Alan Pardew: 'After the hurt of being sacked at West Ham by someone who did not know me, I wanted to come to work with people I trust'

Exclusive In his first major interview since being sacked by West Ham, the Charlton manager talks to Jason Burt about the injustices of the past and the dilemmas of the future
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The Independent Online

'It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.' Vince Lombardi, former head coach of the Green Bay Packers

The rain is steady and increasing in intensity at Charlton Athletic's training ground. Alan Pardew stands by the side of a pitch watching a quickly arranged reserve team game against Reading and reflects on the challenge ahead, why he took it on - and his bruising departure from West Ham United.

"If you look at my career," Pardew says. "I've never shirked a challenge. I don't mind that scenario. I'm not a miracle worker, that's for sure, and it's going to take time to turn it around. But I've always believed that what I do is the right way to approach things and the right way to play."

Indeed, that belief courses through him. It always has done. Pardew's biggest task now, he says, is making it return to Charlton. It is why he has rejected the idea of selling the club's prime asset, Darren Bent. At first Pardew took a pragmatic approach - generating millions by selling the striker would give him the war chest to rebuild.

"I toyed with it, especially when he got injured," Pardew says. "But it would have been a disservice to us in the end. The fans would lack that little bit of belief if he went and that's the one thing we are missing. I'm talking about putting that back and then Darren goes. No matter how I dress that up it isn't going to improve our belief. We are definitely keeping him even if we lose our next few games."

Charlton have lost all three matches under Pardew without Bent. With the 22-year-old there was a draw, which would have been a victory but for an appalling refereeing decision, and a precious win. Bent, who has scored 27 goals in 57 games, struck in both. "He's our main source of turning the tide," Pardew states, "and our most important player. It's why I made him captain. I want to inspire him."

But Bent, along with others, would undoubtedly go if Charlton are relegated. That's part of the juggling act - "the double whammy" - that Pardew has to perform. "We can't carry this squad into the Championship, it's too expensive," he says. "But at the same time we want to stay in the Premiership and give ourselves the best chance. That's the double whammy. Can we perform a tough agenda, a really big mountain to climb, and stay in this division? And if that doesn't happen what do we do in the summer, and how do we approach next season to get us back in the Premiership? Those are the two agendas that I'm dealing with - even with the transfers I'm trying to do now."

It has been a busy January for Pardew, who expected to be on holiday, in South Africa, right now and then to do some media work for the rest of the season following his sacking at West Ham on 11 December. But on Christmas Eve Charlton came calling. "It was simple, really," he says. "I know this is a good club. I wanted to get back into work. I know it's a difficult situation but I thought, 'It's my old club, they need help and I would be wrong to think that I couldn't do as well as anyone else who is available'. It just looked right. There was an emotional pull and obviously the way it ended at West Ham was part of it as well."

The way it ended at West Ham is astonishing. It was a soap opera where the plot lines, from on-off-on takeover sagas, Argentine World Cup stars and freak injuries, grew increasingly far-fetched before, in the end, Pardew became the victim. But he certainly does not want to apportion blame. "There were a lot of issues that made it very difficult to manage," he says. "But if I genuinely felt I had not worked hard or had taken my eye off the ball I would have been big enough to quit. There was, perhaps, too much for me to deal with in terms of the takeover, the players' second season in the Premiership and so on.

"But the one thing that really disappoints me is that people are looking for scapegoats. Nigel [Reo-Coker, the West Ham captain] was looked at. I thought that wasn't right. It was a collective responsibility - the old board, the new board, who came in straight away and said they were going to buy players, which added to the pressure, the players, me. But no one should be the scapegoat. During that period we couldn't follow up our great first year. That was the truth."

Pardew's three years at West Ham were amazing. Having arrived from Reading, following a drawn-out split, he rebuilt a traumatised, relegated club on the cheap, earned promotion with a bunch of players permed from the lower divisions, achieved ninth place in the Premiership - and reached the FA Cup final. It was youthful, vibrant and entertaining. "I was dealing with a lot of young players and had to give them faith and time," Pardew says. "I still think the situation I left, although in the relegation zone, was not desperate. I'm still convinced we would not have gone down."

