Friday, October 28, 2011
The meticulous Alan Pardew
He was instantly condemned as the hand-picked stooge of a despised regime, the apologist for a leader whose stock had fallen to irretrievable depths.
Yet less than a year after Alan Pardew accepted the offer to work as partner-in-chief to reviled Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, even his most die-hard dissenter is being forced to concede this uncompromising Londoner has changed the face of their football club for the better.
A stunning first nine games of this Premier League season saw Newcastle collect as many points as Chelsea and just one less than Manchester United, resulting in a surge of expectations among a Geordie nation notorious for inflating their ambitions to improbable levels.
Amid it all stands the well groomed manager who has pieced together a framework put in place by his predecessor Chris Hughton, with Pardew succeeding in dispersing the gloom hovering over a club that has that has accepted second best.
Having worked as Pardew's programme notes ghost writer throughout his time at St James' Park and also during his highly successful spell at Southampton boss, I have been fortunate to gain a fascinating insight into the man who is making Newcastle tick, and it should not come as any surprise that his methods are reaping huge dividends on Tyneside.
Transforming the mindset of a club that has long been undermined by their own inferiority complex, the eternally positive Pardew comes with the ideal temperament to change the Newcastle mentality.
Putting as much effort into the penning of programme notes as a home game against Manchester United, his attention to detail in every facet of his job is one of his shining qualities and it goes some way to explaining why this one-time outsider is revelling in the challenge on Geordie shores.
"My team have shown in the first few weeks of the season that they can compete at Premier League level and we now have a squad that is as strong as this club has had for some time," begins Pardew, whose side lost for the first time this campaign in the Carling Cup at Blackburn on Wednesday night.
"Momentum is all important in this game and we have it at Newcastle right now, but things can turn around very quickly. Two defeats means the pressure is on you in this game and there will be a run when things go against us, but I feel we now have a good team which can thrive this season.
"We should aim to get results against teams right at the top of the division and all of us in the dressing room are looking at ourselves and wondering where we can go in the coming months. The fans are right behind us and with them on side, we can make St James' Park a difficult place for any team to visit."
Even when he was mixing it with less than glamorous League One opponents as Southampton boss, Pardew promoted the belief that his team were on a different level to the rest, urging his players to believe they were far too good to be languishing in the third tier of English football.
That approach served to revive a club that had got used to losing and, while successor Nigel Adkins deserves praise aplenty for leading Southampton to the top of the Championship standings this season, Pardew should take a share of the credit for the emergence of a team he helped to build.
His latest role at Newcastle has produced even more eye-catching results and, while talismen such as Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton have been sold during his time at the club, Pardew's shrewd transfer dealings and ability to organise and motivate players have helped Newcastle to become one of the talked about teams of the 2011-12 campaign.
Pardew's overflowing reservoir of personal confidence have helped him to thrive in a posting that has broken many a high profile manager down the years, though this 50-year-old admits the workload of modern Premier League managers is colossal.
"The demands on a manager are massive these days," continues the manager who has been patrolling touchlines for the best part of 13 years. "I do an hour-and-half press conference once or twice a week, training nearly every day and attend games up and down the country most nights.
"This is a tough job, make no mistake, but one that all of us in the game miss badly when we are not involved.
"It has been made all the more difficult in the era of Twitter and Facebook because seconds after the final whistle of a game, fans vent their annoyance instantly and get a reaction from other supporters on the internet, which serves to ramp up the speculation surrounding managers.
"I know what it's like when pressure starts to build around you as a manager. It trickles down through all levels of the club and chairman can believe the best way to remove it is to change the manager. You just have to hope the people employing you are brave and support you when the going gets tough."
It's not just at Newcastle and Southampton that Pardew's influence has been felt in recent years, as Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers and Reading chief Brian McDermott are among his more high profile protégés.
"It filled me with pride to see Brendan and Brian battling it out in last season's Championship play-off final and their success is well deserved," adds Pardew, who handed both young managers their first breaks in coaching during his time as Reading manager.
"I have stayed in regular contact with Brian and Brendan and they are bright guys who had a big desire to succeed in this game. Neither had especially spectacular playing careers, but I saw something in both that encouraged me to give them their opportunity.
"Brendan was always very diligent and concentrated in the way he went about his work and open minded about new ideas and innovations in the game. He had a real drive to succeed as a coach and he has developed a style that has brought great results for Swansea.
"As for Brian, I remember seeing him on a cold wet night at Brentford, watching a match just because he loved football and for no other reason. I took pity on him and gave him a scouting role with me and he has done so well for himself since then. I would love to see him get Reading promoted sooner rather than later."
Having come within seconds of winning the FA Cup with West Ham back in 2006, Pardew is now established as one of the leading English coaches and those Newcastle fans who protested upon his arrival may soon find themselves fearing rival clubs will be tempted to lure him away from the North East retreat he currently calls home.
Indeed, if the Football Association embraces the notion that an Englishman should be placed in charge of the national team when Fabio Capello's reign ends next summer, Alan Pardew must be positioning himself as a contender for the most prestigious job of them all.