…Or learning to love the replacement no one wanted…
Here’s a post I wrote in True Faith issue 86, written on February 20th 2011.
After having a few cheeky little beers post-Blackburn, I got to thinking about Pardew. I mean, he really is on a hiding to nothing – no matter what happens, the fans will never feel for him in the same way we did for Keegan or Robson, or even Hughton.
Partly this is due to the way he was hired. To be fair, he did nothing wrong by accepting the job, but he will always be seen, to some extent, as Ashley’s puppet. Irregardless of the fact that he is from down south (which never stopped us warming to Hughton), the fact that he was appointed (having been recently sacked from a third-tier club) amid allegations that he is a regular at Llambias’ casino lead to speculation that this was Ashley moving someone more pliable into the position after Hughton started to get the credit for how the club was playing.
This was backed up by a contract of five and a half years, an absurd length of time in this day and age (even at more stable clubs), which basically ensured Fat Mike’s mate a hefty wedge if new owners take over the club and decide they want their own man. During conferences Pardew was keen to present himself as his own man, with the oft-repeated promise that Andy Carroll would not be going anywhere. That just goes to show how much control he really has, as something he spent so much time promising the fans would not happen promptly happened as soon as Liverpool came calling with a stupid amount of money.
There are echoes of 1997 about this situation, with Shola (Shearer (bear with me!)) succumbing to injury shortly after Carroll (Sir Les) was sold. I have to believe Pardew didn’t think Carroll would be sold as no replacement was signed during the transfer window, and Shola’s injury is a kick in the knackers of the owner, who you have to assume thought we were already safe and wouldn’t need our best striker for the rest of the year. Now, say what you like about Shola, but we have arguably lost our best two strikers as we come down to the most important part of the season.
To be honest, I have nothing really against Pardew, but his appointment still bristles, nearly two months after it was announced. Results have certainly been more consistent than under Comrade Chris (perhaps due to his ‘greater Premiership experience’…cough…), and, we have seemed to be more defensively sound. Recently though, we have been lacking a cutting-edge up front, which hopefully won’t come back to hurt us in May.
No matter what Pardew does, however, there will always be a suspicion about him. We should avoid relegation this season based on where we stand at the time of writing after Birmingham away, being only 5 points shy of the magical 40 in a season where you have to figure that 36 points will be enough to ensure safety. Say we somehow maintain our position in ninth place (or even qualify for Europe… sorry, I was becoming a ‘delusional Geordie’ there), would we say “well done Alan, thanks for ironing out some of our issues and exceeding our expectations”, or “Pardew avoided fucking up the team spirit that Hughton created. The hard work was already done and he just steadied the ship somewhat”?
I would argue that anything he achieves this season is more a case of the latter. By and large this is the same team we won promotion with, who have been moulded into some sort of collective unit. They play for each other, and the fans recognise that. This existed before Pardew.
Any progress we make between his appointment and May will be a case of evolution, not revolution. The good work was started by Hughton, and for Pardew to get more credit in the future, he would have to radically re-make the image of the team, either tactically or in the transfer market (with or, more likely, without the Carroll money).
Let’s say, two years from now, Ashley has just left the club and Pardew is still here. Newcastle are challenging for the top six (use your imagination!) with only Krul/Forster, Simpson, Stevie Taylor, Williamson, Guthrie and Shola still in the team from our current squad (entirely feasible due to potential wage restrictions on our big earners and Ashley selling off any talented youngsters). Then it could truly be called Pardew’s team (and no doubt the sale/release of our high earners and promising youngsters would be done, at least partially, with his blessing), but the suspicion will still remain. Even then, he would remain tainted by his association with Ashley.
Hughton was a quiet, understated man who managed to escape from under the shadow of Ashley, partly due to the feeling that he was successful (eventually) despite the owner. He negotiated our biggest challenge – make no mistake, if we had not been promoted last year then it would be hard to see us coming back up anytime soon.
Pardew doesn’t face the challenge Hughton did, and according to some sources, he could even be seen as complicit in the removal of a decent and popular man. No matter what he achieves, it will never be as meaningful.
He may end up liked – and no one would wish him ill while he was in charge of this club – but he will never be loved.