Alan Pardew: East End visionary

For West Ham's manager, Alan Pardew, today's FA Cup final is just the start. As he reveals to Jason Burt in his only major interview before the game, his ambition both for himself and his club stretches all the way to the Champions' League and - possibly - a new home
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The West Ham United manager is at the head of a new breed. Close by him is Wigan Athletic's Paul Jewell. Both have demolished the assumption that a promoted club can expect a struggle followed by immediate relegation. Both have refused to kowtow to the big boys. Both have acted with integrity and imagination. Both have stormed the league. Both have led their players to cup finals. Both have, Pardew says, "shown no fear".

For Wigan it was the League Cup and a crushing defeat to Manchester United. West Ham face Liverpool today in the FA Cup final. The sneaking feeling is that it may be a more even contest and not just because Pardew promises he will send his players out "uninhibited and on the front foot".

They will, like their manager, show ambition. Indeed, Pardew does not regard today's encounter as some reward in itself. It is merely a stepping stone to greater goals. He has a plan. "I could win this trophy for West Ham. Fantastic. I've got that on my CV," Pardew explains. "But maybe, also, it gets me a situation to make this club grow into one of those top four or five. And with the Olympic Stadium around the corner there is a chance at West Ham to become one of those big clubs. In the next two years if we don't win a major trophy, if we don't get into the Champions' League then, unfortunately, we are going to look each other in the eye here and say, 'How are we going to get there then?'"

Pardew is not necessarily advocating that West Ham leave Upton Park if they are to compete with Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. But he is certain the stadium needs to "grow a bit bigger" to attract the "Champions' League players" he wants - but wonders whether it is possible. The Olympic Stadium, to be built down the road at Stratford, may, therefore, be an attractive long-term option.

It is some vision. And one that is all the more startling if we journey back just 12 months in Pardew's career. Then he was also on his way to the Millennium Stadium. But then it was for the Championship play-off final against Preston North End. It was, he declares, the "biggest game in West Ham's history". It may also have been his last as the club's manager. Defeat and... "It would have been immense for me," Pardew says. "Would I have been able to stay? Perhaps not. Would it have been possible for the club financially to keep all the players we had just purchased? Perhaps not. I can't answer that. I don't want to answer that, to be honest, because it didn't happen. So there are things we, thank God, didn't have to go down. But it was a difficult road."

When Pardew, now 44, arrived in the east end of London as West Ham's only 10th manager after a prolonged, acrimonious split from Reading, who did not want to lose him, in the autumn of 2003, it appeared more like an endless tunnel. He talks about what he "inherited" at the traumatised club, newly relegated from the Premiership which had just conducted a fire-sale of its star players to stave off administration.

"There was a level of negativity that would have been hard matched in any other business. It was a club that got relegated on the most points," he says. "It was a club that had sold more or less all its best players who went on to to achieve great success elsewhere. It was a club that financially was in a difficult position and still needed to address it in terms of bringing funds in. And a completely demoralised board and fan base and playing staff. That's what I found, in all honesty."

And, Pardew adds, "the one period of success they had had in that time prior to me was with [caretaker manager] Trevor Brooking, of course, who I had to replace and who everyone wanted as manager. So I was going in on a real negative. And he had a decent run of form. I think his record was no better than mine in the Championship but the perception was, 'I wish Trevor could stay'. So I had all those issues to fight plus the fact that they really wanted someone else. It was a difficult time and I had to put out a lot of fires. I had to address it and plan and change the staff around. Not pleasant. You don't want to go into an environment where it's negative before you walk through the door. And we were getting that at the stadium as well. A player would turn up and a steward would say, 'Oh well, you'd better win today' rather than being excited and say, 'We may win today, best of luck'. It's a different psychology."

But it was also one that Pardew felt strong enough to deal with. "It was just the fact that anything I enter into I don't like to be beaten," he says. "And I wasn't going to be beaten by that situation. People were talking to me as if they felt sorry for me. I didn't feel sorry for myself. I knew it was tough. I knew my family were going to have a tough time sitting in the stand, listening to the abuse. I knew it was tough for me in terms of trying to get the players to respect me.

"But you need those qualities if you are going to be a success in any walk of life. You have to come through those periods. Those periods aren't gone by any means. That period will come back to me at West Ham. I'm sure it will and I will have to deal with it. I went through it at Reading. I went through it as a player at Crystal Palace. It's nothing new to me. Some people perceive the test I had at West Ham to have maybe been beyond the call of duty. I don't."

Those who do include "established figures in the game" who have congratulated him on West Ham's wonderful first season back, which also finished with ninth place in the Premiership. "A lot of people I have met this year have said, 'I'm so pleased for you' and genuinely meant it," Pardew says. "They felt for me. But I didn't think that way. I thought, 'OK, it's tough but I can do it'. I have got a lot of self-confidence. I don't like to think it borders on arrogance but I certainly have that belief. When I look at my managerial career so far and if I had to say what is my strength, then it's my strength of mind."

It was the same as a player. Pardew came to professional football late. He was 25 when he signed his first contract at Palace - a dream move realised 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 "passionately" 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, he was ignored by clubs and started to play men's football with Whyteleafe, in the old Athenian League and then went to Epsom & Ewell. On Sundays he turned out for a Surrey amateur side, Morden Nomads. During the week, he was an apprentice glazer, working with his dad and brother "on big plate windows in the City. Shop fronts. The NatWest Tower. I swept up, made the tea".

It was a good experience. "There were a few things that worked in my favour," Pardew recalls. "I came across characters and people I would never have seen in the pro game. I had to be fast with my words and fast on my feet."

