HE has been in the job barely 24 hours but Alan Pardew walks into a meeting this morning that could define his stewardship of Newcastle United.
Having summoned all of United’s contracted senior players to their Benton training base at 10am, Pardew will begin the battle for hearts and minds by addressing the Newcastle dressing room.
Given the widespread discontent at Chris Hughton’s dismissal – Jose Enrique and Sol Campbell both called it a “joke” – it promises to be an interesting half hour or so.
In a short telephone conversation with skipper Kevin Nolan on Thursday, Pardew is understood to have assured him that he does not want to put the fierce team spirit and unity engendered by Hughton under threat.
Just as he did in his introductory Press conference, Pardew stressed to Nolan his respect and admiration for Hughton’s achievements.
There is no desire for blood-letting or a cull of senior players to make a point – with Pardew sold on the idea of evolution rather than revolution as he tries to secure the goal of Premier League safety that United seemed to be sailing serenely towards.
But having been hired partly because of concerns at boardroom level about the influence of a small group of senior players, he knows he must tread carefully in his dealings with a squad unified by Hughton’s democratic approach.
Strong characters abound in the dressing room and while some up high saw that as a problem, it also has its benefits.
When young Nile Ranger was consistently late for training during the promotion season, it was a senior player who addressed him on the importance of turning up on time.
And – famously – it was Alan Smith, Nolan, Joey Barton and Steve Harper who led the ‘put up or shut up’ meeting that followed the pre-season humbling at Leyton Orient.
No-one would argue that they are not good things.
For Pardew, stamping his authority on the situation without ruffling a few feathers will prove a big test of his man-management skills.
But his five-and-a-half-year contract – a clear indication of where the loyalties of the board lie – gives him authority that his predecessor did not have towards the end.
And the initial noises coming from St James’ Park are positive. His press conference was a success while Newcastle insiders have been impressed by what he has said behind closed doors. He is certainly willing to engage with supporters and the city he is now working in.
But his priority is clear – winning over a squad unsure of the next twist in the United tale.
“My most immediate task is the dressing room,” Pardew admits. “I’ve only spoken to Kevin (Nolan) briefly on the phone, but it’s obvious the players had a lot of affection for Chris. He was well liked.
“I can’t think of a player in the group I’ve managed so I’m going to be something of a mystery to them. I have to make sure the players understand I’m a fair manager. It’s a tough challenge but I need to make sure there isn’t a massive impact on the team. Obviously this week there has been, and that is not good for any group of players.
“It’s important I bring some stability back to the dressing room and calm their fears.”
Those fears are well-known to the longer serving members of the dressing room.
For Shola Ameobi and Steve Harper, Pardew is their 17th manager in 12 years. Not since Sir Bobby Robson’s departure will they have felt as raw.
“It is obvious the players and the fans had a great amount of respect for Chris Hughton and the fact he has gone has caused a stir,” he said.
“People are upset about it and the problem I’ve got initially is with the players and making sure I get my message across with clarity and quickly. I hope they don’t carry any resentment towards me.”
Pardew will certainly not be going out of his way to challenge his players, but the dressing room find a very different character standing in front of them.
The former West Ham boss can be brash and loud – buying a Ferrari after the FA Cup final of 2006 – and is not afraid to turn on the hairdryer when things are going against him. There is an ego there that Hughton, so understated, did not have.
But while he is not to everyone’s taste, others have responded extremely well. Danny Mills – coached by two former England managers – rates Pardew as the best, most innovative coach he’s ever worked with, while Shaka Hislop speaks very highly of him.
He is charismatic too, and is promising to keep supporters ‘in the loop’ on club matters.
For all his many, many positive attributes that is not something that could ever be said of Hughton – who was cagey even with his confidantes.
“I am just not the same sort of character as Chris,” he said.
“I wouldn't say I am more confident, but I just have a manner that can sometimes upset people. I have upset players in the past. I am sure Chris has too.
“But I will probably do it in a different way.
“That is the only point I am trying to make.
“I don't want to make a big deal of it. I am not really here to compare myself and Chris because that is unfair on me, if I am honest.”
Pardew hopes to squeeze money out of the board for additions to the squad in January but, perhaps wisely, he will give the existing squad members a chance first. Additions will be to strengthen a squad that has felt the strain of injuries and suspensions.
“All I would say about January is that I really need to know what I have got at the club,” he said.
“There have been some great performances here. I need to assess what we have in particular in the Premier League – this is sometimes a dividing line between losing and drawing – is the substitutes bench.
“Who have you got to come off the bench and make an impact? I will be looking at that very closely. With that window just around the corner I will be concentrating on that.”