Pardew deserves to draw criticism in the wake of a troubling season that saw his team tumble from Champions League contenders to relegation survivors. (Granted, it seems fairly clear at this point that Newcastle overachieved in 2011-12.) His teams tended to encounter the same difficulties match after match, including (but not limited to) a penchant for losing its grip on games after halftime, a complete aversion to set piece success and an inability to string together solid defensive performances.
Newcastle's seemingly endless injury list no doubt hindered Pardew's efforts to eradicate those problems. Pardew finally settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation in the second half of the season, but Newcastle never truly appeared fluid in any alignment. Pardew has long talked about his teams "playing on the front foot" and establishing a "rhythmic passing game," but his team hasn't turned that talk into a reality on the field often enough.
Still, Pardew didn't go from a solid Premier League manager to a complete oaf overnight. We all may have oversold his abilities in the delirium of last season, but he merited considerable praise for integrating new signings, getting the best out of Newcastle's most talented players and establishing a solid defensive backbone. Pardew drew deserved plaudits for overseeing a fifth-place finish. So did Newcastle's French-and-on-a-budget recruitment policy.
Yet only one seems to have been placed under the microscope this season.
The decision to only sign one senior player last summer -- and one who, with everyone available, wouldn't be expected to start -- set the tone for a season in which the club as a whole seemed to only aspire to do just enough to get by. But there are wider issues when it comes to Newcastle's much-celebrated transfer strategy.
What sort of players is the club signing? Available, affordable and young don't tell me anything about how they'll perform on the field. Newcastle may be collecting promising assets while avoiding sky high transfer fees, but is the club giving Pardew the players he needs to succeed in the Premier League? Let's even take Pardew out of the equation. Every manager has a philosophy, a style, a preference. Isn't synergy between scouting and transfer strategy and the manager's plans essential?
Moreover, no transfer policy can be totally rigid. A long-term plan is necessary; so, too, is having the flexibility to consider short-term needs. Team needs change from season to season. Key players get injured. Promising youngsters regress. Veterans start to slip. Clubs have to react to those developments. And sometimes, the appropriate response is to pay the necessary price to bring in proven, Premier League-tested players. Or at least to look outside of Ligue 1, a league that, at best, is the fifth-strongest in Europe.
This isn't manager mode on a FIFA video game. Buying nothing but young players doesn't guarantee future success. Intangible attributes like toughness -- both mental and physical -- and leadership matter. Newcastle, for all its promising French imports, badly needs more of those qualities. I'm not arguing that the club should return to the days of signing the Nicky Butts and Alan Smiths of the world. But there are plenty of 24- to 28-year-olds with Premier League success on their resumes, and Newcastle would be wise to consider a few of them.
Pardew has taken flack this season for not having a "Plan B" when his team struggles. His superiors at St. James' Park deserve similar criticism. And their chance to respond begins this summer.