Which Newcastle United manager had the longest balls?

Posted on February 21st, 2013 | 7 Comments |

Newcastle United - A long ball dinosaur?
Newcastle United – A long ball dinosaur?
Since I wrote a few pieces on how Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United had become the biggest “long ball” side in the Premiership this season some time ago, It piqued my curiosity to look beyond and see how the “route one” style favoured by Pardew this term compared with that of his predecessors, and possibly, what we might be able to learn from what comes out in the wash so to speak.

The stats contained in the table below go back to the start of the 2008-9 relegation season. Hence, the managers I have included are Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Chris Hughton (x3) and Alan Pardew.

Admittedly, some of the managerial spells are ridiculously short, and one would prefer at least a whole season for each manager, where every other team in the division was played with their varying tactics pitted against Newcastle United’s would have been the ideal. However, in the crazy world of Newcastle United since the blundering Mike Ashley took over, the longest continuous run of Premiership matches for any manager apart from the current one has been Joe Kinnear’s nineteen. Although Chris Hughton at least had a full season in the Championship, his spells as caretaker apart, he only had sixteen games in the Premiership before being sacked. Anyway, the point of this is more to take a look at Newcastle United’s long ball style as a whole in recent years, rather than just focusing on one particular manager. This brings me to my final point in this section, why I haven’t included that Championship season. This was for two reasons: Firstly, because I do not have the same stats for that season (I only have Premiership stats from “OPTA”). Secondly, it is also (literally) a different league, a different paradigm where different standards apply.

In terms of providing some context to these figures, there is of course the question of how they compare with those of other Premiership clubs / Managers. This is why I have also included similar figures from two very longstanding managers who are at either end of the route one scale, the first being Arsene Wenger, whose Arsenal team have consistently been the shortest passing team on average over the period since the start of the 2008-9 season. At the other extreme, unsurprisingly, we have Stoke City’s Tony Pulis, whose team have usually been the worst of the worst long ball offenders. However, even Pulis and other long ball kings such as Sam Allardyce have recently moderated their previous route one ways a little this season, and have even been eclipsed by our very own Alan “hoof it!” Pardew as well as his Reading protege, the promoted Brian “long balls” McDermott, with the pair consistently holding the two top places in the long ball league. Indeed, Pardew’s average long ball percentage reached over 18% at one stage this season, though it has since come down to 16.4%. Though better, this is still 0.4% higher than Pulis, as the reformed character’s average for this season so far is 16.0% at the time of writing.

One final note: The table is arranged in order of the percentage of all passes which were long balls (25 yards or over). The manager with the lowest percentage is top and so on…

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the Newcastle United managerial long ball matrix!

Who has the longest balls?
No. Manager Games Passes LB LBG LB %
1. Arsene Wenger 178 93620 8193 46.0 08.2%
2. Chris Hughton 3 16 6428 892 55.7 13.9%
3 Kevin Keegan 3. 1212 171 57 14.1%
4. Alan Pardew 86 33851 5136 59.7 15.2%
5. Chris Hughton 1 3 1231 190 63.3 15.4%
6. Joe Kinnear 19 6975 1135 59.7 16.3%
7. Alan Shearer 8 2948 491 61.4 16.7%
8. Chris Hughton 2 5 1806 313 62.6 17.3%
9. Tony Pulis 178 49427 9942 55.9 20.1%
Newcastle United 2008-13 total & 2012-13 so far.
No. Manager Games Passes LB LBG LB %
NUFC 2012-13 26 10049 1651 63.5 16.4%
NUFC 2008-13 140 54451 8328 59.5 15.3%
LB – Long Balls (over 25 yards).
LBG – Average Long Balls per Game.
LB % – Long Ball %.
Chris Hughton 1 – Caretaker spell between Keegan and Kinnear.
Chris Hughton 2 – Caretaker spell between Kinnear and Shearer.
Chris Hughton 3 – As full manager for first part of 2010-11 season.
All stats by OPTA.

