Come on a journey with me to October 2019, where we find West Bromwich Albion stuck in a rut. Manager Alan Pardew is being subjected to catcalls from home supporters, who have seen their team win one of their last 14 league games. The owners wonder whether they must pull the plug.
It had all started so well. The concept of a ‘new manager bounce’ is wrongly attributed to every incoming boss like it is a mystical force, but Pardew truly earns the tag. He won six of his first ten matches as West Brom manager to see them surge up the table.
And yet his goodwill dissipated as quickly as it was earned. Coincidentally, the worm turned just as Pardew had begun to believe his own hype and tout himself for bigger jobs. If pride comes before a fall, Pardew’s usual starting point is a few hundred metres above Everest’s summit.
We know this will happen, because this is what always happens. This is the circle of Pardew, and it moves us all through despair and hope and imprints Elton John lyrics in our brains. Supporters who once saluted their king will question how they ever loved him at all, and a team will crumble. The self-styled king will be left in the altogether.
Only Arsenal and Manchester City won more Premier League games than Pardew’s Crystal Palace in 2015. By December 2016 he had been sacked, having won only six league games in that calendar year. Alan Pardew: rollercoaster manager.
There is a clanging irony to Sam Allardyce and Pardew landing jobs on the same day, with Allardyce’s “foreigners are taking our jobs” missive – delivered from a TV studio in Qatar where the global Premier League is adored, naturally – still ringing in our ears. Anyone believing that these impassioned Allardyce speeches see him looking anywhere or at anyone beyond the end of his own nose have been duped. ‘What do we want? More jobs for British coaches! Who do we want to get them? Me!’
In fact, if someone had quickly sorted out Tony Pulis being airlifted into Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium to attempt a South Walian rescue mission on Wednesday afternoon, we could have applied for November 29 to be recognised as an official PFM Bank Holiday. They could have bunting, chips served on shoulders and pints of wine. Perhaps BeIn Sports would care to host this Tragic Roundabout-themed party?
Yet for all the symbolism of another British manager being recycled into another bottom-half Premier League job, Pardew is a little different to the others. He is certainly a card-carrying member of the old guard of British managers and is only the fifth person to manage five clubs or more in the Premier League, and he is also something of a firefighter in that a dose of Pardew generally prompts an instant improvement in form.
Yet crucially, Pardew is an optimist not a pragmatist. He sticks to relatively straightforward tactical methods, but prides himself on an attractive and expansive style of play. If Pardew is a firefighter, he is doing flamboyant tricks with his hose. I’ve been told to stress that that is categorically not a euphemism.
Proof comes in the man Pardew replaces. You do not replace Pulis with another of his ilk, unless you intend to hibernate a home support through the entire winter. Pardew is the sexiest version of the British boss, the most ‘foreign-style’ manager of this Dad’s army.
“Everybody knows the Tony Pulis style of football and now we have technically gifted players who want to get the ball down and show what they can do,” said Ben Foster after Pulis’s departure. “It’s not necessarily what Tony wanted, to be honest.” It will be exactly what Alan wants.
Above all, Pardew is a motivator. You can envisage him strolling onto the training ground on his first morning and saying “lads, let’s play some football”, with even those five words provoking a positive reaction. Should results start strongly, players will publicly discuss a manager opening their eyes and a team enjoying itself on and off the pitch. If there is something old-fashioned about that approach, that does not make it defunct.
Yet the eventual fall is as predictable as the initial rise. Pardew will be undone, not least because of himself. At Newcastle United he went from ‘Pardiola’ to #PardewOut in the space of a year because he lost the players and cosied up to Mike Ashley. At Crystal Palace he publicly courted the England job and left the players who had performed for him disillusioned by his very personal celebration.
The common accusation is that Pardew is a man prepared to delight in success – and why shouldn’t he? – but quickly apportion blame in leaner times. Our own longlist of his excuses is tremendous, but it is the Newcastle Chronicle’s ‘Alan Pardew excuse generator’ that is most worthy of your time. Created a full seven months before Pardew left the north-east, it stands as a digital statue to his tainted legacy.
For better or worse, Pardew has carved out a niche as a group of one in English management. He is the instant fix but without the long-term certainty. He is a man with vast Premier League experience but whose relentless optimism decrees that failure has not made him weary. He is the safe pair of hands wearing expensive leather gloves.
“You miss the training ground. The smell. The noise. The passion. That is what I do best,” Pardew said on the day of his appointment. This is a man who knows his strengths and is perfectly prepared to play to the gallery until it gets grating. And long after.
Success or fail, one thing is guaranteed: It will never be dull with Alan Pardew. Given the rigor mortis of Pulis’ last months in charge, that might just be enough for a support desperate to fall in love with their team again. For now.