Have you heard the one about the manager whose job might be getting less secure with every victory?
Sounds odd, right? Perverse even. But this is Newcastle United we’re talking about, and Alan Pardew’s relationship with Mike Ashley is a curious but very important sub-plot to what is actually going on with the team this season.
Way back in May, Pardew preceded a crucial game against QPR with comments that suggested Ashley had made his fair share of mistakes over the course of a troubling campaign. The United owner has the hide of a rhinoceros and it is notoriously difficult to get the inside track on his thinking but my understanding is that it didn’t go down particularly well. Joe Kinnear’s sudden appearance as the club’s Director of Football a few weeks later was probably not unrelated.
Fast forward to this weekend and Pardew’s easy and engaging appearance on Goals on Sunday. Managers with uncertainty swirling around them don’t usually go and spend an hour and a half being interviewed on national television during the international week when there is little else going on but Pardew did. Again, there was discussion of Ashley that was positive but not unqualified in its praise.
Either Pardew has received some assurances recently or he’s playing a risky game with an owner who is notoriously difficult to predict. Given the fixture list that confronts Pardew’s United between now and Christmas (four of the top six and a local derby), my take is that he is going ‘all in’ during a crucial period of his era.
Just as he did with Hatem Ben Arfa, Pardew senses that caution will be no insurance if results don’t go his way.
The irony is that with every game Newcastle win, Ashley is likely to become more and more convinced that the squad is good enough to achieve United’s minimum aim of simply staying in the top flight.
Five years ago he made the mistake of meddling when the team simply wasn’t good enough to keep the club up.
In 2010, Ashley sensed that the squad was good enough to survive upheaval and made a big call on Chris Hughton. The end result justified the means that time. This season the squad already looks good enough to stay up with something to spare and that gives Ashley room to maneouvre.
I’m not implying that anyone could manage Newcastle to safety this season (Kinnear, for one, would not be up to the task) but if the owner takes umbrage and decides to go in another direction the results so far will give him confidence to do so.
At the centre of this is the messy internal politics which define Newcastle at the moment. Ashley’s management of the club has encouraged mini power struggles which mean we must read between the lines to form a true picture of what is actually going on at St James’ Park. Given that backdrop, Pardew’s appearance on Goals on Sunday was an interesting strategy by a manager who remains convinced that he has the managerial knowledge, experience, acumen and ability to deliver success to Newcastle.
Personally, boldness is a trait I admire in a football manager. Pardew’s approach at Cardiff brought the right result and deserved praise but now he faces a run of five games that could make or break his time on St James’ Park.
Whatever happens, Pardew appears determined to manage his way.