So what can we learn from these figures?

1. Newcastle United don’t play like a big club.

We may observe that Alan Pardew isn’t Newcastle United’s only long ball miscreant. Though Newcastle United are a fairly large club even by Premiership standards, both with and without Pardew it has played more like smaller clubs with less skilled players who are utilising a more direct approach in an attempt to bridge the gulf in skill. Nowadays, even that approach seems to be coming to end, with smaller teams such as Swansea and Southampton bringing talented and highly progressive young managers like Michael Laudrup and Mauricio Pochettino, the antithesis of the older way where smaller clubs would mostly attempt to punch above their weight by bringing in old route one merchants such as Mick McCarthy, Alex McLeish and the abovementioned Pulis and Allardyce. The only manager whose long ball figures are anything close to reasonable is Chris Hughton in the 2010-11 season, and they were only somewhere in the middle. My journey into long balls has led to me blunder towards a rough scale which I am displaying below:

07% – 12% – A passing side who more or less completely eschew the long ball game.
12% – 15% – A mixed side who are somewhere in the middle
15% – 25% – A full on long ball side who positively embrace “percentage” football.

To illustrate my point, I have made another table, which captures the same stats as the one above, only for teams who have finished in the top four of the Premiership over the last two seasons. For this one, stats from the current incomplete season have not been used.

Premiership top four, 2011-12.
No. Team Games Passes LB LBG LB %
1. Manchester City. 38 20863 1734 45.6 08.3%
2. Manchester United. 38 20184 2189 57.6 10.8%
3. Arsenal. 38 20600 1662 43.7 08.1%
4. Tottenham Hotspur. 38 19564 2323 61.1 11.9%
LB – Long Balls (over 25 yards).
LBG – Average Long Balls per Game.
LB % – Long Ball %.
All stats by OPTA.

And to show this isn’t a “freak” result, take a look at the previous season’s top four.

Premiership top four, 2010-11.
No. Team Games Passes LB LBG LB %
1. Manchester United. 38 18870 2278 59.9 12.1%
2. Chelsea. 38 19239 2044 53.8 10.6%
3. Manchester City. 38 17762 1718 45.2 09.7%
4. Arsenal. 38 20159 1461 38.4 07.2%
LB – Long Balls (over 25 yards).
LBG – Average Long Balls per Game.
LB % – Long Ball %.
All stats by OPTA.

As you can see, they’re all what could be described as “passing sides,” though this is hardly a recent phenomenon. Back in the days of the late seventies and early eighties, when Bob Paisley and Brian Clough owned both the domestic League Championship and European Cup, which they won five times between them (Paisley thee times and Clough twice), Clough had this to say:

“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there!”

Paisley and his great predecessor Bill Shankly both described their own “Eureka” moment, the insight which helped Liverpool to dominate both domestic and European football. Shankly described it thus, saying:

“We realised at Liverpool that you can’t score a goal every time you get the ball. And we learned this from Europe, from the Latin people. When they play the ball from the back they play in little groups. The pattern of the opposition changes as they change. This leaves room for players like Ray Kennedy and Terry McDermott, who both played for Liverpool after I left, to sneak in for the final pass. So it’s cat and mouse for a while waiting for an opening to appear before the final ball is let loose. It’s simple and it’s effective … It’s also taken the spectators time to adjust to it.”

Paisley on the same subject also recounted:

