Scott Wilson Column: Pardew loses the plot - but strengthens his position at Newcastle United (From The Northern Echo)
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Scott Wilson Column: Pardew loses the plot - but strengthens his position at Newcastle United
ONLY at Newcastle United could a manager be charged with improper conduct after directing a head-butt at an opposition player, yet still end the week with his position and power base strengthened.
For all the criticism that has been hurled at Alan Pardew since his nonsensical spat with Hull City midfielder David Meyler, and all the calls for his sacking from the great and good of the punditry world, when it comes to the people who really matter, the Newcastle boss has emerged from the bleakest moment of his career in credit.
In the eyes of Mike Ashley and a sizeable section of Newcastle supporters, Pardew's actions have not been deemed worthy of dismissal. So while this week's heavy fine and admonishment of his conduct have not exactly been a condoning of Pardew's behaviour, the Magpies manager can still feel safer in his position now than he was when he thrust his head towards Meyler's. As ever, life at Newcastle United does not obey the established rules.
The Ashley dynamic is an interesting one, as it is worth remembering that, in the wake of last month's dreadful home defeat to Tottenham, a number of stories emerged suggesting Pardew was one game away from the sack.
The suggestion was immediately rejected by Newcastle officials, but after the failings of last season and the upheaval caused by the departures of Derek Llambias and Joe Kinnear, there was a growing sense that Pardew too could have been living on borrowed time.
Not any more. On Saturday evening, with the maelstrom of condemnation at its peak, Ashley had the perfect opportunity to dismiss Pardew if he wanted to. He could have described his manager's actions as gross misconduct and pushed for a compensation-free departure, ripping up any previous agreements contained within the infamous “eight-year contract” that no one quite knows the ins and outs of.
The fact that he didn't strongly suggests that Pardew will not be going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Instead of wanting to dispose of his manager, it instead appears that Ashley is satisfied with the status quo.
In all honesty, why wouldn't he be? In Pardew, he has a manager who has guided Newcastle to fifth position two years ago and looks set to achieve this season's target of a top-ten place. Yes, last season turned into a frantic battle against relegation, and while the pressures of the Europa League fixture list provide a degree of mitigation, it is impossible to deny that Newcastle underperformed. But given the constant upheaval that seems to accompany life at St James' Park, Pardew's managerial record stands up to scrutiny.
Just as importantly from Ashley's perspective, the Newcastle manager has also perfected the political balancing act that is demanded of those in positions of power on Tyneside.
Keeping the players and supporters on board while not straying too far from the party line is not an easy task, but Pardew has generally succeeded in striking the right blend.
Even when Andy Carroll and Yohan Cabaye were sold from under him, he refused to be too critical of Newcastle's owner or too strident about the need to spend big to secure an immediate replacement.
In the eyes of some supporters, that makes him a stooge for the regime. To Ashley, however, he is a manager who understands the reality of what he is dealing with. And if he was replaced, his successor would have to be every bit as pliable to survive.
This week's events suggest that successor will not be arriving any time soon, with Ashley seemingly reluctant to rock the boat. Perhaps if the FA were to issue Pardew with a stadium ban for the remainder of the season, the Newcastle chief would change his tune. Even in that scenario, however, it would be hard to imagine Ashley putting the club's reputation above his own self-interest, which seems to involve the current manager remaining in his role.
What about Newcastle's supporters? Despite this season's strong performances, there has been a mounting sense of discontent with Pardew's position, culminating in some sustained abuse in the wake of the home defeats to Sunderland and Spurs.
Partly driven by a hangover from last season's relegation battle, partly reflective of Newcastle's ongoing struggles in the cups, and partly an expression of displeasure at Pardew's tactics and team selections, some supporters have been advocating a change of manager on fan sites, social media outlets and in fanzines.
Saturday's incident at the KC Stadium might have been expected to be the final straw, but instead there have been more messages that have been sympathetic to Pardew than castigating him.
There has been talk of a massive overreaction to the manager's misbehaviour, and of a 'media conspiracy' looking to do Newcastle down at every opportunity.
The influential and popular fan site nufc.com talked of a “massive media backlash” and described “legions of 'experts' gleefully assuring viewers, listeners and readers that Pardew should and would be sacked”.
As one internet poll on Pardew's future concluded, the sense from Newcastle supporters is that “he's a nutter, but he's our nutter”. In the face of national condemnation, many have found it impossible not to close rank.
That is an understandable reaction in the heavily tribalised world of football support, yet it remains interesting that it took a head-butt of an opposition player to garner sympathy for Pardew rather than him doing anything positive in terms of selection, tactics or player acquisitions.
That perhaps suggests that the worm could turn again pretty quickly, but for the moment, Newcastle's embattled manager is unlikely to be the focus for fans' protests when his side travel to Fulham in eight days time, whether he is allowed anywhere near Craven Cottage or not.
A strange state of affairs then, but once again with Newcastle United, it has been a very strange week.
CHAMPS OF THE WEEK
Wearside decamped to London for the weekend, and the capital is still trying to work out what hit it. The scenes in Covent Garden on Saturday night had to be seen to be believed, with thousands of supporters partying in the streets. The atmosphere inside Wembley on Sunday was equally celebratory, with more than 40,000 Sunderland fans doing their city proud.
CHUMP OF THE WEEK
Who else could it be? Once the sense of shock at the Newcastle manager’s head-butt died down, you were left with a crushing disappointment that the club’s good name had been dragged through the gutter once again. And to think this was once the club of Sir Bobby Robson, one of the most respected and statesmanlike figures in football.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
MAN CITY’S SECOND-HALF DISPLAY
They might have been below-par before the interval, but Manchester City turned on the style to eclipse Sunderland in the second half of Sunday’s Capital One Cup final. A couple of world-class goals from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri helped of course, but by the end, even the most ardent of Black Cats were forced to admit City were worthy winners.
BET OF THE WEEKEND
The winning run continued as Nicky Henderson’s Mayfair Music eclipsed a strong field at Doncaster to land odds of 3-1. That takes the running total for charity back into double figures. There’ll be another selection on @scottwilsonecho on Twitter on Saturday, and as a special bonus, there’ll be a daily charity bet during next week’s Cheltenham Festival. Running total: +£11.38
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