Alan Pardew is eager to stress he is not pally with owner Mike Ashley, but Newcastle United’s manager must quickly make friends on the terraces, writes Stuart Rayner.
IT was a symbolic start to Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United career. Facing the media hours after being named as the Magpies’ 31st manager, the 49-year-old sat alone at the top table.
Normally in these circumstances the new man will be flanked by a beaming chairman, desperate to get his couple of minutes’ worth of reflected glory on Sky Sports News, on the evening bulletins and in the next day’s paper.
But Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias are seemingly allergic to publicity, often doing all they can to dodge the spotlight they know will invariably be unremittingly harsh.
Even the Press officer kept a notable distance, standing on the far edge of the stage as she introduced Pardew to the media. It was almost certainly borne of an understandable reluctance to avoid the cardinal sin of public relations and become part of the story, but it only added to the feeling of isolation.
Even before he was appointed, it was crystal clear Pardew needed to make friends on the terraces as quickly as possible. Contrary to reports, he insists he does not yet have any in the boardroom. Perceived wisdom had it that Pardew’s appointment was another “Joe Kinnear moment” on the part of Ashley and Llambias.
The Wimbledon-born manager, the theory went, was already a fully paid-up member of the detested “Cockney mafia”, a friend of Llambias and regular in his casinos since Southampton added him to the ranks of the unemployed at the start of the season.
Realising how damaging it is in the North East to be painted as an Ashley stooge, Pardew was at great pains to distance himself from the St James’ Park powerbrokers from day one.
“I’m not friends with Derek, I’ve encountered him eight or nine times at charity and other events,” he stressed.
“I’m going to have to work closely with him now. With Mike, I bumped into him two or three times. I have seen him on occasions and that has been it. We have had small conversations and nothing to do with football as such. We did not discuss it. That’s it. Just charity events.
“It’s a shame for me because this London connection has been thrown at me. I do not consider myself London in the sense that I managed last at Southampton and I live in Surrey.”
Another story Pardew was anxious to knock down was that his appointment had been long in the making. It was in September, not long after his controversial departure from St Mary’s, that he was first linked with his current employers.
Having worked for Hughton during a brief loan at Tottenham Hotspur in 1995, Pardew is understandably keen not to be seen as having done the dirty on a coach universally admired for his decency.
“I was surprised at that (September) link because there was nothing directed to me,” he protested. “I knew nothing of it. The first I saw them (Ashley and Llambias) was on Tuesday.”
Ashley’s managerial appointments have fallen into two categories. Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer were club legends brought in to fight fires. The rest – Pardew, Joe Kinnear and Chris Hughton – have been London-raised.
Hughton eventually showed it was an obstacle that can be overcome, but it remains an obstacle nevertheless.
Speaking to our sister paper, the Evening Chronicle, hours before his appointment was officially announced, Pardew fired the first shots in the PR battle he would later insist it is futile to fight by stressing his commitment to attacking football, and pointing out that while not a Geordie, he was a citizen of Planet Football.
“A couple of Geordies have texted me and both said you have to earn the right to be an honorary Geordie so you had better start working,” Pardew acknowledged. When Liverpool come calling this evening, Pardew will be sat in the dugout. There will be no trusted lieutenants by his side, only the backroom men he inherited, Peter Beardsley and Steve Stone. Early next week Pardew will target and hopefully obtain coaches to provide the support he needs, men who know him and his methods well. Beardsley and Stone will return to the reserves.
Having had so little involvement in the preparations, some new managers would prefer to observe from the stands. Again Pardew says his choice is pragmatic – “I don’t like sitting in the stands. I don’t get a gauge of the game from there” – but it is another canny PR move.
A man criticised in the past for being arrogant is better seen in the thick of it than watching from on high. And pictures of him alongside Ashley in the director’s box would go down like a lead balloon.
For now, Pardew seems content to struggle along on his own. But he is surely intelligent enough to know that when it comes to football supporters, if they are not with you, they are against you. And Pardew cannot afford to have Newcastle’s against him for very long.