As Alan Pardew reached three years in charge of Newcastle, he must start living up to his own billing
Armchair pundit Rohan Banerjee reflects on the Premier League's second longest serving manager...
Alan Pardew's story is an interesting one. From working as an apprentice glazier on the NatWest Tower in London during the 1970s, the grammatically challenged cockney now 'celebrates' three years in charge at Newcastle United.
From the offset, Pardew's appointment was contentious. What was widely considered to be the unfair dismissal of the popular Chris Houghton, was seen to be only justifiable if a top class manager was brought in his place. Then Newcastle left back Jose Enrique even remarked, "If they are going to fire someone as good as Chris, they have to bring in a big name, someone who has won trophies. If they just bring in someone similar, it's a joke."
Sadly, the Newcastle board's sense of humour wasn't well received. Despite a brief dalliance with the FA Cup during his stint at West Ham, to most fans Pardew's CV was as equally inconspicuous as any of those other former players who weren't famous or funny enough to get on TV. Under Pardew, the Geordies feared they might be treated to that vestibular region between the Championship play off places and Premier League relegation zone while locked in a fierce five way battle to sign Carlton Cole.
This gloomy prophecy notwithstanding however, what the Toon Army have experienced over the past three years, is more mixed than a bag of Revels. Yes, Newcastle have battled relegation, but they've also played on the continent. Admittedly, they've lost back to back derbies to Sunderland for the first time since 1967, but they've also beaten Manchester United 3-0. Embarrassingly, they've gone out exclusively to lower league opposition in the FA Cup for the past three campaigns, but impressively their 2013 Europa League push was only thwarted by eventual runners-up Benfica.
Indeed, Pardew's reign is one characterised by inconsistency. Just one season after finishing fifth, he led the Toon to 16th and just one summer after that, despite an unexpected loss to Swansea last time out, Newcastle find themselves within a stone's throw of the top four.
So what does this say about Pardew the manager? Personally, I think it implies some level of chance. This isn't to say that his successes are flukes or that his failings are merely down to an extended spate of bad luck, rather throughout his time on Tyneside Pardew's bullish management style has cost him. He's an incredibly stubborn bloke. If something works once for him, he's convinced that it'll work again which is probably why he persisted in that Ba/Cisse partnership for so long or why he's been so sparing with Hatem Ben Arfa this term. The trouble with Pardew is that after a while, he can get found out.
Whether it's an inability or an unwillingness to adapt I'm not sure, but it is ultimately what has provided 'Pardiola' with his very own glass ceiling. When Newcastle finished fifth in 2012, it was the perfect opportunity for the club to move forward. In fact, Pardew himself boldly pledged a top four target during the close season; but this was not backed up with a bolstering of the squad. Of course, some of this was down to Mike Ashley's tight fists, but you couldn't help but feel that Pardew's arrogance had played a part. As far as he was concerned, he'd got fifth with with this side - why would he need to sign in bulk? But his hubris was soon exposed - injuries to key players and the untimely sale of Demba Ba to Chelsea led to Newcastle's loss of form; and necessitated the January arrivals of Messrs Sissoko, Debuchy and Gouffran, players with allegedly top six credentials. Yet, Newcastle still only mustered 16th.
Fastforward a few months though and Le Toon's French contingent have started to gel. Despite minimal activity in the transfer market once more, Pardew's solitary loan signing, goal machine Loic Remy, has proven to be quite the coup. Newcastle find themselves in a position much more befitting of the club's stature, and it does go some way toward vindicating Ashley's decision not to sack him after last season's horror-show.
But for all the renewed optimism in the Gallowgate now gathering pace, on the day of Pardew's three year anniversary, there are still some cautionary tales to be observed. Newcastle are doing well at the moment because without European football they have been spared fixture congestion; but the squad is still too thin, as the withdrawals of Ben Arfa and Cisse due to injury at Swansea afforded the comically ineffectual Obertan a spot on the bench. That's something to be addressed in January.
What is more pressing for Alan Pardew now though is changing how he acknowledges and responds to expectation. At his first press conference, he famously suggested that Newcastle was "one of the top five clubs in England," a status which he duly achieved with them less than two years later; but after what many fans of other clubs felt to be a sobering reality check last season, Newcastle redefined themselves as a club ostensibly destined for mid table.
Pardew says the target this term is to break the top ten, but with four wins in his last five games, and the likes of Yohan Cabaye still in his side (just) as well as several other internationals, it might be argued that he's selling himself, or rather the club, short.
There is no such thing as overachievement. If a team can finish fifth over the course of 38 games, they are for all intents and purposes a top five team, or at the very least top seven, and save for Demba Ba Newcastle's 11/12 squad is largely still intact.
Underachievement however is a very real concern. I wouldn't sack Pardew if he finished in the top half, but I'd speculate that Cabaye and co will probably leave if some form of European football isn't delivered. Pardew has a responsibility to live up to his own billing and learn to adapt his tactics beyond the current Plan B of hoof it to Shola. Newcastle's current side is one that has the potential to finish in the top seven and possibly have a go in the FA Cup. Whether 'Pards' is the man to manage that remains to be seen. He has five years left to run on his obscenely long contract, but I dare say that this season might be key in determining how far that deal goes.
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