When Alan Pardew stepped on to his early-morning flight to Cologne on 16 June he thought he was just going to watch Argentina play Serbia & Montenegro later that day in Gelsenkirchen "to see the quality and level they were at". He never believed that, less than three months later, he would be wondering whether to hand two of the young stars in action, genuine world stars, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, their West Ham United debuts at home to Aston Villa this afternoon.
The names of both 22-year-old players were written into the scouting book that Pardew carries with him, but that was partly to act as an aide-mémoire when it came to compiling his World Cup column for The Independent a couple of days later. Not that Pardew needed any reminder. Tevez, who came on as a substitute to devastating effect against the Serbs, had made a profound impact on the West Ham manager. Pardew gushed. He felt, genuinely, that "in 10 minutes I saw that Tevez can be a star for the next 10 years".
It made for a great headline, and duly appeared in the newspaper, and then Pardew moved on. During that trip he also took in the Czech Republic against Ghana in Cologne. There were a couple of Czech defenders, Tomas Ujfalusi and Zdenek Grygera, whom he was mildly interested in, while the Africans were likely to throw up some new names worthy of scouting. In the event the Czechs crumbled while another defender, John Paintsil, caught Pardew's eye - not just because he courted controversy by waving an Israeli flag at the end of the match.
Pardew eventually signed Paintsil from Hapoel Tel Aviv for £1 million but, despite a bid for Switzerland's Tranquillo Barnetta, it seemed the Ghanaian would be the only arrival at Upton Park from the World Cup. For this summer at least. But Paintsil's signing, after Pardew initially was unsure after taking the player on a pre-season tour to Sweden, proved hugely significant in subsequent events.
It brought Pini Zahavi back into the picture. The Israeli super-agent has a long association with West Ham, through players such as Rio Ferdinand, Eyal Berkovic and, more recently, Yossi Ben-ayoun. At one stage this summer it looked as though Benayoun might be leaving. Indeed, a lunch was set up bet-ween Zahavi and Paul Aldridge, West Ham's managing director, to thrash out the Israeli player's future amid interest from Arsenal and Liverpool. Benayoun wanted a new contract, and is likely to get one; but it was at that meeting that Zahavi also floated the amazing idea of helping to bring Tevez and Mascherano, as a pair (which was crucial to the agreement), from the Brazilian club Corinthians to the East End.
Unsurprisingly it whetted West Ham's appetite although, at that stage, no one really expected them to come. Pardew was probably unaware of the development. Last week he admitted: "I knew about 36 hours before the [transfer] window closed [on 31 August] that I had a chance of signing them. It had been mooted to me quite cleverly a few days earlier what I thought about them, and I said you cannot question players of that ability".
That gave the green light to one of the most extraordinary and, in Pardew's own words, "intriguing" transfers of this, or any other, summer.
Pardew is not just a good coach but a shrewd operator, a quick learner, and he also has great faith in his own ability and ambition. He was quick to realise the sporting implications of bringing both players into his squad. and what it meant for him as a manager. After all, he genuinely believes he can take West Ham into the Champions' League. The two Argentinians could be another major step towards fulfilling that goal.
"Regardless of when I was told," Pardew said last week of the players, "one of the things we pride ourselves on is scouting players and looking at their characters. But, in this deal, that all went out of the window, because the history and reputation of the two players is such that you just don't turn them down."
Instead, Pardew relied on gut instinct. His instinct tells him this "will be great experience for me", and he added: "The learning curve I've had over the past few days puts me in good stead for what might happen." That comment was made in reference to the possibility that the signings, and the means by which they arrived, may precipitate a £100m takeover of the Premiership club.
Pardew has had a lot to take on board. "In terms of the other part of the business, in terms of the new ownership of the club, then that is a mystery to me," he said. "To be honest I know nothing about it. At the moment my chairman is Terry Brown and I have a good relationship with him. I hope that either he stays or I have the same relationship with the new guy."
That prospect has also set him thinking. "The dynamics of the game are changing, and in certain clubs there is an agenda," he said. "The president comes into Real Madrid, for example, and says he's bringing in four world-class players and the manager manages the team. That's a scenario I've never faced, and I certainly don't want to face it at the moment, because I've built this team and I'm very proud of it. But I'm sure the person I am will learn to gauge and move with the times. Because if that's the way it moves then that is what maybe all managers will face. Who knows?"
From the Boleyn Ground to the Bernabeu: that is him hypothesising. More immediately, Pardew also wants to state - and quite categorically so - that he will not brook any inter-ference from present or future owners, and made the point forcefully at last week's unveiling that he will be picking the team. There are no guarantees for Tevez and Mascherano that they will play. If anyone tries to impose that, Pardew will walk.
"I would not accept that as a manager," he said. "And I don't think any manager would, I really don't, at any club. It just devalues what you are about, and your professionalism. I would never accept it. What annoys me is that one or two journalists said, 'That's not a bad little story', and it gains momentum. And of course there is no truth in it. There is nothing that has been suggested to me and I'm sure it would be a very brave man who did suggest it to me."
The players, Pardew said, have signed four-year deals, and although he admits that he has no assurances they will be with him beyond this season, he insists there are "no clauses for them moving on" or playing when fit, as has been reported. One year, though, is enough. "But that's the guarantee I want from all my players," he explained. "Forget about who they are. They are here for the year.
"The situation is simple for me. I gauge success in one year. And who is to say these two guys won't be a success and we'll be glad to see the back of them? We don't know that yet. All we know is we have two world-class players, and in a year's time if they are a massive, massive success then there might be a situation where they are going to move." Even so, Pardew admitted he will have to work hard not to disrupt the dynamics of the vibrant, young team he has carefully - and prudently - built, "because that is what brought us success", even though they will inevitably change.
"That's something that is going to be a test for me as a manager - getting that balance right," he said. "If I get it right then there is no reason why we can't go to Chelsea, go to Man United and play on a level playing field, which we didn't do last year."
It is, of course, Tevez in particular who excites him, although Mascherano, a skilful and disciplined holding midfielder, will also play a key role. "Carlitos [Tevez's nickname] is a player who is a special talent," Pardew said, harking back to his original comments made during the World Cup. "In your managerial career you might not get too many of those." He likens him to Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe and, in terms of excitement and charisma, Paolo Di Canio. "He [Tevez] has that kind of get-out- of-your-seat excitement about him, and I love that," he said.
Expectation levels have risen sharply. Pardew, who also starts a Uefa Cup campaign later this week at home to Palermo, can comfortably - and convincingly - talk about believing West Ham are not far from being a "big club" and having to accept the attention that draws. "We have that at all clubs, all big clubs have that and West Ham fans enjoy it, enjoy the debate," he said. "That's what I would say - we haven't been off the airwaves, we have not been out of the media and for West Ham fans they probably can't believe it."Reuse content