Leicester have ruined football. Forget the fairytale, forget the movies, forget Andrea Bocelli; football is completely Foxed, and it’s all Leicester’s fault. For Claudio Ranieri’s side have emerged from the coterie of mid-table Premier League sides, breezed past the relegation-embattled, sauntered through those challenging for Europe, embarrassed those contending for the title, and lifted the trophy themselves. Expectations at the King Power Stadium have been transformed, but the same can be said at Vicarage Road, the Britannia Stadium or The Hawthorns. If Leicester can do it, why can’t we?
The same can be said at Selhurst Park, too. Nigel Pearson led Leicester to 14th after eventually staving off relegation last season. It is a place currently occupied by Alan Pardew and Crystal Palace, themselves finally free of the looming spectre of the Championship. Despite dragging themselves to survival and reaching an FA Cup final at Wembley, the club is trapped in a state of conflict. Celebrations at the King Power were presumably watched with equal parts joy and jealousy.
Eight points and three places separated Palace from Leicester in December. It was a simpler time. Carlo Ancelotti backed Pardew as the favourite for the England job. Club chairman Steve Parish said he would not stand in his manager’s way if Real Madrid were to approach him. The 54-year-old was crowned our Premier League manager of 2015. There are few better at leading a group of players high on confidence. And yet there are few worse equipped to guide the exact same individuals out of a rut.
The Premier League rarely suffers managerial fools lightly. Dick Advocaat was dispatched by Sunderland after failing to win any of his first eight games of the season. Brendan Rodgers parted ways with Liverpool with three wins in eight. Tim Sherwood was given ten games of chronic under-performance at Aston Villa at the start of the campaign. Three wins in 15 spelled the end for Garry Monk at Swansea. Few managers are afforded the opportunity to oversee a run of just two victories in 20 Premier League games without losing their job. Fewer still are privileged enough to negotiate a new contract in the midst of such form. But then there is no other manager like Alan Pardew.
“I get accused of being arrogant. For me, it’s self-belief,” Pardew told The Times in December when ‘the King‘ was on top of the world. “English coaches really have to have a steely resolve because the press are tougher with us.” Such claims are fanciful at best, as he surely knows himself. Warranted or not, Louis van Gaal, Roberto Martinez, Andre Villas-Boas and Pepe Mel have faced far more intense media scrutiny in recent years. Even Mauricio Pochettino was treated with mistrust after replacing Nigel Adkins as Southampton manager in 2013. And despite their lack of a ‘steely resolve’, none of the aforementioned presided over a run of form that garnered 13 league points from a possible 54.
Arrogance, self-belief or otherwise, Pardew has been fortunate to escape criticism. Sacking him would be gravely unjustified, but his role in this slump must be examined and questioned. The first murmurs of discontent have been heard at Selhurst Park this season – it is more than rational for Palace fans to discuss an under-performing manager’s future. Whether he should remain in the post has been the subject of hushed discussions as opposed to #PardewOut campaigns, widespread protests and plane-related banner banter, but such conversations are being held nonetheless. The goodwill from a remarkable 2015 and from his spell as a Palace player has almost expired.
Come May 21, it could be restored in style. Terrible league performance has been offset by the club’s run to the FA Cup final, where they face Manchester United at Wembley. Deliver a first major trophy since the 1994 Division One title and a season of disappointment becomes a campaign of success for the manager. The finest of margins separate the two.
Would an FA Cup trophy paper over the considerable cracks that have formed in Palace’s season since the turn of the year? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Would the fans mind one jot? It’s unlikely. But Pardew is blessed to have reached this stage with his position strengthened. He has benefited from being the right appointment at the right club at the right time, with Palace a side in need of managerial stability. He must now deliver a tangible return on the same faith which will see him extend his contract in the summer. Leicester have ensured that survival can no longer be the sole aim for the Premier League’s also-rans. The Foxes have raised the bar of expectations, and the King must get up from his throne and face the challenge.