“We realised it was no use winning the ball if you finished up on your backside. The top Europeans showed us how to break out of defence effectively. The pace of their movement was dictated by their first pass. We had to learn how to be patient like that and think about the next two or three moves when we had the ball.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the more short passes and the less long passes a side makes, the better they will be. As you can see, if that were the case, Arsenal and Manchester City would be the ones fighting it out for the Premiership title every time and Manchester United and Chelsea would be left in their wake, which is obviously not the case. I’m not saying that it is the only factor either as obviously, a squad of very high quality players with strength in depth is also essential too, along with several other factors. However, if Newcastle United is ambitious enough to strive to be a real top club, there simply must change this aspect of their tactics, otherwise they will fail, just as they have many times before. Despite their F.A. Cup glories of the fifties, and their Hughie Gallacher led League title of 1927, not to mention one or two other trophies, Newcastle United have never been a genuine top team since the Edwardian era when they won three of their four league titles along with their first F.A. Cup. Despite the thrills and spills of Keegan’s “Entertainers” in the 1990s, it is no mistake that this Edwardian side was also the last time that Newcastle United had a repution as a genuinely innovative “passing” side who were taking the game forward tactically. In the fifties when they won three F.A Cups in a five year period they were rather like Tottenham a few years back, ie very good in cup competitions but ultimately a mid-table side when it came to the League.

2. Alan Pardew is all over the place tactically.

In studying the Premiership statistics for both Newcastle United and other teams and managers, one salient point seems to be that although other managers are fairly consistent in their approach to the game, Alan Pardew can be positively schizophrenic with an approach which is all over the place, and sometimes even within the space of one game! Though his default position has been that of an old school, long ball merchant who learned his trade in the world of lower league and non league football, on some occaisions he will shed his own skin and become and attempt to become Alan Pardiola the king of tiqui-taka football. In our game against our only game against Southampton so far this season, a whopping 23.5% of all Newcastle United’s passes were long balls in tactical performance which really pushed the envelope of sheer awfulness. Two games later, after another beating where his Newcastle United team made Stoke look like Barcelona (with a long % of 18.6% against Stoke’s 14.8%), Pardiola was back again, beating Wigan 3-0 with a long ball percentage of only 10.8%, which is around the same as better teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City etc. You simply do not get anything like this level of variation with other managers and it’s as if he doesn’t seem to know what he stands for one way or the other. His thinking is confused and inconsistent, and this will take him nowhere in the long run.


You might think I am making far too much of one simple statistic here, however I cannot stress how vital it is. Though some teams who might be described as “route one,” “long ball” or whatever might well have won the odd cup competition, or reached the odd final in recent years, my many hours of poring through long ball stats have proved to me (amongst other things) that Newcastle United will never again be a regular top four Champions League side until they get a handle on this aspect of their play.

Pardew’s long balls – An in depth probe.

Are Pardew’s long balls getting even longer?.


NUFCBlog Author: workyticket workyticket has written 1092 articles on this blog.

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7 Responses

  1. i think the stats highlight the fact, that our so called “best league in the world”, does historically like their teams to be direct, and get the ball in there, for the front men.
    lets be honest, the premier league dont play football on the deck, as much as our european counterparts.
    although it is changing a bit in recent times, when you used to watch wenger’s team, in their heyday, and recently teams like swansea, are bucking the trend.

    long may that continue imo, i like to see football played on the grass, the way it should be played, with passing and moving, and the ball doing the work.
    there’s nothing better than seeing a good footballing side, in full flow, a la barcelona, apart from last night, where they created very little.

    there’s nothing wrong with playing a direct style of football, and it doesn’t have to be boring.
    look at that volley peter crouch scored last season, you can still get the thrills and spills.
    which brings us on to the future england manager, alan pardew.
    alan doesn’t even do longball football very well, he doesn’t do shortball very well, infact he doesn’t do anything very well.
    saying his style is all over the place is an understatement, it seems to me he has a hotch potch of ideas, but no idea on how to execute them.
    whatever he comes up with very rarely works, and tactically he hasn’t a clue on how to change a game.
    the only thing alan pardew is good at, is “excuseball”, if there is a category to put him in, that’s where he belongs.

    what’s the betting we are bounced out of europe tonight, without too much fuss, and as usual pardew will be at the forefront of the failure.

