Newcastle United seek Premier League safety - Northern Exposure

19 April 2011 04:03
Newcastle United's training ground looks like one of those beached islands that makes a map of the world out in Dubai.

There's workmen everywhere, flattening sand and top soil, water sprinklers repeatedly getting the surface ready for new grass to be laid. Like Sunderland, Newcastle are laying undersoil heating so they can train during the harsh North East winters.

It is the visible sign that Newcastle have started planning for next season and beyond. The win against Wolves earlier this month means Alan Pardew and his coaching staff have already started to do the same when they leave the building site.

Work in progress: Newcastle's Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini (right) during training

The enforced weekend breaks over the last two months have allowed the Newcastle manager and his coaches and scouts to scour this country and the continent for new recruits, or at least potential ones.

The Newcastle board may disapprove of media speculation linking them with players, but it is an inevitable part of the summer recess. And there will be hundreds of speculative stories for all Barclays Premier League clubs to ignore, deny or, even confirm. The best advice it is to ignore it. They can't all sign.

Pardew's observation, after defeat at Aston Villa, that his squad is not big enough - which could be interpreted as a plea - will surely mean that the Andy Carroll money will be wisely spent during the close season, wages included, mind you.

The purchases of Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheik Tiote have already shown that chief scout Graham Carr knows his players like his son knows a risque joke. Setting such a high standards means the mouth-watering prospect of welcoming some high calibre players in all positions next season.

It isn't just about recruitment. Retention too will take up a large part of the spare days and hours for Pardew and the directors. Joey Barton's talks have started, stalled, started again and, well, stalled.

Up in the air: Jose Enrique, front right, and Joey Barton, back left, are yet to commit to new deals

They do seem close to agreement, it's just there's a difference of opinion on key aspects of a new deal, which is a pretty big stumbling block. Signing a few new players might also help persuade Barton to re-consider the size of his wage cut and contract length.

Jose Enrique, who also had a year left, has not even started talks yet because he wants security absolutely guaranteed. 'One more win, I think,' he said on Monday.

The Spanish defender has inevitably and rightly been linked with moves away from St James's Park - he has been good enough to rival Ashley Cole as the Premier League's best left-back.

Phil Thompson blurting out on Norwegian TV last week that a ?15million move to Liverpool is a `done deal' was denied by Newcastle. But their recent transfer history with that particular club means any promises surrounding Enrique's future will be treated with a tad of scepticism, I'm afraid.

Plenty to do: Alan Pardew will have to strengthen his squad in the summer

Enrique was asked about his future on BBC's Late Kick-Off last night. He said: 'I know the club and now it is not like when I came here. I know it is different. The contract I signed was five years ago, next season is my last season here.

'I am just concentrating on playing my games for Newcastle. I know there are some difficult things in the club but we don't have to think about that. We have to think about keeping this team in the Premier League because we have to win one more match, I think.

'So we don't talk about a new contract yet and I don't want to talk any more about that. I am happy with that.

'I am very happy here and if I have to continue here, I am happy. If I have to go I am happy. I am happy in England but if have to go to another league and country, I am happy.'

So Jose Enrique is happy. We'll wait to see if Newcastle and their supporters will be so happy about his future, and any implications, good or bad, over the next few months.

The Wolves victory also gave Newcastle some breathing space from the harsh relegation spat now going on beneath them.

Their 39 points means the visit of a full-strength Manchester United team is not a survival must-win. They can go into it with some freedom, if Pardew can muster the personnel to cope with the wounded title chasers.

But it is still a game they want to win. They may be virtually safe, but they opened up a gap over Sunderland without even playing at the weekend. And believe me, finishing above their neighbours would be some achievement. And anyone of black and white persuasion would enjoy it very much.

Pardew is one of the best time-keeping managers I have encountered. When he says half one press conference, he means half one. Some times, and this is unheard of, he has even been early.

So when he put yesterday's pre-match press conference back half an hour, and even then turned up slightly late, he wasclearly busy. With Steve Harper suffering a knee injury, a decision over Shola Ameobi's fitness to ponder, along with when to introduce Stephen Ireland to Newcastle fans, Pardew has plenty on his plate. And they are just the things we know about.

Revenge mission: Newcastle lost 3-0 to Manchester United in August

'Sorry,' he said as he took his seat for the cameras. 'But we are playing Manchester United.'

Coach John Carver, an assisting Geordie voice, has told Pardew this game is second to Sunderland for Newcastle punters. Like the rest of us, he can remember Schmeichel in '96, the 5-0 and Albert's chip, Keane's spat with Shearer, Newcastle's last win, 4-3, 10, yes 10 years ago, even the 6-2 and 5-1 drubbings in between.

You just get the feeling Tuesday's encounter is going to be another Newcastle-Man U cracker.

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 Explore more:People: Hatem Ben Arfa, Ashley Cole, John Carver, Joey Barton Places: Newcastle, Dubai, Liverpool, United Kingdom

Source: Daily_Mail

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