Steven Gerrard's equaliser in the 91st minute of the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham is remembered as one of those points in history that fans of dull British films would to refer to as a "Sliding Doors" moment. The point at which a life diverges from one path and finds another route on the basis of one tiny detail or, in this particular case, a goal from one of the best footballers in the world.
Somewhere in a parallel universe, Alan Pardew has an FA Cup-winners' medal. Somewhere he is still in charge of West Ham and a potential candidate to be England manager. Unfortunately for Pardew, in the reality with which we deal, he is just another unemployed football man with enough time on his hands to watch Liverpool against West Ham tonight, two and a half years on from the day when he was less than four minutes from winning the FA Cup final against Liverpool with a West Ham team who had been promoted to the Premier League only one year earlier.
After that FA Cup final, Pardew won only four more games as West Ham manager. He bought himself a Ferrari and, by general consensus, momentarily lost the plot. His image as a promising young English manager has been hastily revised, especially by those Charlton Athletic fans who finally got their wish when he was sacked last Saturday. Now it looks like he is embarking on a journey back down the leagues whence he came. He should be given another chance because no career is perfect, but don't count on it happening.
Sir Alex Ferguson was sacked by St Mirren. Arsène Wenger got the shove at Nancy after relegation (although they like to dress that one up as a mutual decision). Juande Ramos had more clubs than most people have had hot tapas, 11 since 1993 and no one in Spain believes he is finished because of what happened at Tottenham. Pardew probably believes he is a better manager than he was two years ago, and almost certainly would not make the same mistakes again. But will he get the chance? If you want to understand Pardew's legacy at West Ham, then a comparison of the team that lost to Liverpool in the 2006 FA Cup final to the XI most likely to play against Liverpool at Anfield tonight tells you all you need to know. Given the money that West Ham have spent since then, and more recently had to recoup, it is hard to make a case that, in terms of players, they are any better off than they were on that day at Wembley in 2006.
This is West Ham's side from the 2006 FA Cup final: Hislop; Scaloni, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Benayoun, Fletcher, Reo-Coker, Etherington; Ashton, Harewood.
And the West Ham side most likely to play against Liverpool tonight: Green; Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga; Behrami, Parker, Bowyer; Bellamy, Etherington; Cole.
This is an estimation of the best combination from those two sides: Green; Neill, Ferdinand, Upson, Konchesky; Benayoun, Parker, Reo-Coker, Etherington; Bellamy, Ashton.
Matthew Etherington predates even the Pardew regime, so he does not count. Dean Ashton would still be available tonight but for injury and he counts as Pardew's player because Pardew signed him. On that basis the score is 5-5 between Pardew's players and the players signed post-May 2006. However, in the summer before his final season, Pardew bought Robert Green, so the score should really be 6-4 in his favour. On this calculation, only Matthew Upson, Craig Bellamy, Lucas Neill and Scott Parker from those have been signed post-Pardew can claim to have improved the side.
In defence of Alan Curbishley, but not West Ham as a club, Anton Ferdinand (a home-grown player) was sold against Curbishley's wishes. They also sold Nigel Reo-Coker (a Pardew signing) of their own volition and, given his performances for Aston Villa, that now looks like another error. Pardew also signed Carlton Cole, who is still a regular starter. Danny Gabbidon, James Collins, Jonathan Spector and Hayden Mullins are all Pardew signings still judged to be worth keeping around at West Ham. He also signed George McCartney, whose controversial sale back to Sunderland this summer gave West Ham a crucial £4m profit.
Contrast that with what has followed Pardew. In terms of investments, West Ham's signing of Freddie Ljungberg rates up there with the American oil tycoon who bought London Bridge when he thought he was getting Tower Bridge. Kieron Dyer and Luis Boa Morte are not too far behind. Nigel Quashie has been and gone. West Ham paid well over the odds for Julien Faubert. Diego Tristan might be OK but, after almost two months at the club, we will have to wait until he actually plays a game.
Funnily enough, Pardew will always be remembered for how he failed to get the best out of Carlos Tevez and, to a greater degree, Javier Mascherano – who will be playing for Liverpool tonight. It is that criticism – that he was too English, too blinkered – upon which Pardew's time at West Ham is so often dismissed as a failure. Perhaps he did not realise how best to use Mascherano. Maybe Mascherano needed that period to adapt to English football. But West Ham can hardly say that they have cracked the code on buying successful foreign players since Pardew has left because, on the evidence stated, far too many of their subsequent signings have been hopeless.
Mascherano got another chance at Liverpool. Pardew got another chance at Charlton, a club already in free fall when he arrived and, more recently, desperately casting around for a new owner. Yet if West Ham get any sort of result tonight they might wish to give a modicum of thanks to their out-of-work former manager. You wouldn't bet on it, though.
Giggs can teach injury-plagued Torres how to keep on running
Fernando Torres' hamstring problems have been blamed on all sorts of factors, including – by Rafael Benitez – the Spain national team's preparations.
If Torres wants a solution he should check on something Ryan Giggs, plagued by similar problems, wrote in his autobiography.
Giggs said then, indeed he still does, that he has never really sprinted at his maximum since he was a young player. He does not dare to because of the fragility of hamstrings.
It is a remarkable thing for a footballer to admit that one of his greatest assets might also be one of his biggest flaws.
Giggs, who turned 35 on Saturday, is the proof to Torres that great players can adapt and still flourish.
Arnesen faces up to pay-off letdown severance a sign of the times
Frank Arnesen is on his way out at Chelsea, having failed to sign a single teenage footballer that Luiz Felipe Scolari believes to be good enough for the first team. Arnesen wants the big pay-off that other departing grandees – Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant – have demanded, but he might find himself disappointed by the new-look, credit-crunched Chelsea.