Five and a half years. Has any manager been given a contract that long before? No-one springs immediately to mind. Over the last couple of days, Newcastle United supporters have been consoling themselves over the departure of Chris Hughton that it might not be Alan Pardew that succeeds him. The rumours of him being a friend of Derek Llambias from before Llambias even became involved in the running of Newcastle United sounded like an internet conspiracy, a story with just the right combination of probability and credibility to hoodwink the gullible for a couple of days or so. Some people actually make up this sort of thing for fun, you know.
But no. If the hopes of Newcastle’s supporters rose with the news that Martin Jol had been relieved of his position at Ajax, they didn’t so much sink as plummet this morning with the confirmation that Pardew hasn’t just been appointed, but appointed on a contract that will keep him at St James Park until the summer of 2016. What had been considered a practical joke by some Newcastle supporters had become a reality. The betting price for Newcastle to get relegated from the Premier League this season has, since this morning. fallen from 6/1 to 7/2, and it would be unsurprising to see it fall further. This in itself doesn’t mean anything material in terms of what may or may not happen at Newcastle over the remainder of the season, but it is a reflection of how little confidence anyone has in Pardew.
Even if Alan Pardew does turn out to the the right man for this job, though, there is a moral prism through which this extraordinary story should probably be viewed. It has been widely reported that Pardew had been in negotiations with the club for a week and a half prior to Chris Hughton’s departure from St James Park, and this raises questions over the moral fibre on display both inside and outside of Newcastle United. What are we to make of a club that keeps a manager that it doesn’t want in charge while discussing his role with somebody else? In a similar vein, what are we to make of a manager that will discuss the job of a fellow manager prior to his departure from the club. The League Managers Association’s opinions on this sort of behaviour would make for interesting viewing.
Then, there is the small matter of the length of the contract. It is difficult to think of another manager in English football at this level that has ever received a longer contract than this, and the nature of his prior relationship with those running the club will only further fuel speculation that Mike Ashley is running this club as a club for his mates. There is little in Pardew’s history to suggest that he is the absolute best choice as Newcastle United’s manager for the next five and a half seasons and, moreover, there is plenty of gossip and speculation over his previous choices, both professional and personal, that give pause for thought over his suitability for this position.
Hughton’s appointment to the Newcastle United job was a blip in a succession of unsuccessful managerial appointments made by the club since Ashley took ownership of it. His appointment of Kevin Keegan ended with a dispute over transfer funds that left Keegan feeling – whether rightly or wrongly – that he wasn’t being backed by the board. The arrival of Joe Kinnear at the club began with Kinnear getting on the wrong side of the press thanks to his language and attitude at this first press conference in charge of the club. The appointment of Alan Shearer ended in five points from eight matches, relegation from the Premier League and confirmation that Shearer is not cut out for a career in management.
All of this happened in the space of nine months, and since then an uneasy truce has existed between the owner of the club and its supporters which has hinged upon Hughton getting on quietly and unassumingly with the job of getting the team winning again. That, however, has now been blown apart and it seems likely that the gloves will come off again. The chaos that led to Newcastle’s relegation from the Premier League led to wounds that have taken a long time to heal. It felt as if that healing process was starting to approach its conclusion, and it is perhaps this that informs that viewpoint amongst Newcastle supporters that Ashley seems, arguably too frequently for it to be merely coincidental, to act as if he wants to cause unrest at the club.
We will see, in front of the harsh glare of television cameras, whether Newcastle United’s supporters choose to demonstrate or fall in behind the team on Saturday. We can, however, be certain of one thing. Alan Pardew will have no honeymoon period at St James Park. He won’t merely be “under scrutiny”; there will be a sizeable number of people, possibly many thousands, that will be willing him to fail, and this will have a effect upon Newcastle United Football Club itself – the club struggled to fill St James Park last season, even though the team ran up more than one hundred points in the Championship, and their average crowds so far this season have been 6,000 short of capacity. How many more might now drift away, shaking their heads and wondering whether this circus (for, much as we decry such blatant use of cliché, this what it has becomone, yet again) is actually worth the effort?
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