NEWCASTLE United have begun a major strengthening operation of their under-performing development squad – as Alan Pardew lays bare his frustration with the young guns who have misfired so far this season.
Pardew hinted darkly at having to make “tough decisions” in the summer surrounding many of the players who have been handed unprecedented opportunities to shine in black-and-white this year.
That would suggest that few are absolved from some pretty strident criticism of their performances this season.
No names are mentioned, but it is safe to assume that none of the players who were briefed before the season that this would be their opportunity to make a breakthrough are safe.
That is thrown into sharp context by the scale of the operation being implemented by the United hierarchy, who have set aside a pot of cash to bring in up to 10 new faces between now and the start of next season.
That recruitment process has already begun, with United having made contact with Valenciennes in an attempt to take left-back Gaetan Bong (pictured left) and having expressed an interest in Bastia striker Florian Thauvin.
Others will follow, with 17-year-old defensive midfielder Kevin Mbabu – who plays for Switzerland under-19s – also linked.
Cynics will argue that this is all part of the same policy that has brought the likes of Mehdi Abeid and Romain Amalfitano to the club – two of the players who are in the firing line of Pardew’s broadside.
But the difference is that Mike Ashley has sanctioned a transfer fund to bring in some of the current players being looked at.
Last week’s visit to Paris was all part of this endeavour. Newcastle’s bosses have become particularly frustrated with the lack of ready-made replacements in the ranks when injuries bite, and last summer’s complete clear-out at Academy level – which saw effectively an entire squad of homegrown players released – was a reflection of that.
Now it may go even wider, with the young pros on Newcastle’s books coming under greater scrutiny from Pardew following successive failures against Bordeaux and Brighton. For while the Newcastle boss acknowledges that they should really be gaining match experience in the under-21s – indeed he will send Adam Campbell back to that level this weekend to bolster his ailing confidence – he does feel they should have a greater work ethic.
“It’s frustrating the teams I’ve been able to put out because I didn’t envisage we would be putting these types of teams out,” Pardew (right) said.
“I thought they would be stronger. The players who should have developed from the Under-21s, I can’t even begin to explain the frustration.
“The frustration of our fans, the trust we built up last season, has started to erode away and we need to repair that over the second half of the season. For me it’s been very frustrating.
“My mentality towards it is to make sure everybody is doing their jobs 100%, keeping on top of my stuff, trying to lift my players and kick a couple of them up the bum in terms of the responsibility they have here.
“Particularly one or two of the younger players, the work ethic needs to improve and they need to improve as individuals. Those younger players have not produced what I wanted them to produce so they’re going to have to work harder or they are going to have to leave this football club.”
A team featuring a few of the younger fringe players was defeated in the Northumberland Senior Cup on Tuesday, losing 3-2 to Bedlington. There won’t be many more opportunities for them to prove themselves at first-team level before a summer reckoning looms.
“We’re going to have some tough decisions in the summer,” he said.
“We’ve got 17 games and at least two in the Europa League to go. I’ll have a lot of questions answered about what I think is under the first team here, because at the moment, what has been under the first team at the moment hasn’t produced as I hoped it would.”
The hope must be that some good comes from a season of strife. Players will have learned how to cope in a mini-crisis and when the inevitable dip arrives later in their career they will be better equipped to deal with it.
Pardew said: “I had Adam Campbell in my office as I’ve taken him with the first team to gain some experience and he has witnessed some tough times. He’s seen me not very happy, some of the players not very happy, a bit of frustration.
“Some important information that has to be absorbed by players. He will gain massively from that, but he needs to play games. I need to lift the young players so if they do come back in they do a bit better.”