Despite what a portion of the Newcastle United Twitterverse would have you believe, Alan Pardew is not a bumbling managerial idiot. Enough former players have talked up Pardew's training sessions for us to refute that myth.
That's not to say Pardew is some elite tactician or master motivator; when you consider his four seasons in charge at Newcastle — a 12th-place showing in trying circumstances, a surprising fifth-place overachievement, a troubling fade to 16th place, and a bounce back to ninth place that's looking less impressive with each passing game — he looks like an average Premier League manager. His record of 57 wins, 57 losses and 36 draws at Newcastle backs that up.
Pardew isn't someone who's going to lead consistent top-four challenges, but he'll most likely keep you in the Premier League. Sounds like Mike Ashley's perfect manager.
And yet, in the wake of three straight lopsided — and largely lifeless — losses, the murmurings have begun that Ashley is ready to fire Pardew. Now, the fact that the Sunday Express claims Ashley will send Pardew on his way if Newcastle doesn't beat Aston Villa on Saturday doesn't mean we should all immediately plan for life after Pards (the local papers have already refuted the story). But if Newcastle continues to sleepwalk its way through the final three months of the season, Ashley wouldn't be out of line in making a managerial change.
Right now, Newcastle looks like a team devoid of any motivation or any hope of scoring. You can blame the sale of Yohan Cabaye or Loic Remy's suspension, but the manner in which Newcastle has rolled over isn't a glowing endorsement of Pardew’s leadership.
So, regardless of the unquestionably problematic circumstances under which Pardew is working, there is clearly room for an upgrade.
But let's not kid ourselves: Pardew isn't Newcastle's biggest problem at this point. The club’s transfer policy is absurdly rigid and has left the team sorely lacking in veteran leadership and full of players who look ready to leave the moment they hear whispers of a larger payday elsewhere. The much-praised scouting operation has brought in talent, no doubt, but seems to prioritize running and dribbling over passing (also known as the most important skill in soccer). Newcastle was already overly reliant on Cabaye to create scoring chances; without him, the team has no dynamic passers. (The key word here is dynamic; Vurnon Anita is an efficient passer, but he can only dream of Cabaye’s range and vision.)
A team full of Davide Santons, Moussa Sissokos and Hatem Ben Arfas isn’t going to dribble its way into the Champions League. It’s possible chief scout Graham Carr is recommending players who would rectify the team’s imbalance and is simply being ignored.
Which brings us to the overarching issue at Newcastle: Does Ashley even care anymore? His Joe Kinnear pipe bomb over the summer rendered the club incapable of signing players, either by design or incompetence. Kinnear is gone, but there seems to be a total lack of direction at the club, with multiple reports claiming Newcastle is in no rush to hire a new director of football, managing director or any other type of front office czar. Who’s making’s transfer plans for the summer? Who’s forming a process to improve Newcastle’s sputtering academy? The latter is said to be one of Ashley’s priorities, and yet any progress either hasn’t been reported — maybe because the club yanked the local papers’ access — or hasn’t been made.
Firing Pardew isn’t going to address any of Newcastle’s big-picture problems, unless Ashley plans to hire — and financially support — a manager and director of football who can work in tandem on developing a transfer strategy, a style of play and a plan for youth development. Based on what we’ve seen during Ashley’s seven-year reign, there’s almost no chance of that happening.