BLACK and white rarely mixes with red and white in the North East, but Alan Pardew will be grateful for the words of an unlikely ally from Wearside – Sunderland top scorer Darren Bent.
With Pardew still battling to win over a sceptical St James’ Park faithful, he needs all the friends he can get in the North East. And while Bent, Sunderland icon and the Wearsiders’ top scorer, is probably not the most popular person on Tyneside, his words should provide some comfort for Newcastle fans still raw at a somewhat unpopular appointment.
Even if his shirt is the wrong colour, his words should demand some respect and his is a fascinating insight into Pardew’s methods and beliefs.
As an England international with a prolific goalscoring record Bent has worked under some of the most high-profile managers in the Premier League but is adamant his former boss at Charlton – despite not managing to keep the Addicks up – is up there with the best.
The pair worked together when Pardew was appointed boss of the ailing Valley club on Christmas Eve of 2006, with the club rock-bottom of the Premier League on just 12 points.
The Addicks were subsequently relegated with 34 points – and Bent later sold to Spurs for a club record £16.5m. But the England striker is full of nothing but praise for the job done by Pardew during the six months they worked together.
The respect, it seems, is mutual. When Bent picked up the North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award on Sunday, Pardew was the first to rise to his feet. There will be hope on Tyneside that he can develop similar bonds inside the St James’ Park dressing room.
Because man-management, according to Bent, is Pardew’s strong suit.
He explains: “Charlton were struggling at the time – we’d won something like one game out of 10 in all competitions – but he came in and was absolutely brilliant. He settled all the players down and got us playing as a team again. Results picked up straight away.
“His man-management was superb. He made me captain, so I’ve got a lot to be grateful to him for, but it’s not just that. He was top-drawer. He got us relaxed, got us playing football. He told us to try to forget what was going on around the club and just concentrate on what we did best. I’m sure he’ll be doing the same at Newcastle.
“The first day he got to Charlton he called me in to his office and said ‘look, we’ve got to do something about the team and what’s going on’. He talked to me about my strengths as a player and said he’d spoken to all the managers in the Premier League and they’d said that they would love to have me in their teams.
“It was his way of building me up and he did it with others, too. He called everyone together, told them I’d be the new captain and said that we had to relax, to enjoy our work. He was full of ideas and innovation.
“He was always honest and always good with the players. He’d said to me from the moment he got to Charlton that if a big club came in for me, he wouldn’t stand in my way, as long as I always gave 100%. He was as good as his word. I tried my heart out for him and he repaid me after Charlton were relegated by working hard to help me go to Spurs.
“He was respectful and kind to my parents – he was close to my mum and dad and talked to them on a regular basis – and both my family and I will always be grateful to him.”
As Bent points out, one thing you could never accuse Pardew of is ducking a challenge. As well as taking on a job that has accounted for five managers in three years, he is also trying to scale a wall of antipathy erected by the Toon Army over the weekend.
No matter, says Bent, he is someone who takes on challenges head on.
“To be fair, he’s a great fit for the Newcastle job,” he said. “He won’t be scared of it – a lot of people would be – but he’s got the character and personality and to do really well in the North East. It’s a great part of the world – coming to Sunderland has been brilliant for me and I’ve loved every minute of it. And the people aren’t just passionate about their football, they’re also welcoming.
“I saw him again at the weekend and he’s still full of the same passion and ideas. It says a lot about him that only a couple of days after taking the job, he was out and about in the region, mixing with fans and journalists, at an awards dinner. He’s not here for a holiday, he’s here to do a good job and make a difference. He’s here for the long-term. It was great to say hello.”
While some have accused Mike Ashley of reneging on his promise to bring in an experienced manager, Bent feels that Chris Hughton’s replacement is in a good position to build on that disappointing first taste of top-flight management.
“Chris Hughton was a popular figure and rightly so because he did really well for Newcastle, but I’m sure that Alan can take that on,” he said.
“He’ll know all about the passion already, but he’s the kind of man who’ll be respectful to the area’s history and traditions and he’ll tap into that.
“They’re in a far better position than Charlton were back then and I’m sure he’ll be given his chance.”