Every kid who has ever participated in competition, whether that's football, dance, a spelling bee, or anything in between, has learned this vital lesson, provided they've had a mentor worth his or her salt: Lazy preparation yields poor results.
When I was young, I was in the school concert band, and we were good. We were very good, in fact. The problem was that we knew it. Preparation for our spring competition was a joke to us. We were going to roll in there, show the judges a thing or two, collect our trophy, and go home deserved winners. Competition day arrived, and we were serious. Every iota of our collective being was focused on a singular goal: to win the day.
We did not win, despite our best efforts on that day. We got a terrible, no good, very bad score. We thought we could flip the switch; that we were good enough that we didn't need practice or preparation. That year, I learned that "flipping a switch" did not lead to excellence. I was in seventh grade.
On Boxing Day last season, Newcastle United sat in sixth place. They finished tenth, which doesn't sound terrible, until you consider that they were last in the entire Football League in points gained, goals scored, and goals conceded. If it wasn't the worst five month stretch in the history of modern football, it was close. Sure, Yohan Cabaye was sold, and Loïc Rémy was either hurt or suspended for a good portion of that second half. But the absence of those two players was only the beginning of Newcastle's problems. They were disinterested, aloof, tentative. They showed no fight or desire.
After all, because of the way the back end of the table looked, they were virtually guaranteed a top ten finish, which was Mike Ashley's stated goal. They were going through the motions, and as a result, they were awful.
Over the summer, new Director of Football Lee Charnley set about remaking the club, and while it was a valiant effort (nine new players is truly nothing to sniff at), it wasn't enough. The porous back line remained unchanged, saved for a one in, one out transaction. Goal scoring hopes continued to persist on a wing and a prayer. A few too many of the new guys were nothing more than cheap lottery tickets - a possibility of a nice payday, but not a sunk cost if they didn't work out.
The club is trying to flip the switch, but they can't. They're stuck in a rut. One cannot expect to flip a switch and be rewarded with excellence.
NUFC's problems cannot, and should not, be traced to a singular source. Back in March, we blamed the owner, manager, and players equally. Yes, it's the owner's fault for running the club like an auto shop, as one local radio show put it recently. Yes, it's the players' fault for not playing with integrity in spite of the circumstances. But more than anything, the current situation is the manager's fault for allowing the team to veer into a "We'll be fine because we can always flip the switch" mentality.
Alan Pardew has famously blamed science, the media, and the fans for his team's poor performances. It's a character trait that's not unique to his time at Newcastle United - at every stop along the way, his primary role as gaffer has seemed to involve spin control. One can argue that he's trying to protect his players. A good manager knows when to protect and when to push his players. The culture on Tyneside is not one of accountability, and in fact is the opposite.
Unfortunately, there's not going to be a change forced from on high. We've noted in this space before that Mike Ashley will not sack Pardew as long as there's no money to be lost from keeping him around. A spell in 20th place, which points to another season of lost revenue in the Championship, could open his eyes, but hoping for that is a fool's errand.
The time has come and has past for Pardew to go. If he has any integrity at all - and judging by the state of his football team, that's not a given - he will resign. It's the only right course left available.