West Ham's new chairman, Eggert Magnusson, who took charge following the Icelandic takeover, clearly felt differently. After just three games - and three defeats - he sacked Pardew. It appeared brutal. "I had what every team - and I include Man Utd, Chelsea - have sometimes," Pardew says. "And that was a really ugly performance at a bad time. That was at Bolton [lost 4-0]. You get them. And his [Magnusson's] reaction to that probably was, 'The [transfer] window's coming up, I don't know if Alan's been too loyal to the players he has and whether he can be ruthless enough with the squad or not'. That probably was his consideration."

Undoubtedly circumstances conspired against Pardew too. He still shakes his head at having been deprived of Dean Ashton through injury, at being denied the chance of improving the squad with the millions now available at Upton Park - while the number of games that were lost 1-0 is truly bewildering. West Ham simply could not score a goal. No wonder he is so desperate now to hang on to Darren Bent.

Pardew is not bitter. Indeed, one point he wants to make, strongly, in this interview is his gratitude at the response he has had from West Ham supporters. "It has been phenomenal and I've tried to answer all the letters. I really, really appreciate and believe that I took the club from a dire situation to a positive one. The timing of my sacking didn't reflect well with what I had done there. But that's perhaps how it is when you are sacked. The one thing I would say as well is that it hasn't affected my confidence."

It is why he was so keen to get back in the saddle. "The bottom line for me, after the hurt of having someone come into West Ham and remove me without even knowing me, is that I wanted to come to work with people I trust and that's one of the big reasons I'm here," Pardew states. "In Peter Varney [Charlton chief executive] and Richard Murray [the chairman] I knew and trusted them. I knew, like what happened with Terry Brown [Magnusson's predecessor as West Ham chairman] that they would give me time to work."

Indeed, Varney and Murray were both at Charlton when Pardew was a midfielder at the club in the early Nineties and starting his coaching under the tutelage of Keith Peacock, who was then the reserve team manager. Peacock is now, of course, Alan Curbishley's assistant at West Ham, having also worked for Pardew, who remembers those Wednesday evenings well, with bus loads of kids brought in to work with him at Merton FC. The coaching bug bit and by 32 Pardew had all the badges.

At Charlton, there are many other familiar faces still working at what Pardew believes is one of the best-organised and fondly regarded clubs in the Premiership. "And they've been hurt this season so it's quite nice to know that an old boy is back, who knows what the club is about."

Not that Pardew, who pores over biographies and is a keen fan of Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers American football team, considers himself "typical Charlton". In fact, he believes the place needs a shake-up - "and I will bring that" - and has already brought in Phil Parkinson, his former captain at Reading and, until recently, the Hull City manager, as his assistant.

"Even when I was here [as a player] I didn't think I fitted the Charlton mode," Pardew says. "I was a bit more aggressive than the other players. Maybe, in the past, it's been too nice a club. Nothing really nasty happens here. It's all good. Maybe they need to be a bit more edgy. I want that aggressive, in-your-face mentality in games. I want a vibrancy to the way we play. At the moment we're just organising the team, doing the basics, squeezing the pitch, stretching the pitch, how we defend, set pieces, the things you have to do when you are down there."

This is not news to the Charlton board. It was all laid bare when it approached Pardew, just before Christmas, to become the third man to lead the club this season after Iain Dowie - who spent £11m last summer, leaving no money at all for this transfer window - and the ill-fated Les Reed. Pardew sensed there might have been another change. "I could see the media circling around Les," he says. "I remember one TV commentator saying: 'This is only Les Reed's third game as a manager.' I thought it was a little unfair. It was a fact but it was used against him."