It is something he carried with him into football when he joined Palace, from Dulwich Hamlet, for £4,000. Even then he had to take a pay cut from glazing.

But a theme began to emerge. "The question I always faced," Pardew says of his time as a player, "was how are we going to improve the team?" The answer was always the same. "Take Pardew out and put a good one in," he says. "But when I came up against a better player I raised my game." His finest hour has been replayed constantly - the dramatic winning goal in Palace's astonishing 4-3 FA Cup semi-final victory against Liverpool in 1990. Palace lost the final and Pardew eventually moved on to Charlton Athletic.

It was there that he started to coach seriously. "On a Wednesday night at Merton FC," he says. It went well. "They ended up getting bus-loads of boys from Tooting. People came from all over. Problem was there were about 60 players and four balls."

Pardew always suspected he would be a better coach than a player. "I always felt I had more to offer," he says. "I could see people working, good-established ones for me and with me, and I always felt I could do it better. I developed early. By 32 I had done all my coaching badges. I was proud of those. I was one of the youngest to get them."

After his next club, Barnet, he turned to coaching full-time, switching to Reading in 1998 before, after a brief time out of football, quickly being elevated into management.

His experiences have given him an extra dimension and made him battle-hardened. In his previous six years as a manager Pardew has either been involved in the play-offs or promotion at the end of every season. And now he has a Cup final. It is an impressive record but, because much of the work was completed outside the Premiership, one that perhaps has not been sufficiently recognised. Indeed, Pardew believes there is an unfair "snobbery towards the Championship". And it does not just come from the media.

"Premier League managers and Sven [Goran Eriksson, the England manager] don't watch it either. He won't watch Championship teams. When I was in the Championship I was told he wouldn't come and watch Jermain [Defoe] because he was in the Championship."

Pardew likes to explore the "psychological side" of football. He pores over biographies and is a great fan of Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the American football team, the Green Bay Packers. Indeed, he compares the "working-class roots" of the Packers and West Ham. "It's a big side of the game that's not worked on," Pardew says. "For footballers half their brain isn't stimulated enough. You hear [Jose] Mourinho talking about, 'Well we played well but we didn't think'. I know exactly what he means.

"My mind works like that. I like to be a bit left-field, a bit innovative and sometimes you can get criticised and I've had my share," Pardew says. Before the play-off final of 2004 he produced T-shirts referring to West Ham as the "Original Academy", an allusion to their nickname as the "Academy of Football" In defeat it only reminded the fans of what had been lost and backfired horribly. "I've done all sorts," he says. "Some have worked, some haven't. Some are motivational, some are things which will help us win games. I say things in the press to try and determine a result. All managers do that."

It took the West Ham fans some time to chant his name. Maybe, and especially after the defeat to Palace in Cardiff in 2004, they saw him as the embodiment of what was going wrong at the club. He was at the sharp end. Unfairly, he was also blamed for the sale of players, even though he was fashioning an exciting, young and largely English team. But he was not a Billy Bonds or Harry Redknapp. "It's difficult for me to assess because I'm very different from all the other managers they have had and maybe they've had to get used to that," Pardew says. "I'm different in my approach and I also don't say things for the benefit of saying them. Maybe they think it's a little bit bland, a little bit boring."

Indeed, he is somewhat puzzled by the focus on the manager in modern football. "The greater glory should always be on the players because they fulfil the dreams of the man in the street," he says. "Sure some of them [the fans] would want to pick the team but most would want to be the player who scores the winning goal. The media focus is on the manager, which is strange. In the old days it was more on the player. Maybe it will shift back because, ultimately, if I'm dreaming of anyone I want to be Ronaldinho scoring. Or Rooney. I don't want to be Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger. The dreams are carried by the players and they are the ones who deserve the hero worship. Ours is a more functional job."

He takes that emotion into how he approaches being a manager. Pardew is at the cutting edge of football technology - from conditioning of players to processing of statistics and information. But he also relies on "what my gut tells me", adding, "I don't review games. I always go with my feeling. I know managers sit on a Monday night, at 7pm, and watch a video of the game. I've never done that. I look at the facts, the stats and sometimes I look at clips. But there's not one game we've played this season that I've sat and watched through again."

He is also relishing pitting himself against Liverpool and Rafael Benitez and the tactical battle which will follow. A game plan is ready. "My thinking is that they don't over-commit so you have to be careful of the numbers you throw at them," he explains. "That's why a lot of their games start off very cagey, especially against Chelsea because Chelsea do the same. And you end up with a non-committal sort of game until a break happens and someone has to commit. We're a bit different than that so I'm going to have to look closely at not taking away the strength of my team, which is to attack. I think if they get the lead it's going to be difficult for us.

"The one thing I know about Liverpool is that they have periods of the game when they don't look to do much and then they have golden periods and that's going to be the key for us - whether we survive their golden period in the Cup final. It might last 10 minutes, it might last four minutes. If we survive that I think there's a good chance we can win."

If they do, it will be the first time that West Ham have won the Cup since 1980. Another stage in the club's development will be reached. "But I know we need to strengthen," Pardew says. "I know if I stayed with this team the way it is now we wouldn't have the same season as we've just had. I've got some funds and hope to get some more. I'm hoping that with the European campaign we'll attract the sort of players who want to come."

It will also help the club retain their burgeoning young talent such as Nigel Reo-Coker and Anton Ferdinand and create what Pardew describes as a new "dynasty". "We need to bring success," he says. "That's what I keep saying to the board here. We have to keep inspiring them to stay by bringing in quality players, by changing the training ground, by looking at the stadium and what we can do. I've got some ideas for that. I want to try them next season to make it a more vibrant, exciting place."

Parading the FA Cup at the first home game come August will help.