“Until I’m told otherwise I’ll continue to prepare the team.” For someone who fancies himself as a student of motivational techniques, Alan Pardew’s post-match comment after the bleakly encouragement-free hammering by Southampton last weekend was noticeably lacking in Churchillian defiance. These aren’t the words of a man about to fight to the very last. They’re those of a condemned man ordering a final meal while staring at the gallows through the barred window of his cell. There’s resignation in it if not a formal one to his boss. Pardew knows he can’t recover this time and even if he won’t resign, he is on borrowed time in his job.
Despite the insistence of mainly national newspaper journalists that Pardew is still able to turn Newcastle around even at this stage of his time in charge, the puzzling thing for me is how he’s hung on so long. He could conceivably have been sacked 4 times already in just under 4 years in the job. After finishing 5th in 2011/2012, Newcastle only secured safety from relegation with a single game to play the following season. Then last year amid an unprecedented bad run of form Pardew headbutted an opposition player during a game. That bad form in which Newcastle gained the same number of points after Boxing Day as last-place Cardiff City continued to the end of the season and should have seen Pardew relieved of his post despite finishing in a mid-table position. Finally after a summer whose recruitment had pleased him, Newcastle find themselves bottom after 4 games and with the team playing in exactly the same way and with the same lack of effectiveness as at any time during those 9 months of continuous relegation form. Results would seem to hint at a need for change, if at the very least in the team’s approach but Pardew is demonstrably either unwilling or unable to achieve that change. The change must therefore be in the man in charge and the sooner the better.
None of this means a change in manager is certain any time soon of course. Nobody knows at the best of times what Mike Ashley is likely to do and these times are anything but that. Ashley has a track record of doing things guaranteed to upset the fanbase. I don’t know if that is deliberate from someone on record as being partial to a little conflict, but it does feel like it. Hanging onto Pardew as long as he possibly can would satisfy any vindictive urge as well as one to be loyal to his appointment, and also the falsest of all logical constructs at Newcastle, the wish to maintain managerial stability at a club in free fall with a manager patently unable to do the job. Suffice to say that Ashley’s relationship with the press is so bad that we won’t find out Pardew has gone until it’s already happened. For this and other reasons I also don’t believe the recent assertion that Ashley won’t sell up until at least the end of next season. If someone offered the right price the club would be for sale. Ashley was saddled himself with a newly-appointed manager he didn’t want when he bought Newcastle. For all we know he could be involved in the late stages of a sale and doesn’t want to appoint a new manager to avoid that scenario. Yes, not likely, but you never know.
When the inevitable happens, who might take over? Not a single one of Ashley’s appointments as manager could have been seen coming. Keegan, Kinnear, Hughton and Pardew were all what might be called left-field choices. So although there are plenty of capable managers who could do a job here and who would be delighted to do so, speculation is futile. It’s strange to note that the growing popularity of changing manager among fans isn’t in any way due to the visible availability of a popular choice as successor, but due to the increasing sense that fewer and fewer managers could do a worse job than the current incumbent. Maybe Pardew will survive until he’s officially the worst man possible for the job. Which brings me back to those opinion-formers of the national press who are working so hard to boost Pardew’s chances of remaining. I’m reminded of an argument used when discussing Scotland’s independence referendum, that if the Scots were already independent and were offered what they currently have, they would have to be mad to vote for that. Similarly, remembering all those dire statistics of the team’s performance under Pardew over the past 2 years (aside from last November and December), if Newcastle were looking to replace another manager right now they would not even consider employing Pardew bearing that recent record in mind. The question must therefore be asked, why should they retain his services in the current situation?
John Carver’s reported run-in with fans at St Mary’s before the match on Saturday could I suppose be construed as admirable in its demonstration of loyalty to his colleague. I don’t subscribe to that view myself. Whatever his views in private, and I have little doubt that many in football feel nothing but utter contempt towards the opinions of fans and their right to express them, he really should have kept his thoughts to himself. There is only one direction someone is travelling who gets involved in spats with fans and that is out of the club. As Pardew and Carver are about to find out, it is impossible to do your job coaching a football team on match day when the crowd are baying for your blood. For once the fans might not actually be blameless in a bad performance, but it’s not the paying customers who’ll be sacrificed to solve the problem. The coming weekend’s home match against Hull City is indeed set up to be an angry affair but whether it will be the end of manager and coaches, again, is anyone’s guess. How long will Mike Ashley put up with it if this happens every home game from now on? Pardew was saved by the bell when the home season ended with the final whistle against Cardiff last May. This time he is on the ropes early and there are the full 3 minutes of the round remaining to survive, or at least 17 home fixtures to the season’s end anyway. Again I’m not convinced by assertions that Ashley will be unmoved by fan protests, at the thickness of his skin. I remember previous efforts piercing that skin fairly quickly. A single home game’s protest against Hull following Keegan’s resignation almost exactly 6 years ago in 2008 was enough for Ashley to put the club up for sale, though that sale was never in the end achieved.
Either way, be it next week or Christmas, Pardew will go. The question then will be about whoever takes over. There are those among Newcastle’s fans who are proud to broadcast that they were against Pardew from the first minute, that they saw through him. I don’t see that as a badge of honour however. Wrapped up in their statement is security against debate. Time has proven them right, there can be no argument in his favour. Far be it from me to stand his corner, but that point of view ignores the sense I have for one that he has become a dead loss; he wasn’t always that. I remember him being an upgrade on Chris Hughton, a (don’t laugh) slightly more attacking outlook providing that advantage. The 5th-place finish, for all it’s now derided as a fluke, was a genuinely impressive achievement. He couldn’t follow it up though, and reverted to the type we’d seen before at West Ham: falling out with his most talented players, and overseeing a side which slowly and surely had its spark damped down. When the new manager is appointed, surely we have to acknowledge whatever small triumphs arise, even if we aren’t in favour of them being in charge. I’ve said this before but it bears saying again: if we don’t give credit where it’s due then we can’t be surprised by our opinion being ignored or ridiculed when we’re eventually critical of their failings.