Alan Pardew is not likely to get a very warm welcome in the cold north when he is paraded in front of the Newcastle fans and the Times' George Caulkin warns that he won't have a very long honeymoon period in charge either.
Alan Pardew is already facing a battle to win over players and fans at St James's Park after an appointment that has surprised many.
Alan Pardew will be confirmed as Newcastle United’s manager this morning, but his will be a marriage without a honeymoon. After a brutal few days that have left players and supporters bruised and bemused, the club will make their latest tilt at the long term, yet they can expect only short-term hostility.
If this is the answer, many will wonder at the point of the question. The abrupt dismissal of Chris Hughton, a man who retained the respect and affection of the dressing room and was instrumental in repairing a fractured relationship with the fans, has threatened everything.
Newcastle have been a delicate coalition since their relegation from the Barclays Premier League last year and now it has been disbanded. What is more, it has been disbanded willingly.
That, of course, is not Pardew’s doing. The 49-year-old was at Slaley Hall hotel in Northumberland last night for discussions with Newcastle’s hierarchy and, given his association with Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, it is safe to assume that there was little to fret over. His contract with be lengthy — stretching for five years — and a £500,000 salary will be heavily incentivised for avoiding relegation.
Newcastle are fond of Peter Beardsley, the reserve-team coach, but Pardew hopes to name Ray Lewington, Fulham’s youth development manager, as his assistant and Andy Woodman, of Charlton Athletic, as his goalkeeping coach. Their first task would be to re-energise a first-team squad that coalesced and rallied at Hughton’s prompting. Footballers are pragmatic, but the unit has been shaken.
In a recent interview with The Times, Andy Carroll, the Newcastle striker, spoke about Hughton. His words were effusive and sincere. “Chris has brought everyone together,” he said. “It’s like you’re coming in to see your best friends every day, everyone’s so close. We go to the cinema together, share lifts, go for food. It’s down to him. He changed everything around.”
It was born of adversity, but as Newcastle strained for promotion, supporters witnessed something rare: players who, whatever their ability, brought honour to their shirts and fought for the cause. A team. At last, a team. In turn, it restored a link between pitch and stands, which had been frayed by the failings of too many athletes of deep wealth and shallow commitment.
Hughton was liked. He brought patience and a sheen of stability. It meant that after demotion, the treatment of Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan, the plan to hawk the stadium’s naming rights, Joe Kinnear and Dennis Wise, and so many other miscalculations, despair at the owner could be put to one side. That was the coalition. That is what has been jeopardised.
Ashley and Llambias, his managing director, are not demons. They are three-dimensional figures who have intriguing ideas about football and this week’s events should not be viewed as wanton destruction. They have a logic - they had concerns about Newcastle’s home record under Hughton, who they viewed less as a natural manager than a coach - but it is a logic that can feel desperately illogical. In a season that, as far as Hughton and most rational observers were concerned, was all about consolidation, they have invited pressure upon themselves. It must be remembered that Ashley’s funding has kept Newcastle solvent and their aim is to create a self-sufficient business, but their timing is perplexing. Football may be a business, but emotion still lies at its core.
His colleague Oliver Kay also thinks the appointment is a bit odd, and actually gambles with the stability of the club.
Legend has it that when Sir John Hall made the call in early 1992 that shaped the most uplifting period in his club’s history, he told Kevin Keegan that “there are only two people who can save Newcastle United and we’re speaking on the telephone right now”.
Somehow it is hard to apply the same sense of poignancy to the tawdry series of events that is expected to conclude today with Mike Ashley appointing Alan Pardew as the sixth manager of his 3½-year tenure at St James’ Park.
Whether their eyes met across a crowded blackjack table or it was something altogether less seedy, this is not a last desperate tilt at salvation but a gamble that has already turned the air toxic on Tyneside.
The best managerial appointments are those that energise clubs in need of inspiration. That is what happened when Keegan went to Newcastle nearly two decades ago, with the side facing the threat of relegation to the old third division. It is what happened when Sir Bobby Robson arrived in September 1999 and restored the credibility and sense of excitement that had been lost in the immediate post-Keegan era.
The Newcastle of 2010 were not in obvious need of invigorating but they do now after Chris Hughton’s unedifying dismissal on Monday. Ashley needed to produce a rabbit from the hat, to pull off a coup that would restore the optimism that followed Hughton out of the door, but instead he has pinned his hopes on a mate who was sacked by Southampton, of npower League One, this season.
To paint Pardew as a managerial misfit is unfair because, during his time at Reading and the vast majority of his spell at West Ham United, he worked wonders. However, you fear for him now. If Roy Hodgson feels that he has had to overcome prejudices at Liverpool this season, the scepticism that awaits Pardew on Tyneside is on an altogether different scale.
Why is so much of this about what the supporters think? Because, at Newcastle of all clubs, it matters. The chemistry at St James’ Park is in some ways similar to that at Anfield, where passion, fervour and anxiety transmit themselves from the pitch to the terraces and back again. Their supporters ask for nothing but commitment and the possibility to be able to dream.
Newcastle’s performance levels have fluctuated wildly as expectations and self-belief have ebbed and flowed over the 18 years since Keegan’s arrival. Perhaps that was Hughton’s problem, that things threatened to become too stable and predictable in mid-table, but Pardew’s immediate challenge will be to banish the air of negativity that the events of this week have brought.
When Hall signed Keegan 18 years ago, Newcastle had nothing to lose. The appointment of Pardew is a far bigger gamble.