They say that things get better with age. Many football fans in Tyneside may doubt that applies to Alan Pardew’s managerial career at Newcastle United. Ever since he signed an eight-year extension to his contract four months ago, his side has suffered a dramatic slump in form. Newcastle have accumulated just 13 out of a possible 51 points in the Premier League this season.
Stability and longevity aren’t often found in the relationship between most Premier League football clubs and their managers. But they’re certainly traits to aspire to, given the success of the top flight’s two longest serving and most decorated managers, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. Last September, Newcastle United decided to emulate Arsenal and Manchester United, rewarding manager Pardew with a virtually unheard-of contract extension, which has the potential to keep him at the club until 2020.
Whether he will stay in charge of the Magpies by the end of this season, let alone 2020, remains to be seen, however. This generous deal was a reward for Pardew’s fine form. He guided Newcastle to a 5th place finish and a subsequent Europa League spot last May, and was named manager of 2011/12 by both the Premier League and the League Managers’ Association. It was seen as a statement of intent by club’s owner, Mike Ashley, that Pardew was the man to guide the Magpies to their first trophy in nearly 44 years, and that he would be the man to steer the club in the right direction over the next few years. At the time, United’s managing director, Derek Llambias, cited the Arsenal and Manchester United models: “stability gives you the best platform to achieve success and that is the model we wish to emulate here.”
Although managerial stability may be present at the club, success is undoubtedly lacking at the moment. They didn’t win at all in the league in November, they haven’t yet done so this month and are without an away win in the league all season. They now languish just two points above the relegation zone in 16th place following their defeat at home to Reading, the team with the worst away record in the country. After he was awarded his new deal, Pardew half-joked that he would have to win every week to realise Ashley’s demands. At this point in the season he’s far from achieving that aim.
The pressure is starting to mount on Pardew. The hash-tag #PardewOut appears on Twitter all too often these days, a phrase practically impossible to imagine just six months ago. Last December he was asked whether the length of his contract had made him take his foot off the pedal: “because of the length of our deals, there is a suggestion we’re not working as hard – it’s ridiculous. You work harder in these periods.” There are, however, some arguments that suggest his club’s poor form is not wholly down to Pardew. Key players such as Tim Krul, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote have all had long spells out through injury. And the Europa League has meant that the team has played more games than ever this season. Meanwhile, Mike Ashley has been accused of failing to provide adequate finances for Pardew to sign the players he needs to improve the squad. Top-scorer Demba Ba left the club for Chelsea at the beginning of this month, while club captain, Fabricio Coloccini, has asked to leave the club during the January transfer window. And French striker, Loic Remy, snubbed Newcastle at the last minute, to instead sign for the Premiership’s bottom-placed club Queen’s Park Rangers. Arguably these circumstances are out of Pardew’s hands.
Previous history would also suggest that the long-term contract will eventually prove beneficial for Newcastle. Not only does the contract extension offer Newcastle financial protection should rival clubs attempt to lure Pardew away from St James’ Park; it also grants him a higher level of job security than his peers. When Sam Allardyce was awarded a ten-year contract at Bolton Wanderers in February of 2001 after he took the club up to the Premier League the previous season, he steered the Trotters away from relegation and turned them into an established top-flight club for the following six seasons. Since Allardyce left, Bolton have dropped out of the top flight and are dwindling in mid-table in English football’s second tier, the Championship. Further down the Football League, after Dario Gradi was given a ten-year contract extension at Crewe Alexandra in 1989, he managed to get his side promoted twice, leading them to the second tier in English football for the first time in its history. This year will be the thirtieth in which he’s been involved in the running of Crewe Alexandra. If Pardew endures at Newcastle United, a long-term project under him could reap rewards.
Former Newcastle boss Graeme Souness once famously said that any manager at the club is just two games away from getting the sack. If Newcastle’s run of form under Pardew has been unacceptable this season, Souness’ declaration may well become true once again. Given the club’s current form, Pardew’s time may soon be up, but it entirely depends on the attitude of Mike Ashley and the Newcastle board. If they have a long-term strategy with Pardew in mind, then they’ll back him through these relatively tough times; and may then enjoy the success that stability under the former Reading and West Ham boss could bring.