Alan Pardew’s four-year reign at Newcastle United was nothing if not tempestuous. At the start of this season the Magpies hit a losing streak and a glance at the Premier League table showed them in freefall – their fans were enraged. Then, in a bizarre turn of events, Pardew’s luck changed: his team turned a corner and results improved dramatically, resulting in him being named Manager of the Month for November. In December, his Newcastle team halted league-leaders Chelsea’s unbeaten run. Something was in the air.
As the new year came in, Pardew departed for Premier League rivals Crystal Palace, seemingly relieved to have been offered a way out. The ‘Pardew Out’ brigade was no doubt delighted, but there is a sense that his departure may have a detrimental effect on the club, rather than being a much-needed change.
Although Pardew has been heavily criticised over the past few months, it’s hard to see quite what he was doing wrong. Not only has Newcastle had a lengthy injury list – with the likes of Cheick Tioté and Siem De Jong out of action for many months – but the transfer policy seemed to be determined by Mike Ashley, the billionaire retail entrepreneur who appeared to have saved Newcastle from certain financial ruin in 2007. If the manager is not the one in control of the personnel, how can he possibly be held responsible for the club’s success or failure?
That is not to say that Pardew hasn’t had his fair share of controversy, having been involved in many a contentious incident in the course of his managerial career. From criticising Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger for not fielding any English players in the Champions League in 2006, to head-butting Hull City midfielder David Meyler in 2014, Pardew makes Phil Brown look positively saintly. Stuart Roach of the BBC went so far as to describe him as a “dangerous and distant animal”, referring to his difficulty in handling public relations.
For all Pardew’s perceived faults, Newcastle’s apparent stasis in recent seasons is not all down to him. Though Ashley may have saved the club from ruin, perhaps it’s at him that fans should be directing their anger. It is Ashley who maintains the policy of selling the most impressive performers each season for a profit, in an attempt to further recover his investment.
Ashley’s club policy in regard to the FA Cup is equally questionable. Despite the fact that this venerable tournament is the oldest cup competition in the world and still retains a certain prestige in England, Newcastle’s policy of late has been to leave their star players out for cup games – sad proof of Ashley’s indifference and detachment from the common fan.
However, Newcastle fans should not despair. The recent performances of their younger talents, such as Ayoze Pérez, Emmanuel Rivière and Paul Dummet, show that their team can still compete in the Premier League. Much will depend on who they appoint as successor to Pardew.
Unsuccessful teams can be turned around in the space of a season with the right manager, as Manchester United’s appointment of Louis van Gaal has shown. Tottenham Hotspur, too, have improved their standing following the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton.
One thing is certain: a manager’s success relies on him being allowed to manage, and that means being able to choose who plays in his team. He must have the final word on transfers and team selection – that is the formula for success. The question is whether any new manager appointed by Mike Ashley will be allowed this freedom.
Photo/Tim Rich and Lesley Katon