By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton
Diminishing returns is a concept that we are all familiar with. However, we will now go on to describe it in some detail. There is, for example, this series, the Diary of Love and Hate. What was once a promising and original review of the week’s Premier League action quickly turned into a cemetery for jokes. Not only were we drunk and strung out when we wrote it, we were miserable and at our day jobs when we edited it. There it was—a mixture of incompetence and resentment, distilled into 800 or so words, fewer if it was possible to get away with it. Diminishing Returns—that’s what we’ll call it when we come back next season.
Diminishing returns is not just limited to football though, it plagues our everyday lives. You know why the rich are so protective of their money—because money loses its novelty value, especially when it’s something you have plenty of. Knowing that your surfeit of cash is not something that makes you happy is why rich people stow it away; at least they can stop people enjoying the novelty of being able to buy temporary happiness, and because they’re scared everyday people will have it in themselves to do something more constructive with it. Diminishing returns, the ability of human nature to turn something of value and use into something that actually pains the soul, we’re all aware of that.
Just look at divorce rates. They may have peaked but they’re far higher than a settled and content world would ever produce, and certainly one where true love really did exist. We are now not just a divorcing world, but one that has settled into a routine of serial monogamy. We find one relationship, we enjoy the high, and then diminishing return sets in. The sex peaks and then relents. The quality drops, the commitment to making the other person satisfied stops being the priority and becomes a bargaining tool to be exchanged for similar favours. The amount they talk is no longer a subject of amusement, it is that the very sound of their voice reminds you that as bad as being alone is, it’s at least better than being in a room with her anymore. She’s a nice person, yet she makes you unhappy. That’s diminishing returns. That the concept is so inescapable is what makes diminishing returns such an easy concept to grasp, and a memorable phrase to invoke.
It’s in our booze, too. That first pint of cold, crisp life-enhancer is what makes 3pm, or whenever you chumps stop working, worth getting to each weekday. The second, which affirms what life should be about—mild self-destruction and the deliberate ignorance indulged in the face of ever growing real-life problems—is to be celebrated. The third, fourth and fifteenth, when used on a daily basis, just exacerbate depression, make life merely a bus route where every stop is crying uncontrollably. They make the next day’s first and second pint not a joy, but a necessary stop gap. When even the first drink of the day is ruined: that’s diminishing returns.
And so to Alan Pardew. (You’re relieved this is going to be about football now, aren’t you?) Alan Pardew gave West Ham one of the most successful seasons of their recent past. They played attacking, enjoyable football. They knew their way around the pitch and they had Dean Ashton, a player so good that he was linked with Arsenal when they were steely aesthetes rather than just pointless poseurs dreaming of fourth place. Alan Pardew gave West Ham what they needed for that season, and then the next season they fell apart.
Now he’s at Newcastle. Last season, he bought well, under the instruction of Graham Carr, but responsibility ultimately lies with him—it’s his job on the line—so he deserves a fair share of the credit. Yohan Cabaye was a looker and a French international. Cheik Tiote booted people up the arse admirably. They scored goals, looked like they were enjoying themselves and gave Mike Ashley and and Newcastle fans a reason to look each other in the eye again. Not now. The wheels have come off the Renault. They got done in by Brendan Rodgers. No shame in that ordinarily, but they got done in by Brendan Rodgers when he was managing Liverpool. At home. Without Luis Suarez playing. 6-0. Fabio Borini’s existence was partially validated.
Alan Pardew looks increasingly resentful of his lot, and yet carries a resigned hunch that indicates that he’s accepted his fate. He knows it’s destiny, that he’s unable to escape it. He’s merely waiting for the chance to get onto the next journey that has the same ultimate destination. The initial peak, the thrill of a feeling that seems like it will never end—that it will be different this time—all met by the same ruthless destruction we hold in our heads. Our spirit uses joy like our body uses drugs, as the amount needed to keep us interested spirals ever upwards. Our brains mirror nature, sabotaging our souls—all is decay. Newcastle United, Alan Pardew: that’s diminishing returns.