There’s a story about Alan Pardew that you’ll probably know, but it’s absolutely worth recounting here if you aren’t aware of it. And, indeed, if you are. The tale comes from Pardew’s West Ham days, told by former club photographer Steve Bacon, who claimed that one day the coaching staff were sitting down for dinner. When their food arrived, the story goes that Pardew took one look at fitness coach Tony Strudwick’s dinner, decided that looked better than his choice, so just took it. In response protests from everyone present, Pardew simply responded: “When you’re the king, you can do anything.”
Whether that’s true or not almost doesn’t matter, because it’s one of those stories that just seems to ‘fit’. You hear it, nod, then say “Yep, that sounds about right.” Any story you hear that confirms a view of Pardew as a man absolutely delighted with his own visage, a manager happy to believe perfectly well that he is the king and he can indeed do what you want, is immediately filed under ‘plausible’.
For long parts of this season Pardew might not quite have been ‘the king’, but he was certainly doing a very fine job at Crystal Palace. As recently as December they were fifth in the table, a few weeks earlier they had taken Pardew’s old club Newcastle to the cleaners and were looking good for a European challenge. And, perhaps more importantly, talk was building about the big campaign of the year: Pards for England. “I haven’t brought it up once,” Pardew aww-shucked back in October when asked about the national gig. “I don’t want to talk about it today, it’s not on my agenda and I’m quite happy at Crystal Palace.” That would seem to be the end of that, you would say, an…oh, he wasn’t finished. “But it’s the England job. If you’re English and don’t want it then there must be something wrong with you.”
It’s interesting that in the last year or so Pardew has cleaned up his act a little bit, with no touchline confrontations with opposition managers and at every possible opportunity avoiding criticising referees. While he apparently hasn’t “brought it up once”, it’s impossible to think that Pards hasn’t got wind that Roy Hodgson could do one in the summer, and the FA will be on the lookout for a new, English manager. Pardew has been on his best behaviour in case the chaps from the FA are watching: it’s the equivalent of putting on a three-piece suit and shining your shoes when the bigwigs from head office drop in.
That prospect doesn’t look quite so realistic now, though. Palace haven’t won a game since December 19, losing seven of those 11 encounters and while they have been a little unlucky with injuries (Yannick Bolasie’s spell on the sidelines has been a particular kick in the pants), that talk of a shinier gig for Pardew has got significantly quieter. He did an excellent job with Palace last season, but a glimpse at Pardew’s final league positions before that reveals a manager not exactly eating at the big boys’ table. With Newcastle Pardew finished, in reverse chronological order, 10th, 16th, 5th and 12th. Not bad, not brilliant either, but seemingly enough to see him suggested for what is theoretically the most prestigious gig in English football. People that John Nicholson would call ‘Proper Football Men’ would no doubt comment that clubs are too quick to appoint fancy foreign managers, but the reverse is certainly true here: if Pardew wasn’t English, there’s no way anyone would be touting him for anything better than where he currently is.
Not that he seems to think that’s the case, mind. He said in December that English managers are “regarded as an underclass” and that “English coaches really have to have a steely resolve because the press are tougher with us.” Good old Sam Allardyce backed Pardew up on Tuesday, saying: “Us Brits have got to stick together because there aren’t many of us left.” It would be interesting to see which press Pardew is reading, because there seems to be little to no speculation that his job is in trouble, which isn’t to say that if he was called Alain Pardieu he would be under more pressure, but his side are currently only heading one way. To claim that English managers are a persecuted breed by the press and that they are a dying species akin to a giant panda is, to say the least, a little off.
It’s perhaps a little glib to point out that there are currently seven British managers in the Premier League, six of them are in the bottom eight of the table and the other two clubs in that whiffy group, Swansea and Aston Villa, are largely in those positions because of the ‘efforts’ of their previous managers, who both happen to be British. And in the interests of fairness, we should point out at this stage that Leicester are partly in their current position due to groundwork done by the very British Nigel Pearson, and that Sunderland’s poor start was with the very not British Dick Advocaat. As an aside, expanding this category from English to British is cheating a little here, but you can be sure Allardyce and Pardew regard Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes as their kin.
Sure, many of the clubs in the nether regions of the Premier League are roughly where you’d expect them to be, and the clubs at the bottom are obviously not in their current positions because their managers are British, but the point is that not many British managers, specifically at the moment Pardew, are earning the advantages and jobs they seem to think they deserve. Indeed, it’s interesting that British managers have a number of advantages over their foreign counterparts – comfort with the language, culture, way of life, knowledge of the league and players; call it British privilege, if you like – and still not many of them are any good.
Nationality in football management is essentially irrelevant, but…y’know, they started it. British managers like Pardew and Allardyce think their lot should be given more and better jobs in the Premier League, but the trouble is not many are proving they’re worthy of being one of Liz’s corgis, let along the king.