The not-so-shock appointment of Alan Pardew as Newcastle manager was confirmed yesterday and the former West Ham and Charlton boss cut a very lonely figure in his first press conference. Perhaps fearing an in-person backlash from the media, having already been roundly lambasted as murmurs of Pardew's arrival grew louder, the Magpies hierarchy were notable by their absence at St James' Park on Thursday.
It is a position Pardew is likely to experience more frequently should Newcastle face rocky times ahead, and Henry Winter at the Telegraph believes that the new manager's most important task is getting a group of players on side who are still distraught by the departure of the cruelly axed Chris Hughton.
"The man that the Newcastle United fans simply do not want as manager walked up to St James’ Park, knowing the uphill battle he faces to win friends and games here.
After signing a 5½-year contract, Pardew sat in the room where Sir Bobby Robson used to hold court, where the words of Kevin Keegan once had audiences spellbound, and where Alan Shearer articulated the dreams of a Geordie nation. It was a room where the popular Chris Hughton detailed Newcastle’s steady progress under him until he was so callously dismissed.
Entering a chamber packed with so many memories of adopted and local heroes, Pardew must have felt he had walked into an ambush. Brutally, he made the walk alone. Neither the Newcastle chairman, Mike Ashley, nor the managing, director, Derek Llambias, bothered to ride shotgun for their controversial new appointment. They left Pardew to take the heat. Alone.
Having overseen 527 games, the 49 year-old is no ingenu but rarely can a member of his trade have stepped into a dug-out that so resembles a bunker. The former manager of Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton has no chance of succeeding on Tyneside unless he first gets a resentful squad onside.
Knowing the players mourn for Hughton, Pardew has already phoned Kevin Nolan, the captain and heartbeat of the team, and will address the players this morning. “It’s very important I calm their fears down,” Pardew said. “I’d like to think the players will grow to respect me.”
Players are professionals, employees on lucrative contracts and their anger over the treatment of Hughton will eventually subside, especially if Pardew handles dressing-room sensitivities adroitly. Mispronouncing his predecessor’s name as “Houghton” drew sotto voce sighs from the small band gathered in the room.
“Chris is a gentleman,” said Pardew, tackling head-on Geordie Grievance No 1. “I’ve not spoken to Chris but I probably will put a call in. I’ll give it some time because he will be hurting. I know he would have been genuinely well liked in the dressing room. I have to follow that. But there’s a different personality in that dressing room now. I wouldn’t say I am more confident. I just have a manner that can sometimes upset people. I’ve upset players in the past.”
Usually a self-assured character, Pardew was almost deliberately humble. He understood the supporters’ anger just as he did the players’. “If there are protests for Chris on Saturday against Liverpool, I have no problem with that – that’s the fans’ right. I hope any protest doesn’t last too long. It’s not about me after all, it’s about the club. We’re going to need a lot of help against Liverpool.”