Alan Pardew is a funny old sod. Mockingly renamed Alain de Pardieux when he signed un sac-full of Frenchmen at Newcastle, he’s now taken on the moniker of Pardiola, based on his recent stunning success with Crystal Palace (rather than a new-found dogmatic preference for tiki-taka).
Since he took over in January this year, only Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have won more Premier League points than Alan Pardew’s new team. That’s contending-for-the-top-four form, and that’s quite an achievement. For a team who were swatting wildly at relegation like a child does a wasp, the south London side’s resurgence has been remarkable.
The manager inherited a decent if perhaps somewhat unconventional blend of footballers. At the back, in players like Speroni, Mariappa, Hangelaand, Kelly and Dann, he has his stalwarts. Average players who can do a job in the Premiership and give their all. Even if their all doesn’t amount to too much individually, they’ve been honed into an effective collective.
In midfield, injury-hit Jedinak always impresses. His passing, reading of the game and excellent beard make him a Carrick-Gattuso hybrid that anchors Palace’s play, and next to him Joe Ledley’s consistency and quality has proved invaluable. The same can be said of James McArthur, who has also had to recover from being throttled by the extremely scary Nigel Pearson, let’s not forget.
Palace have had a rotating cast of strikers. Frazier Campbell has shouldered most of the responsibility through the middle, with Chamakh, Murray (resurgent under Pardew), Sanogo and Gayle all chipping in. But, much like an early Jurassic bird, it is the wings that have allowed Pardew’s men to soar above their competitors.
In Zaha, Bolasie, Puncheon and Gayle, Palace have some of the fastest players in the league. Watching them taking turns to bomb down the left and right reminds me of early to mid-90s Manchester United, with Sharpe, Giggs and Kanchelskis tearing teams apart. Whenever wing-play is mentioned these days, it tends to be referred to as “old fashioned wing-play”, but like pairing jeans with a denim jacket, it’s very much making a comeback. Alan Pardew is making it chic again.
It’s not the first time he’s used pace to blitz the Premiership, either. Do you recall his West Ham team of 2005-2006? The one that finished ninth after getting promoted, and made it to the FA Cup final? Massive amounts of pace. Etherington was rapid on the left. In the middle, Reo-Coker was like a wind-up toy, and up front Marlon Harewood’s combination of pace and strength was about as close to Drogba as any Englishman will likely get. With Sheringham the puppeteer delivering through-balls left right and centre, that West Ham side upset a lot of odds-makers.
Indifferent spells at Charlton and Southampton followed, but in time we’ll look back upon Alan Pardew’s spell at Newcastle as a very successful one. Keeping the club afloat, hitting the heights of fifth place, making it to a Europa League quarter final, all were impressive given the club’s subversionary ownership. With very little money to spend, a small scouting network and pressure to sell his best players every season, the consistency he squeezed out of his disparate Newcastle squad was a massive achievement.
So why does Pardew not get the credit he deserves? The man has a reputation problem. The problem is that he has the reputation of being an absolute bell-end. Slagging off fans, trying to fight Arsene Wenger, verbally abusing Manuel Pellegrini, pushing officials, head-butting players…the list of Pardew’s touchline mishaps is long. He is also a smug git. Just the other day he went nearly full-Allardyce, and declared to the BBC that the Crystal Palace board are lucky to have him:
“I look at the top teams and feel I could do that job better than I’m seeing it being done. But I’m quite happy where I am and if I work in this part of the league for the rest of my career I will be extremely happy. I’m really happy here. I don’t really want another job. In a way the [Palace] board have been lucky because even if I have great success here I won’t be looking to jump away.”
Quite amazing quotes, especially given that of the teams above Crystal Palace in the league, only Stoke or West Ham might consider offering Pardew a job, and both those teams sit only three points above his current employers.
Never fear, however. The Palace boss has now turned to a sports psychologist to help him get over his anger issues, and sort out his touchline behaviour. It is easy to mock things like that, but ultimately it may be a matter of mental health, and can only help. If Pardew can get his personal act together with as much aplomb as he has his team’s, he can rise above the rather acrid reputation he’s developed and become more widely recognized as a good manager. Should that happen, and with an FA keen to employ a string of English managers, “Pardew for England” might not be too ridiculous a proposition.