Pardew: My first job here is to win over the players – then the fans
Friday 10 December 2010
The joke doing the rounds on Tyneside is that of the underwhelming 14 votes that Alan Pardew attracted out of more than 1,000 cast in a local newspaper poll to assess the fans' feelings about the next Newcastle United manager, two came from Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, his right-hand man. The other 12 votes were from Sunderland supporters.
Gallows humour on the Gallowgate. For those of a black-and-white ilk, it's become a necessary default defence mechanism against the tale of the unexpected that has been Ashley's three-and-a-half-year reign. Pardew yesterday became the sixth manager of that turbulent spell, less than 72 hours after the departure of Chris Hughton. Indecent haste or decisive action? It depends on your standpoint, but the majority of those passing judgement see it as merely swapping like for like – and hardly worth the upheaval at that.
Having spent the night at one of the North-East's plushest bolt-holes, Slaley Hall Hotel, Pardew can expect a distinctly less comfortable ride from now on in his attempts to convince the numerous doubters that his appointment is more than simply jobs for the boys, courtesy of a friendship with Newcastle's managing director and owner allegedly cemented in a casino. Insert your own gags about gambling with the club's future.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some hesitation when I was travelling up," Pardew said after agreeing a five-and-a-half-year contract worth an annual £750,000, believed to include incentive-based bonus payments but only a modest signing-on fee and potential severance package. He added: "I've had texts from managers telling me I must be mad. I know I'm not going to win the PR battle. The battles I need to win are out on the pitch. The job is a daunting prospect, but the chance to be manager was something I couldn't turn down.
"I've got a good record in the Premier League and I've got a lot of experience I hope to bring to the club. I'm not going to compare myself to Chris. I'm a competent manager and my message is that I didn't determine what happened to him. I'm the new guy."
Pardew is in little doubt where his first port of call lies as he aims to win over a dressing room loyal to Hughton, whose name he managed to mispronounce in an otherwise workmanlike press conference performance. "The problem I'm going to have initially is with the players and making sure I get my message across about them carrying any resentment towards me," he said.
"It's difficult taking over when the players and fans have great respect for Chris, and the fact he's gone has caused a stir. People are unhappy and I can understand that, so I need to talk to players and get my message across."
Rather than hearing his name ring round St James' Park for tomorrow's visit by Liverpool, it will be that of his predecessor on the lips of supporters keen to pay tribute to the man who helped resurrect the club's fortunes during 14 months in charge. It could make for an uncomfortable early evening, but in a proactive step Pardew shunned the opportunity to watch from the stands and will instead head straight to the dugout, where he will have back-up from two coaches in Steve Stone and Peter Beardsley, the latter against his former employers. Liverpool surely can't believe their luck at Ashley's apparent willingness to throw his club into a turmoil that temporarily at least draws attention from the travails on Merseyside.
The rancour even extended 12,000 miles to the Antipodes, where the England bowler and Newcastle fan Graeme Swann belatedly dedicated his match-winning exploits in the second Ashes Test to Hughton. Via his Twitter account, the spinner summed up the fans' mood. "Alan Pardew may be about as popular an appointment as Margaret Thatcher as president of the coal miners' association," he said.
Clearly Pardew will have to dig in to win over those asking how a man sacked four months ago by Southampton, then 14th in League One, and whose last taste of the Premier League ended in relegation in 2007, can walk into a job that is, for all its drawbacks, one of the most high-profile in football.
"The criticism isn't something I want and I certainly hope it doesn't last too long," Pardew added. Adopting his best diplomatic stance, he added: "If there is a protest for Chris in terms of a nice protest and fans want to show him their support then I don't have a problem with that. That's their right. I hope anything like that is over with quickly and they channel their efforts into supporting the team."
The majority of Pardew's 500 games in a management career spanning more than 11 years have been outside the top flight, and so fast-moving is the Premier League that even in the relatively short spell he has been away, it is a vastly different beast to the one he exited with Charlton Athletic.
Hughton worked on a modest transfer budget, as Pardew is also likely to have to do, unless perhaps Ashley gets lucky on his next visit to a casino. Having been given assurances there are no plans to cash in on Andy Carroll next month, the new manager added: "It's important for the fans to know that I'll be strong enough to knock on the owner's door. It's important to be able to deal with upstairs, and that's something I guarantee I'll do."
Forget doors, it's bridges he must build, and Pardew can only start to do that out on the pitch.
Areas Pardew must tackle
Dressing room It's not quite the open revolt claimed by some, but Pardew will find a squad loyal to Chris Hughton.
Senior players Relationships with such as Kevin Nolan and Steve Harper are key to Pardew's success.
Supporters Pardew began with praise for fans – he has to get them onside now as otherwise they can make life unbearable. Just ask Sam Allardyce
Media Allardyce described most of the North-East's press as a miserable lot – maybe it's having to watch Newcastle all these years. Either way, a few allies in the right places to cut him some slack if it doesn't go to plan would be a huge assistance.
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