THE BLOG

Newcastle Show Benefit of Evolution Not Revolution

24/12/2013 11:01 GMT | Updated 22/02/2014 10:59 GMT

As Cardiff City, West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur prepare for Christmas chaos rather than cheer, it is easy to forget that Newcastle United were the club in turmoil at the beginning of this most remarkable of Premier League seasons.

After a dismal 2012/13 season which saw Alan Pardew's men finish in 16th, just five points clear of relegated Wigan Athletic, Joe Kinnear was installed as director of football by chairman Mike Ashley - an appointment which seemed certain to cut short Pardew's tenure on Tyneside. A second successive relegation battle was surely an inevitability.

Instead, the club sit just six points off the top of the Premier League going into Christmas after a clinical 3-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday. The scalps of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United have been taken - all without conceding - and a place in the Europa League looks genuinely achievable.

This is down to Pardew's policy of evolution rather than revolution, and a refusal to panic after an explainably poor season.

It must be noted that Newcastle's one summer acquisition, Loic Remy on a season-long loan from Queen's Park Rangers, has been excellent. His eight Premier League goals have helped to compensate for the continued troubles of Papiss Cisse, and it is likely that he will join permanently either in January or next summer.

But Pardew will take greater satisfaction from the success of his January signings. The likes of Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko struggled in the second half of last season, prompting widespread talk that the prevalence of French players at the club was damaging team morale.

This season has put paid to such talk. Gouffran has been a revelation, finding the net six times and impressing with his work-rate. Yanga-Mbiwa's towering performance was a key component of a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, long before Andre Villas-Boas' reign dissolved into ashes. Sissoko's winning goal against West Bromwich Albion in November will surely be a contender for goal of the season.

Allied to the continued excellence of lynchpins Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini, Cheik Tiote and the outstanding Tim Krul, this is a team exuding verve, continuity and familiarity. What was widely derided as a mad trolley-dash in January was actually a meticulous attempt to build for this season.

The fall of Villas-Boas is fashionably attributed to his theoretical approach to management and fractious personality, but many pinpoint his spending strategy as his ultimate failure. The funds from selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid were immediately invested in an assortment of foreign talent, ranging from Steaua Bucharest defender Vlad Chiriches to AS Roma winger Erik Lamela, from Valencia striker Roberto Soldado to Ajax midfielder Christian Eriksen.

Villas-Boas is entitled to point out that he and chairman Daniel Levy's expensive decisiveness was widely praised in the summer. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but trying to assimilate so many players with no Premier League experience at one time was ambitious in the extreme.

That said, the example of Newcastle shows that Levy and whoever the next permanent manager of Tottenham Hotspur is should refrain from another overhaul of the squad. Lamela is a prodigious talent and simply requires confidence and experience. Soldado will score freely once provided with a strike partner. The players simply require time, a commodity admittedly in short supply but one which deserves embracing.

Arguably the most notable aspect of Newcastle's ascent is how quietly it has been celebrated and received. This is a club which now does its business a little more circumspectly, wary of lurching back into crisis. Equally, Pardew deserves credit for eschewing the tempting option of saying: "I told you so".

The 52-year-old has been on Tyneside for three years now, making him the second-longest serving manager in the Premier League after Arsene Wenger, and has calmly ridden out a period of turbulence to assemble a side which looks set for a top-ten finish.

The obvious solution to last season's disappointment would have been to wipe the slate clean, but Pardew has shown that a little bit of trust and patience can pay rich dividends.

In a season where 22 of the club's 24 goals have been scored by Frenchmen, a side which has slowly but surely found its feet as a collective abides by the slogan 'Viva La Evolution'.