  2. Joe, Barcelona are starting to remind me of Pardew when they lose. It’s rather tedious when they self righteously prattle on about they didn’t deserve to lose because the other side were playing “anti football” blah blah when teams such as Internazionale, Chelsea and Milan actually have the nerve to defend against them properly instead of just standing aside and letting them put on some kind of Harlem Globetrotters style exhibition game.

  3. worky, you have to earn the victory against the defensive masters of modern football, the italians.
    i used to watch a lot of their football in the days of the channel 4 coverage, and james richardson, on a sunday afternoon.
    it could be frustrating to watch at times, but we could learn a lot from them, on the defensive front.

    all the so called big clubs have this, “how dare anyone beat us”, mentality, makes you sick at times.
    old whiskey nose is an expert in not being gracious in defeat, and playing the victim, when it doesn’t go manure’s way.

  4. joe hawkins says:
    February 21, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    “i used to watch a lot of their football in the days of the channel 4 coverage, and james richardson, on a sunday afternoon.”

    They used to have Kenneth “they think it’s all over” Wolstenhome as well. I seem to recall it started in the midst of Gazzamania when he went to play for SS Nazio. Italy was regarded as the best league in the world back then and they were the ones who were splashing all the cash around.

  5. Worky: this backs up what you said all along. I am sure pardew would argue that he changes the tactics according to the players he has available and the team we are playing against. He would also probably say that he makes adjustments according to game circumstances.

    I think it a lot more haphazard than that. I really think he is out of his depth. If we have an audio/visual room then it must be padlocked.

    I think you should repost this article after the match as it will probably get lost in the match banter.

  6. One thing about stats Worky. They don’t always tell the full story. You have defended Williamson, but whatever the stats say we are a much better team with Taylor.

    You can argue the new Frenchies have made a difference but I feel much more comfortable with Taylor in the side.

  7. Long ball, short ball ?
    Not really what it’s about.

    In the EPL we have a number of teams playing different styles of football.

    Some like the present Liverpool (previously Swansea) Arsenal,etc. concentrate on possession, if you have the ball, it’s impossible for the other side to score.

    But t can be just as boring watching Arsenal doing triangles along the centerfield sideline, as watching Williamson hoof it into the stands.

    There are many vesions of the game played by EPL sides.
    What makes the league differ from other European football, is for the most part, the speed at which it’s played, plus theres a bit more of the physical side involved.

    Given the short amount of time players get, before being tackled, requires greater technical ability, both by the player with the ball and team-mates getting into position to receive a pass from him, which requires constant practice.
    Therefore good coaching.

    Yes it’s the speed of the English game that makes it more attractive as a spectacle.

    As for the long pass, hey there are no prettier plays than a team on a fast break, utilizing that killer pass, either over the top or on the ground, to a fast breaking forward.

    Something we should be looking at with the pace we presently have.

    Not every side has the talent to play certain styes of the game, or the management and coaching to teach it.

    That’s wht makes the EPL interesting, the fact finally the Mc Leash’s and other retreads are being replaced by younger and more astute students of the game.

    Not afraid to introduce what they believe will be a style that can bring success to the club, a more modern version of the game.

    Up until now the Spanish league has led the way in introducing, a different approach, certainly in a tactical sense.

    Only have to look at Barca, who did away withe the traditional striker role, selling on of two the best and most successfull strikers in recent years Ito and Ibrhahimovic, because they did’nt fit into the tactical plan.

    Carroll at Liverpool, same thing.

    And yes Spain following years of not winning anything, have through the quality of both players and coaching, become the worlds dominant side.

    Now that does’nt mean it will always be the way, both Hungary and Brasil, also dominated, by introducing a revolutionary tactical style of playing.
    Which lasted untill others overtook them.

    Hell the recent Brasilian side looked mediocre.

    Anyway i’m more interested in whats going on in the EPL, obviously more people watch it than any other league, so they must be doing something right.

    A combination of speed and technical ability, plus a wee bit of the physical, could make for both the most entertaining and possibly successful leagues in the world.

    Long may the differeing styles and tactics be employed, after all thats how we learn what works when.