It’s just over six years since Alan Pardew was appointed Newcastle manager with a fans’ approval rating of 5.5%, according to a poll conducted by Sky Sports; roughly the same percentage of Crystal Palace fans wanted him to stay at Selhurst Park.
The good news for anybody who cannot bear his particular brand of smugness is that this seemingly inevitable exit is likely to precipitate a lengthy sabbatical from the top flight. After six years of watching self-satisfaction alternated with self-absolvement, we are certainly due a break. Pardew is unlikely to find a Premier League club willing to give him another job; his only route back may be via a Championship club big enough to match his substantial sense of self-worth.
The decline has been so extraordinary and devastating that any club would be right to be wary. In 2015, only Arsenal and Manchester City won more Premier League games than Palace. As I wrote last year, ‘he left a loveless marriage in Newcastle for his south London soulmate and the honeymoon has lasted a whole year’.
In 2016 it has become apparent that even his beloved Palace couldn’t change him and this latest relationship has become toxic. No team has lost more Premier League games, no team has conceded more goals, and Palace have somehow managed to amass only six more points in 2016 than a Newcastle side that was relegated in May.
There were lurches in form at Newcastle but nothing this terminal, and nothing Pardew could not explain with a litany of excuses and a smirk which suggested that you, I and everybody else knew that the real problem at Newcastle was Mike Ashley, the lightning rod that protected Pardew from any real media criticism. Without that lightning rod, Pardew was sat under a south London tree holding a metal umbrella.
At Newcastle, he could eye Palace as an escape route and Palace were very glad to have him; a few months of Neil Warnock will do that to anybody. By his own admission, he inherited a side that had been defensively well-drilled by Tony Pulis and just needed to feel loved and secure again. Warnock’s reign had always felt like an unwanted stopgap and Pardew looked like The King of all things. That he took over after a pair of 0-0 draws seemed apt; there have been precious few of those in the following two years.
Now there is no escape route, no top-flight club that would overlook a record of five Premier League wins in a calendar year. Pardew does not fit the role of a firefighter, parachuted into a crisis situation to organise and shepherd everybody out safely; that’s the profile of Sam Allardyce, the man who will surely replace him and rub his hands with glee at the prospect of working with Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and a glut of giant defenders. Palace are the perfect ‘crisis’ club in that there is no shortage of quality, merely direction.
Pardew increasingly feels like yesterday’s man, and reports that he had ignored the advice of analysts brought in to arrest this latest slide add to a compelling body of evidence. He is a motivator in a league where managers are expected to be tacticians, motivators and politicians too. As he says in Michael Calvin’s excellent Living On The Volcano: “I was the fan. I was the bloke buying The Sun on the building site, who couldn’t believe how badly that team had played or that individual had done.”
In 2016 it was his team and his individuals and he still seemed equally lost for answers. Just a few months after doing a jig at Wembley, he could be clapping the crowd at Griffin Park and talking about how Nottingham Forest/Leeds/Wolves are a Premier League club in all but name.