When Alan Pardew failed to show up for his usual post-match press conference after Newcastle’s 3-2 victory over Everton, the managerial-merry-go-round media frenzy ignited. At first, many presumed it was foolishly premature – why would a manager, at a club of Newcastle’s stature, trade safety and security for the rigours and risk of relegation at Crystal Palace?
And on the flipside, why would Crystal Palace, a club known for its financial difficulties, break an eight-year contract and pay a large compensation package for a mid-table manager best known for head-butting and foul-mouthed touchline rants?
On the surface at least, viewed through those perspectives, the move makes absolutely no sense. Except for Newcastle United, however.
Their willingness to allow Pardew to talk to Palace shows a self-recognition of their own mistakes in awarding the Londoner a contract of that length. Instead of sacking him outright and appeasing their fans, which would have cost millions of pounds, Palace offered them a get-out-of-jail-free option to end the entire controversial episode outright. And for Mike Ashley, the owner so scantily obsessed with profit and fiscal matters, it was an offer too good to refuse.
So what of Pardew, then? Is he worth the risk? Is he worth the financial and political upheaval prevalent having sacked Neil Warnock?
Palace fans seem to think so. There’s a sentimental touch to his arrival, too. Back in 1990, Pardew played in their FA cup final-reaching side. They might have lost, but their remains an air of nostalgia surrounding him. And it may be minor, but it’s the sort of historical drama that creates an affection with generations gone by.
Still, are there not seemingly better alternatives? Pardew is an ex-Premier League Manager of the Year winner, and has done a respectable job for Newcastle, but does Steve Parish want to risk bringing their identity into the kind of disrepute that Pardew is liable to create?
Seemingly, other than Tony Pulis, there is not an available pool of reliable relegation fighting managers. Sam Allardyce in years gone by could steady a sinking ship. Alan Curbishley is always linked to absolutely every lower Premier League or top Championship team. Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham antics seem to have built him an approachable reputation. But other than them, how many other names come to mind?
On the whole, the situation echoes eventually-relegated Norwich last season. Chris Hughton was sacked in April, perilously late in the season, which made for a confusing policy. It was revealed months later via owner Delia Smith that the board had sought a change in January, but had found nobody adequate to lead the team forward. Supposedly, there were a lack of skilled managers in the market able to rescue that adverse situation.
Has Pardew benefited from that skill shortage? In the world of football management, are there really a lack of viable managerial alternatives?
There probably isn’t – but what is more prevalent are the risks associated with employing the wrong person at the wrong time. A board risks a fan backlash, and more importantly, potential financial ruin if they get a managerial switch wrong that subsequently leads to relegation. If changes at the top are to be made, they have to be right.
Pardew, in that sense, is a safe bet. He’s got plenty of Premier League experience and an excellent knowledge of the English game. He’s a stable, viable switch for Palace, even if he risks bringing off-pitch controversies to the team.
How this all pans out will be interesting to see and difficult to call – Pardew has much to prove, despite his credentials, in the next six months.
It’s rare that a manager is tempted away to a much more challenging and precarious role when he has the security of a long-term contract. It’s rarer, still, that both fans of those clubs are pleased by that move. On the surface it makes no sense, but dip a little deeper, and it’s actually move that works for all.