Last season was a dream for Newcastle fans and finishing fifth, despite gunning for fourth – though Alan Pardew would never have admitted it, was perhaps the kindest of finishes the Toon Army could have hoped for. Had they finished fourth, qualifying for the Champions League, their then unfortunate missing out of a Champions League place due to Chelsea winning last season’s edition would’ve been far more collectively upsetting than Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham missing out. Spurs had qualified for the tournament for the 2010/11 season – their first participation – and reached the quarter-finals before being knocked out by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
Instead, Europa League qualification for the 2012/13 season was a just reward for a valiant campaign, rather than a consolation for your rightful prize being snatched from you in the same vein that John Terry snatched the trophy from it’s rightful winners as soon as he could. Alan Pardew, who was doubted by many when he took the post as Newcastle manager in 2010, secured The Magpies their highest finish in nearly ten years in his first full season in charge. The last time Newcastle finished as high, it may have been a disappointment as it was their lowest finish in three years; Alan Shearer was the top English scorer in the Premier League and only behind Thierry Henry in the Golden Boot and Sir Bobby Robson was their manager. Pardew even managed to better Robson’s point tally by 9.
Ultimately, much of their success can be attributed to what MayCauseOffence.com pointed out in January: “With Graham Carr seemingly possessing a delicate palette for the succulent footballing market of France, Alan Pardew providing the tactical nous to far exceed Newcastle’s expectations to the point that they’re just as close to 3rd place Arsenal as they are 6th place Liverpool – eight points, and their Francophone squad delivering on the pitch week-in-week-out, be it Tiote or Cabaye, or Ben Arfa or Ba, Newcastle are poised for a strong finish to Alan Pardew’s first full season.” That was Newcastle’s strong point – consistency. What had brought them success up until January, continued to flourish until May – with the astute addition of Papiss Cisse.
Alan Pardew was rightly named the Manager of the Year.
Alan Pardew’s preparations for the new season have been fairly quiet – especially in the transfer market. Having secured the free transfer of French midfielder Romain Amalfitano from Reims early on, who last season were plying their trade in France’s Ligue 2, securing promotion to Ligue 1 in second place, Pardew has spent little over £1m. Joining Amalfitano, who is the younger brother of Marseille’s midfielder Morgan and yet another Francophone signing under Pardew, and more importantly the club’s chief scout Graham Carr, is Gael Bigirimana from Coventry and Curtis Good from the A-League’s Melbourne Heart.
Bigirimana cost Newcastle just over £1m and joins as the Apprentice of the Year, an accolade given at the Football League awards in March. “Bigi,” as he was fondly referred to at Coventry, was one of the Sky Blues’ only glimmers of sunshine in an otherwise clouded season, described by the SkyBluesBlog as “a dynamic 17 year old lad from Burundi pulling the strings in [Coventry’s] first-team.” Now 18, Bigi will taste the Premier League just a year after signing his first professional contract at Coventry, where fans grew attached to a “cult-like” figure who caught the bus to training and had turned up at the training ground asking for a trial aged just 12