With Newcastle fans set to step up their protests against the Alan Pardew era at St James' Park on Saturday, Rob Stewart questions what good removing the under-fire manager will really do...
"Jonjo Shelvey wins the ball in midfield. He finds Andros Townsend on the wing, who beats his marker and curls a low cross into the path of Danny Ings to apply the finishing touch."
Sorry if this all sounds a bit far-fetched, but this could very well have happened at Newcastle United this season had Alan Pardew got his way in the summer transfer market as he planned to build a squad capable of challenging for the top half of the Premier League.
Shelvey, Townsend and Ings were all on Pardew’s wish list and signing all three relatively modest targets wasn't beyond the realms of possibility for a club with the third-highest average attendance in English football.
However – and this is at the heart of the stagnation on Tyneside – it is not Pardew who determines which new players Newcastle can sign but the club’s chief scout, Graham Carr.
It is Carr who advises owner Mike Ashley on which potential recruits represent the best value for money, and Pardew has diligently plugged away as a head coach rather than as a manager overseeing everything in the Sir Alex Ferguson mould.
The fact is that this current Newcastle team is not Pardew’s, but talentspotter Carr's, and yet it is Pardew who is taking the majority of stick from the club’s supporters along with Ashley, who is oblivious to flak from fans.
The burst bubble
In the recent past this Carr-Pardew-Ashley arrangement has paid dividends as Newcastle have profited handsomely.
Playmaker Yohan Cabaye was signed for £4.3 million from Lille and sold to PSG for £20m last January, while Mathieu Debuchy followed in his compatriot’s footsteps for £5.5m and went to Arsenal for £12m.
Carr was lauded when the club challenged for Champions League places as the likes of Papiss Cisse prospered in the hard-up North East of England.
However, this summer Newcastle haven't fared so well in the transfer market when there were big boots to fill. Remy Cabella came in for Cabaye and Emmanuel Riviere replaced Loic Remy, but already they look like lightweights coming in for heavyweights.
"It’s always risky when you bring in overseas players because you’re not sure how they will deal with the rigours of the Premier League," says former Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder. "If you sign five you’ve just got to hope that two work out so the fans forget about those languishing in the reserves."
Now things are so bad that Newcastle staff are even lamenting the departure of Shola Ameobi, even though most fans bade him good riddance when he left his hometown club in the summer.
Lost the zest
Pardew is being criticised for things that are out of his control, but he cannot go entirely blameless for the current state of affairs. After all, he has publicly pronounced – more than once – that the current squad is stronger now than it was last season.
Keeping Fabricio Coloccini as his captain is questionable; while the Argentine can bring much-needed calm at the heart of the Newcastle defence, he is hardly the on-field leader that every manager craves.
The Newcastle chief has also had a fair amount of rotten luck, with Siem de Jong and Rolando Aarons ruled out of action until January and November respectively.
But when it comes to matchday, Pardew seems to have lost his way.
There was a time when he would run rings around the likes of Hull manager Steve Bruce on the touchline. Nowadays, however, he seems leaden and ponderous. His substitutions are invariably late and uninspiring, and they often anger the fans. Ultimately, he has lost the zest and self-confidence that persuaded Ashley to sack Chris Hughton in favour of a manager ditched by Southampton.
Since he head-butted Hull’s David Meyler in March, Newcastle have secured just eight points from a possible 42, scoring nine times and conceding 29 goals. They are damning statistics.
Several charges can be thrust at Pardew by his detractors – including an inability to harness Hatem Ben Arfa’s mercurial talents – but the biggest indictment of all for many is that he is a patsy for the Ashley regime.
The League Managers’ Association have clearly counselled Pardew and told him to keep his thoughts to himself despite working with one arm tied behind his back.
Newcastle look like relegation fodder with their current playing personnel, but Pardew must toe the Ashley party line or risk incurring the wrath of his paymaster. Kevin Keegan took on Ashley after he pulled Newcastle out of the race with Tottenham to sign Luka Modric and it ended in a constructive dismissal case that the manager won.
Newcastle were haemorrhaging money in those days but Ashley has tightened things up and the result is that the club no longer pay out the eye-watering amounts of money needed to tempt many players to the Premier League’s northern outpost.
Having stated his intention to retain the club until at least the summer of 2016, Ashley will carry on with his risky buy-low/sell-high policy to make sure the books look good should a potential buyer emerge. The likes of Tony Pulis, who seemed to require not just a decent transfer kitty but control over how it was spent, may think twice before relocating.
If not then who?
Pardew may have lost the plot as well as his players, but there is no obvious candidate to replace him.
Anti-Pardew protests are planned when Hull head to St James’ Park on Saturday but, as the adage goes, Newcastle fans should be careful what they wish for – even if their team are bottom of the Premier League table.
With Alan Shearer and Keegan having burned their bridges with Ashley, there is no black-and-white Messiah waiting in the wings to rescue Newcastle like there was when Sir Bobby Robson replaced Ruud Gullit in 1999.
Pulis is among the candidates being tipped to replace Pardew – who has six years left of an eight-year contract – should he be fired, but those who crave a return to the swashbuckling days of King Kev would hardly be silenced by the former Stoke boss's arrival.
Steve Bruce was warned off Newcastle because of Ashley by his then-Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, and it is likely he would heed that advice again despite suggestions that the Sports Direct founder rates him highly.
Journalists who have reported that Pardew had a couple of games to save his job have been banned from St James’ Park. Such uneducated guesswork looks as unreliable as reports which say Pardew could keep his job until Christmas.
That's because no one knows what Mike Ashley has in mind other than Mike Ashley himself – and that includes the top brass at St James’ Park. The only certainty is that the atmosphere on Tyneside this weekend will be toxic. It might not change for a while.