Alan Pardew Must Pay for His Deal with the Devil
Aug 31 2013
For me, there are two British men in public life who are transparently in the midst of a doomed Faustian pact. One is Seal, the star of every Mondeo's CD-multi changer. Name two Seal songs that aren't from a Batman film. Go on. See? The man has had about as many hits as Lyte Funky Ones or Haddaway, yet somehow he managed to marry Heidi Klum and live every day of his life in white linen shorts, on a yacht. His contemporaries, meanwhile, are slugging it out on nostalgia reunion tours fuelled by prescription drug problems.
The other is Alan “Pards” Pardew, the Premier League’s silver-haired, cheap-suited, rape-joking force of perpetual chaos. He might look like an adulterous warehouse manager, but Pardew is English football's heart of darkness. Allardyce, Moyes and Mourinho may bark, Wenger may guilt-trip rookie interviewers like a depressed father, Pulis may headbutt the occasional player in the shower, but no other manager chills people quite like Pardew does.
Which is odd, because he started off so normal. As a player, he was one of those guys whose career was interrupted mid-stream by the invention of the Premier League. Men like him, Iain Dowie, Rod Wallace, Tony Dorigo and countless others had one foot in the past and one in the future, and as such lived in limbo; between the end of the Heysel ban and the first Cantona red card.
As a manager, however, he seemed more conspicuous. He appeared to be more than just another one of those capable but limited Cockneys destined to loiter around the Championship play-offs and the Premier League relegation zone, locked in an eternal battle to sign Nigel Quashie. Mad as it sounds, he had an oddly continental vibe with his steely locks and propensity for team mottos. But then he also had a hot temper, trying to engage Wenger in fisticuffs a few times, like a slighted fisherman trying to nut Gary Kasparov in a pub fight. He slagged off his own fans, he was accused of xenophobia, and countered it with the rather seedy response that he couldn't possibly be, because his wife was Swedish. Roy Hodgson, he wasn't.
He led West Ham to a top ten finish and the FA Cup Final, but really fucked it up the next season and got himself fired. Then he went to Charlton, got them relegated and then nearly got them relegated again. At that point, I imagine, he lay in bed at night, thinking of what might have been, haunted by visions of Steve Claridge and Manish Bhasin patting an empty seat in their Football League Show sex dungeon. The wheel of fortune had turned, dunking Alan and his reputation into the village swill.
But Pards wasn't over. He had some big plans for himself and an inexorable decline in the quality of his work wasn't going to get between him and destiny. Enter Mephistopheles, this time appearing in the globular form of Mike Ashley – on the outside, merely a cynical sportswear tycoon thug, but in reality the devil's wingman armed with a deal that Pardew couldn't turn down. Newcastle. A big club. A proper club. A club who, in the last decade, had owned two of the top ten all-time England goal scorers. Pardew, who probably thought he'd been slighted by the football community, couldn't believe his luck. All he had to do to rise like a Phoenix was bump off the much-loved, innocent and admirable Chris Hughton.
Pardew applied the knife, and as such was damned to fail. Our sense of natural justice and knowledge of sports movies told us so. He was the bad guy, the overdog, the suit brought in to fuck with the little man. He was Macbeth and Macbeth always loses.
And that's when it went weird, because he didn't fail. He started winning. Then kept winning and made some of the best signings in recent Premier League history. Armed with only Alan Carr's dad, he jacked Wenger's steez by raiding France for a slew of incredible players. Nobody could work out what had gone wrong. How could a man as innately dislikeable and untrustworthy as Pardew turn himself into a genius? It was like Mick Hucknall becoming Brian Eno overnight, in that it didn’t make sense.
Can we separate the man from his work, we asked? Can you apply the "death of the author" to a dugout? And more than that, the fans of the Premier League seemed to be thinking, 'How the fuck is this twat doing this?'
Something about Newcastle’s form suggested something beyond just luck or hard work. There was something almost supernatural about it; they were winning games they shouldn’t, selling players they shouldn’t, signing players they shouldn't. Pardew was becoming increasingly cocky in front of the Geordie faithful, like an invading general who'd rode in, raped, pillaged, defiled, and then managed to convince the locals that ultimately it was a good defiling that they really needed. With Ashley he founded Vichy Newcastle, the sweet deal that stank of shit. He wasn’t just the new Curbishley any more, he was the new Napoleon. A megalomaniac with a team of fearsome Frenchmen behind him.
Pardew wasn’t going to do this power and respect thing with any dignity. He’d taken too much shit for that. He was going to rub it in all his doubters' faces; the fans, the pundits, the players. He had found freedom, but like a rapper who can't leave the game behind, he couldn't stop fighting. He made life harder and harder for himself, selling more and more players, replacing them with footballers less well known than certain subspecies of mollusc. He was iconoclastic, innovative, unsentimental, but still, profoundly dislikeable. He could've won the Champions League for Newcastle, but you got the impression that the fans'd still be singing his name with airless lungs as he paraded jubilantly around the pitch like a shouting warplane with fists. He was a participator in the strange, pile 'em high, sell 'em low mentality that Ashley inflicted on his fans and was complicit in both the re-naming of the stadium and the flogging of that other great iron angel of the North, Andy Carroll. In short, he was a man who perhaps had sold his soul, dignity and integrity for a piece of power and glamour.
But much like Faust, Pardew had a fall coming and anyone who’s seen the last few Newcastle games won't disagree that this is a damned team lead by a damned man.
Newcastle are totally out of ideas, with Cabaye refusing to play, the rest of the team playing like shit, and the miserable prospect of Demba Ba returning, tail between his legs. Pardew may have inherited a sleeping giant of a club, but Ba's return makes Newcastle pride-swallowing cuckolds, and proves what we all know; that their gingivitis ridden attack is so bad that Pardew would rather welcome back an old lover who doesn't even want to return than trust the men he has. And who would? Look what's happened to Papiss Cisse; his soul too seems to have gone AWOL. The player who once looked like the perfect Premier League centre forward now resembles a diabetic dog chasing a stick it doesn’t want. Every now and again another no-name Gallic mercenary is suggested as the next great saviour, the next inheritor of the accursed Newcastle number 9 shirt, but you can't escape the feeling that the well has dried up. Napoleon isn't a conqueror any more; he's living on a shitty island slowly being poisoned by the arsenic paint in his bedroom.
Ultimately, this is Pardew's tragedy though, not Newcastle's. For Newcastle it's simply another nearly moment, but the club's soul will live on with another manager and another chairman. Whereas Pardew, the poor bastard, will probably end up managing Blackburn. Not for a while though. The price of breaking this man's eight-year contract? Ten million quid.
Follow Clive Martin on Twitter: @thugclive