, and his wife Lady Mae personally handed journalists Christmas hampers stuffed with fine wines, whiskies, hams and jams.
Even in those comparatively halcyon days two decades ago, Newcastle housed the odd rebellious player but, if Ben Arfa v Pardew does not quite rank on the scale of Ruud Gullit v Alan Shearer or even Gullit v Rob Lee, it still represents dangerous territory for the manager.
Boardroom pressure dictated that the playmaker cancelled an audacious plan to stage his own "meet and greet" session for fans at a bookshop round the corner from the ground last Tuesday but Ben Arfa's exclusion from an open training session earlier in the day was arguably unwise - especially as he is so far resisting all attempts to transfer him as he pledges to sit out the final year of his contract.
Undeterred, the ever confident Pardew - who presided over that public workout wearing a pair of bright white boots - is determined to establish a new narrative, not to mention repay Ashley for resisting fans' demands for regime change in the dugout.
"Mike's stood by me," he says. "He's armed me again. It's that type of relationship you can only hope for as a Premier League manager and I'm lucky to have it."
Big on loyalty, Ashley will be delighted to hear such tuneful singing from the approved hymn sheet but he is also the sort of owner who expects a decent return on investments.
Having finally backed his manager in the transfer market, he has left him bereft of excuses should results go awry.
With Cabella and De Jong around there cannot be a return to last season's detested long balls, while the former director of football Joe Kinnear is no longer available to serve as a human shield - but Pardew seems unfazed. "You want to prove you're better than people perceive," he says. "That's what drives me."
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