So when the phone call came it was not a surprise. "But I needed persuading," Pardew, who signed a three-and-a-half year deal, admits. "I wasn't just going to come and offer my services. I know my value on the market. I also felt that the club needed to know it had made mistakes. I'm a strong character and told them, 'This is what I think has gone on, this is what I thought when I saw the team play, this is what needs to be done - and this is what it is going to cost. I think they bought into that. The experience and what it takes to turn this round needs faith."

He has been there before, of course, at West Ham and is battle-hardened. His years at Reading, too, had their difficulties and to understand his thinking it must be remembered that Pardew was a latecomer to professional football. It had appeared to pass him by and he only signed his first contract at Crystal Palace when he was 25 - just three months after the death of his football-mad father, Harry, from throat cancer.

The Pardew family grew up in the Argyll Estate in Wimbledon. Harry followed his son with a passion as he carved out a career in junior football with Wandsworth Borough. But it was not to be. Aged 16 and a hard-working midfielder, Pardew was ignored by clubs and started to play men's football with Whyteleafe, in the old Athenian League and then on to Epsom & Ewell. On Sundays he turned out for a Surrey amateur side, Morden Nomads, while, during the week, he was an apprentice glazer, working with his dad and brother before, eventually, Palace signed him for £4,000 from Dulwich Hamlet.

That grounding helped to set his work ethic. "I'm a football manager," the 45-year-old says. "I've come to Charlton, back working on a tight budget and trying to get my team to its potential, trying to get the best out of my players. Hopefully, there will be different scenarios in my career but I'm certainly going to be better off having experienced what happened to me at Reading, what happened at West Ham and what's happening here.

"They [Charlton] may think these are dark days now. Well they are not that dark. We are competitive in the Premier League, to a level, but if we are going to drop down it will be a lot harder. I've never had a relegation in my career, even as a player. And I don't want that now. But I also know what I'm going to get at the other end should that happen and I've said that to the board. Make no mistake, the downside is very clear. It won't come in the summer it will be in November next season when we, say, lose to Barnsley at home. That's when the board needs to stay strong and understand that the fans are going to expect us back in the Premiership."

There's a pause. "On the other hand, I have the opportunity to turn around a near impossible situation. So that's the scenario. Can I turn it around? Can I get us back to the level we were at under Alan Curbishley? Can I go beyond that? Whatever happens I can guarantee certain things. I will offer organisation, work rate and a way to play the game that I've always done. Aggressive, positive, looking to win. That's how I will always be."

Such honesty, especially when discussing the ramifications of relegation, is unusual. But is it also defeatist? "The team has won four League games," Pardew says. "You can't hide away from that. I've had four League games. I've won one, drawn one, lost two. That ratio is not good enough. We're trying, with no money, to change the situation and do some work in the transfer market. It's not defeatist. My goal is to stay in this division and also not to go to Liverpool for the last game of the season needing points. It's going to take some doing but that's what I hope to do."

The schedule is tough. Portsmouth away today, a return to Bolton then Chelsea, at home, and Manchester United away [10 February has been pencilled in for Bent's return] ... and then West Ham down at The Valley. Pragmatically, Pardew says it will be a bonus for Charlton to take much from the first four of those fixtures. After that? "We have to try and win seven games," Pardew says. "And all our home games, for a start, are winnable. Every single one, even that Chelsea game."

But help is needed, he says, and not just on the pitch. "I want to get something across," Pardew says. "I've always thought that Charlton's crowds were fairly quiet. I'd like to change that. When the team is losing that's difficult to do but it's something we are going to have to try and get going. From now until the end of the season that's going to make a big, big difference. We need to get the crowd souped up. We need a little bit more passion coming down from the terraces. It's there but we just need to bring it out. I'm hoping that the way we play will get them fired up. There's a commitment to work, to having a go. I want to force the opposition into submission."

It's still raining at Sparrows Lane but the outlook may not be so bleak.

'It is time for us all to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever - the one who recognises the challenges and does something about it.' - Vince Lombardi

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