There was a moment during Newcastle United FC's 2-0 home win against Bolton Wanderers FC on Monday when an emotional Alan Pardew raised his hand to acknowledge the thousands of grateful fans singing "Walking in a Pardew wonderland".
The victory was Newcastle's fifth in succession, a streak that has lifted the northeast club to within touching distance of a UEFA Champions League berth – not that Pardew is getting carried away. "We're having a bit of fun about it, teasing ourselves and joking, which is a nice way to be," said the manager. "Hopefully in three years' time we'll be a bit more serious about it."
The fact Newcastle – fifth in the Premier League, level on points with Tottenham Hotspur FC in fourth – can entertain hopes of UEFA Champions League qualification is a minor miracle after their relegation to the second tier in 2009. Yet demotion kick-started owner Mike Ashley's revolution, and the Tyneside team are reaping the benefits.
Ashley first slashed the bloated wage bill while retaining enough talent to ensure Newcastle immediately bounced back to the top flight as champions. From there he began a rebuilding project, the keystone of which was the appointment of ex-Manchester City FC and Tottenham scout Graham Carr in summer 2010.
Newcastle's progress since is no coincidence given the talent Carr has helped bring to St James' Park. Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheick Tioté came in from title winners Olympique de Marseille and FC Twente respectively in 2010, and the trend continued last summer when Yohan Cabaye arrived from French champions LOSC Lille Métropole. Ben Arfa has dazzled recently, while Cabaye and Tioté have formed one of the division's best midfield partnerships. The trio cost just €15m.
If injury concerns dissuaded other sides from moving for West Ham United FC's Demba Ba, the Toon acquired him on a free upon Carr's recommendation. His 16 goals make him arguably the signing of the season, while €12m January capture Papiss Demba Cissé from SC Freiburg has added to the list of successes – Ba's Senegal team-mate scoring ten goals in his first nine games.
Such quality additions, not to mention the news that the club are operating at close to breakeven, has appeased those fans initially unhappy with the sale of influential figures. Local lad Andy Carroll left for Liverpool FC for over €35m in January 2011; the Anfield outfit are now 13 points below his old team.
However, Newcastle's eye-catching campaign can only partly be attributed to their transfer market prowess. Pardew must take a lot of the credit, as Carr is keen to stress. "Alan Pardew has done a great job because he has organised the side into a winning side," he said.
The 50-year-old former Southampton FC boss was installed in December 2010 following the surprise sacking of the popular Chris Hughton. He guided the team to 12th last term, proving the authoritative and motivating manager the squad needed, and has moulded a group of talented individuals into an effective team.
Pardew has them defending well, retaining possession better and attacking with menace and fluidity. Perhaps most importantly, he has instilled a strong spirit that has enabled them to recover from heavy losses at Fulham FC and Tottenham. Indeed, only once this season have Newcastle suffered consecutive league defeats.
"He's always on my tail," defender Steven Taylor said of the ex-Reading FC, West Ham and Charlton Athletic FC coach. "His standards are so high it's hard to make the manager smile. He's a perfectionist but he has got us really playing together."
To reach the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2003, when they were beaten by FK Partizan in the third qualifying round, Newcastle must survive a tough run-in featuring matches against Chelsea FC and Manchester City. Should Pardew continue to inspire his men to play as they have of late, however, his three-year plan may need to be brought forward.
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