Alan Pardew faces huge battle as Newcastle manager
Of the underwhelming 14 votes Alan Pardew attracted out of more than 1000 cast in a local newspaper poll to assess the mood among supporters as to the next Newcastle United manager, it is joked that two of those came from Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, his right-hand man. The other 12 votes were from Sunderland fans.
Gallows humour on the Gallowgate. For those of a black and white ilk, it's become a necessary default defence mechanism against the tale of the unexpected that has been Ashley's three-and-a-half year reign.
Pardew yesterday became manager number six of that turbulent spell, less than 72 hours after the departure of Chris Hughton. Indecent haste or decisive action? It depends on your standpoint, but the majority of those passing judgement see it as merely swapping like for like.
“I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some hesitation when I was travelling up,” Pardew said after agreeing a five-and-a-half-year contract worth an annual £750,000, believed to include incentive-based bonus payments but only a modest signing-on fee and potential severance package.
He added: “I've had texts from managers telling me I must be mad. I know I'm not going to win the PR battle, that's just a battle I'm not going to win. The battles I need to win are out on the pitch. The job is a daunting prospect, but the chance to be manager was something I couldn't turn down.
“I've got a good record in the Premier League and I've got a lot of experience I hope to bring to the club. I'm not going to compare myself to Chris. I'm a competent manager and my message is that I didn't determine what happened to him. I'm the new guy.”
Pardew is in little doubt where his first port of call lies as he aims to win over a dressing room loyal to Hughton, whose name he managed to mis-pronounce in an otherwise competent press conference display.
“The problem I'm going to have initially is with the players and making sure I get my message across about them carrying any resentment towards me,” he added. “It's difficult taking over when the players and fans have great respect for Chris and the fact he's gone has caused a stir. People are unhappy and I can understand that so I need to talk to the players and get my message across.”
Rather than hearing his name ring round St James' Park for tomorrow's visit by Liverpool, it will be that of his predecessor on the lips of supporters keen to pay tribute to the man who helped resurrect the club's fortunes.
It could make for an uncomfortable early evening, but in a pro-active step, Pardew shunned the opportunity to watch from the stands, instead heading straight to the dugout where he will have back up from coaches Steve Stone and Peter Beardsley, the latter against his former employers, who surely can't believe their luck at Ashley's apparent willingness to throw his club into a turmoil.
Pardew must win over those questioning how a man sacked four months ago by Southampton, then lying 14th in League One, and whose last taste of the Premier League ended in relegation in 2007 can walk into, for all its drawbacks, one of the most high profile jobs in English football.
“The criticism isn't something I want and I certainly hope it doesn't last too long,” Pardew added. Adopting his best diplomatic stance, he added: “If there is a protest for Chris in terms of a nice protest and fans want to show him their support then I don't have a problem with that. That's their right.”