Some might see this headline and dismiss this article right off the bat. But bear with me for a few minutes and you’ll see why I think this title is perfectly justified.
As a backdrop, it is good to remember that when it comes to managers, a sacking is only as good as the replacement. I remember having this debate over and over again in 2014, when fans were calling for Pardew’s head. My argument was never that he was the best manager, but rather, who would replace him? Football fans often think that situations can never get worse, but this is a fallacy. We have seen all too often that they can; Portsmouth & Sunderland are just two prime examples of that.
Towards the end of Pardew’s tenure at Newcastle, the scene at St James’ Park was utterly toxic. The Chronicle commented, “This was arguably the worst personal abuse a Newcastle manager has had to endure…”, and they were very right in asserting so. A dedicated website was setup, “sackpardew.com” as well as tens of thousands of cards being printed and waved at the stadium calling for his departure. The abuse he took was second to none and I’d like to address why it was misplaced and unjustified at its core.
Contemplating the lows of Pardew’s time at United.
I believe first and foremost it was his character that didn’t sit well with the Geordie faithful, and understandably so. Coupled with this, he isn’t from the North East, which can earn one a few extra mercy points when being dealt with. Pardew was often seen as a ‘yes-man’ that folded under the control of, and essentially his boss, Mike Ashley. I do however see a mitigate here in that it was his boss, this isn’t redundancy. I ask myself, how many of us reading this article stand up to our bosses when it could potentially cost us our job and therefore our livelihood’s. It’s often easy in these situations to expect others to do it, but unfortunately we do not hold ourselves to these same high standards.
In parallel with this was a few pitch-side stunts that were unfathomable in all honesty. Most notably was his head-butting of David Meyler, which was almost incomprehensible at the time. I remember watching it and having to rewind the TV to see if it really happened… unfortunately for Pardew there are no mitigates for these sorts of occurrences. It was completely inexcusable and a Premier League manager should be held to a much higher standard. Accordingly, he received the toughest managerial punishment in Premier League history with a 7 match ban and a £60,000 fine.
Referring to his side’s performances, Pardew, like many Newcastle managers in the last 2 decades failed miserably when it came to cup runs. Newcastle never made it past the 4th round in either the FA Cup or the League cup. There were also certain periods of his stewardship where the football was one-dimensional and Newcastle found themselves lingering at the bottom of the Premier League table; however we were never relegated during his tenure.
Assessing Pardew’s successes at United.
Alan Pardew had many significant accomplishments during his tenure at Newcastle. Most memorably was his 5th place finish in the 2011/2012 season. Given the relative spend of Newcastle compared to other clubs, this was nothing short of incredible. There is no other way to describe it. Newcastle also played some of the most fantastic football that season, carving up the Premier League’s biggest sides in impressive fashion. He still holds the highest Premier League finish Newcastle has had in over 16 years – noteworthy at the very least.
Subsequent to Newcastle finishing 5th, United qualified for the Europa league where he guided us to a very impressive quarter final finish. This is the only European football United has had in 13 years. Although the Premier League run was poor this season, Pardew can hardly take all of the blame for this. With poor investment in a very thin squad, losing our best striker, Demba Ba, to Chelsea as well as the heavily burdensome fixtures of playing Thursday night Europa football – I believe we did well to finish 5 points clear of relegation.
An aspect that Pardew never gets enough credit for are his transfers during his time at United. He signed some of the best players Newcastle have bought in 2 decades, and this aspect is all too often overlooked. Just to list a few, and please note the amount paid for each player: Ayoze Perez (£1.6m), Yohan Cabaye (£4.17m), Moussa Sissoko (£1.6m), Jamaal Lascelles (£4.17m), Mathieu Debuchy (£5.17m), Demba Ba (Free) and Davide Santon (£4.7m). This is nothing short of incredible, and I think any manager would be happy at snapping up these players for the above price-tags.
Pardew also had phenomenal personal achievements whilst managing the Toon Army, ones that you seldom hear regurgitated like his failures are. He was the first Newcastle United manager ever to win the ‘Premier League Manager of the Season’ award (he is also only the second English manager to win it) and likewise, he is also the first Newcastle United manager to win the League Managers Association Manager of the Year award. Coupled with this, he won two ‘Premier League Manager of the Month’ awards, one more than Rafa Benitez and he joins the only other two Newcastle managers who have won it, Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan.
Now, post reading this, does this sound like someone who is the ‘most terrible manager’; one who some have made Pardew out to be. This sounds at best a decent manager and at worst a mediocre one. But unfortunately, mob-mentality sometimes reigns amongst football fans. I think that the frustration during this time at Newcastle United was completely misplaced. It should have been directed elsewhere and it won’t take a football pundit to know who I am referring to. Managing Newcastle United is like sailing a ship with one arm tied behind your back – the manager is extremely limited in what they can achieve. Without the appropriate backing and support from the owners, you are destined for either failure or premature departure. For reference, just google Kevin Keegan’s comments of the difficulties that come with the job.
Lastly, and with reference to one of my opening statements, a sacking of a manager is only as good as his replacement. There is a common phrase, ‘the grass isn’t always greener on the other side’ and this could not have been more appropriate at the time. Securing a top manager under this current ownership is near impossible. Rafa was an anomaly amongst a host of failed attempts. Pardew wasn’t the greatest, that’s not the point of this article, but he was good enough and the vile, personal abuse he took was completely unwarranted. What followed was his departure, and the passing over to the not so ‘green-grass’ of Steve McClaren, and we all know how that one ended.