Friday, December 10, 2010

No honeymoon for Pardew

Great article from The Times' George Caulkin:


Alan Pardew is already facing a battle to win over players and fans at St James's Park after an appointment that has surprised many.

Alan Pardew will be confirmed as Newcastle United’s manager this morning, but his will be a marriage without a honeymoon. After a brutal few days that have left players and supporters bruised and bemused, the club will make their latest tilt at the long term, yet they can expect only short-term hostility.

If this is the answer, many will wonder at the point of the question. The abrupt dismissal of Chris Hughton, a man who retained the respect and affection of the dressing room and was instrumental in repairing a fractured relationship with the fans, has threatened everything.

Newcastle have been a delicate coalition since their relegation from the Barclays Premier League last year and now it has been disbanded. What is more, it has been disbanded willingly.

That, of course, is not Pardew’s doing. The 49-year-old was at Slaley Hall hotel in Northumberland last night for discussions with Newcastle’s hierarchy and, given his association with Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, it is safe to assume that there was little to fret over. His contract with be lengthy — stretching for five years — and a £500,000 salary will be heavily incentivised for avoiding relegation.

Newcastle are fond of Peter Beardsley, the reserve-team coach, but Pardew hopes to name Ray Lewington, Fulham’s youth development manager, as his assistant and Andy Woodman, of Charlton Athletic, as his goalkeeping coach. Their first task would be to re-energise a first-team squad that coalesced and rallied at Hughton’s prompting. Footballers are pragmatic, but the unit has been shaken.
In a recent interview with The Times, Andy Carroll, the Newcastle striker, spoke about Hughton. His words were effusive and sincere. “Chris has brought everyone together,” he said. “It’s like you’re coming in to see your best friends every day, everyone’s so close. We go to the cinema together, share lifts, go for food. It’s down to him. He changed everything around.”

It was born of adversity, but as Newcastle strained for promotion, supporters witnessed something rare: players who, whatever their ability, brought honour to their shirts and fought for the cause. A team. At last, a team. In turn, it restored a link between pitch and stands, which had been frayed by the failings of too many athletes of deep wealth and shallow commitment.

Hughton was liked. He brought patience and a sheen of stability. It meant that after demotion, the treatment of Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan, the plan to hawk the stadium’s naming rights, Joe Kinnear and Dennis Wise, and so many other miscalculations, despair at the owner could be put to one side. That was the coalition. That is what has been jeopardised.

Ashley and Llambias, his managing director, are not demons. They are three-dimensional figures who have intriguing ideas about football and this week’s events should not be viewed as wanton destruction. They have a logic - they had concerns about Newcastle’s home record under Hughton, who they viewed less as a natural manager than a coach - but it is a logic that can feel desperately illogical. In a season that, as far as Hughton and most rational observers were concerned, was all about consolidation, they have invited pressure upon themselves. It must be remembered that Ashley’s funding has kept Newcastle solvent and their aim is to create a self-sufficient business, but their timing is perplexing. Football may be a business, but emotion still lies at its core.


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