Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Eighteen extraordinary months on Tyneside

As Newcastle occupy fifth place in the Premier League after an astonishingly accomplished season, with European football a very likely possibility next year, I thought I would revisit a blog I wrote for football website Two Footed Tackle in December 2010, on Alan Pardew's appointment as Newcastle manager. While all around were decrying Mike Ashley the Newcastle chairman, and mourning the loss of Chris Hughton from the Premier League, I instead wrote - why not give Pardew a chance?

(Originally posted here)

All we're saying is give Pards a chance 
(15 December 2010)
On the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, two days after the untimely sacking of Chris Hughton to vehement disapproval across English football, Alan Pardew became the favourite in a short race to the Newcastle United manager post. A day later, the ink on Pardew’s gargantuan contract was dry. Seen as a poisoned chalice by many, Pardew admitted in his opening press conference that some of his peers had labelled him ‘mad’ to take a position vacated eight times in six years, under the shadow of one of the most ignominious managerial dismissals in recent seasons.

Eventually, of course, someone had to dance on Hughton’s grave, and many people were confused that it was Pardew who has been given the opportunity.

But what choice did he have? Pardew is a manager, like Newcastle are a team, with ambitions that reside with best of them. He does not doubt his own ability to manage at this level and, it appears, from the length of his new contract (or his ability to negotiate such a strong deal at least) neither does Mike Ashley.
Pardew does have previous here: after taking West Ham back to football’s top table in 2005, he led them to a respectable ninth and FA Cup final the following season. It is a situation not altogether unfamiliar to that in which Newcastle find themselves – though with respect to the Hammers, the opportunity for greater things is richer this time around.

Furthermore, he has something to prove. He left West Ham under a cloud, although his legacy has ultimately been enough to see the Hammers maintain their Premier League status since. However, Pardew is earning a reputation as a difficult character, and commentators point to his record of sackings – three out of his last three positions.

Pardew has, though, shown considerable dignity and honesty since joining the club. “Chris Hughton is very, very unfortunate not to be sitting here discussing this win,” he said, following Newcastle’s fine 3-1 defeat of Liverpool. After all, he of all out-of-work managers prior to last weekend will have empathised most with Hughton, having been dismissed three league games into Southampton’s 2010/11 season, a day after a 4-0 win and off the back of a promising league campaign and trophy-winning season.

It is Pardew’s frankness, a tendency not to pull any punches, that lends him a hint of arrogance, which too often seems to rub people up the wrong way – players, colleagues and superiors alike. Alternatively, having seen Pardew manage my club first hand and do several media appearances, it is becoming of a man simply not prepared to mince words, a man who cuts through the crap and evaluates himself and his charges as honestly and clearly as possible.

That might be a tough transition for a club who are used to the more considered opinions of Hughton and, further back, Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, and might cross Pardew off the Christmas card lists of one or two players. But for others reeling from the loss of a perfectly good manager – particularly the English spine of the side, from Steven Taylor through Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton to Andy Carroll – Pardew’s no-nonsense style and disregard for sentimentality might be just the tonic for a side capable of both winning and losing 5-1.

For all the headline-grabbing results Newcastle have pulled off so far this season – and there have been many – it probably doesn’t hurt to point out home defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City, too. Pardew may be the man to ensure the rest of the season passes smoothly, putting on hold for the moment the conveyor belt of sensational events at St. James’s Park since Ashley took over.

By beating Liverpool, Pardew delivered the perfect start, ensuring that the fans’ immediate disgust stays trained on the board. They do not have any particular animosity towards Pardew, of course – he can hardly apologise for stepping into Hughton’s shoes – and if he can keep a low profile without undoing much of his predecessor’s good work, he shouldn’t be in any immediate danger. It wouldn’t take long for that to change, however.

But for all the pros and cons that can be made for Pardew’s appointment, for neutrals and for football it would be great to see a manager stuck by, a lengthy contract adhered to (by both sides), and patience, support and stability reign over a football club.

Too often now, managers go like resigning MPs, surface wounds for deeper illnesses. Roy Hodgson and Gerard Houllier have already experienced early feelings of discontent in their respective fledgling Liverpool and Aston Villa careers, and with bookies slashing odds on Pardew being the next managerial sacking, his extended stay in the Newcastle hotseat as they develop into a top six club once again would be the light at the end of a long tunnel. You might say I’m a dreamer. All I’m saying is, give Pardew a chance.