Filed: Monday, 11th December 2006
By: Graeme Howlett
Six months ago Alan Pardew had the world at his feet. Adored by the United faithful for bringing the good times back to the East End after an excellent season, the then 44-year-old manager could do no wrong.
Six months on and he's on the footballing scrap head (albeit temporarily, one assumes) after being sacked on a momentous day in West Ham United's history. Some are delighted; others are outraged. Most are disappointed.
May 2006 was the pinnacle of the former-Reading manager's three years with United. His team had performed exceptionally in possibly *the* greatest FA Cup Final, losing on a lottery, after finishing a creditable ninth in their first year back in the Premiership.
All this occurred on the back of the sheer bliss experienced twelve months earlier when Bobby Zamora's 76th minute winner saw the club regain their rightful place in the top flight of English football following the play-off Final win over Preston (of course there was also a third Cardiff appearance although we tend not to dwell on that one, for obvious reasons).
For those under 30, at least, being a United supporter had never felt so good. Once again we could stand tall, take pride in our team and walk with our heads high. On top of all this, we had a European campaign to look forward to. Heady days indeed. So where did it all go wrong?
Many have pointed to the injury sustained by Dean Ashton (on England duty in the week before the start of the Premiership campaign) as the catalyst. However, whilst Ashton's absence has indeed proved a huge setback to our fortunes this season, cracks had already begun to appear.
Armed with a healthy summer war chest, Pardew set out to strengthen his squad in preparation for what he assumed would be a lengthy European campaign. A number of new signings were made; three right-backs in Mears, Paintsil and Spector (to the tune of some £3.5m) for example - but crucially, no wingers.
It wasn't for the want of trying, of course; James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Tranquillo Barnetta and Steed Malbranque all rejected overtures from Pardew prior to the close of the transfer window in August. But try as he may, he went into the new season with just one recognised winger in his first-team squad - Matthew Etherington. Not ideal for a team who play 442.
Up front, permanent bench-warmer Carlton Cole was signed from Chelsea for a cool £2m. The total summer outlay was around £10m, meaning Pardew had spent some £30m on squad improvements in 12 months. Meanwhile, there were rumblings of discontent from some fans who expressed concerns that despite having a larger squad, few of the new signings were likely to make an immediate impact on the first team. The major stars promised by the club at the beginning of the summer had not materialised.
Unlike, that is, Javi Mascherano and Carlos Tevez - who arrived from nowhere on transfer deadline day. Not wanting to look two gift horses in the mouth Pardew said 'yes' to Terry Brown and snapped up two of the world's most exciting young talents for virtually nothing.
But more bad news arrived with the UEFA Cup first round draw. Then Serie A leaders Palermo would go on to knock out United with some ease (4-0 on aggregate) in the toughest of draws; Pardew's dreams of a sustained European campaign were in tatters, whilst his policy of strengthening his squad rather than his first team was in question as a result.
That disappointment (United were the only English team to drop out at the first stage) seemed to affect the players, and a string of nervy performances followed. For the first time, supporters were beginning to question the contribution of certain players; Nigel Reo-Coker, who had began the season injured, being just one of a number considered to be performing below their best.
But if things were bad on the pitch, they were positively dire off it as West Ham United's players began filling the column inches for all the wrong reasons. Shaun Newton had already been banned for six months after testing positive for cocaine before Anton Ferdinand got himself in trouble at a nightclub. Goalkeeper Roy Carroll admitted alcohol and gambling problems (before later revealing that he owed one unnamed team-mate £30,000 in gambling debts), whilst Pardew himself got himself involved in a touchline fracas with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Not that it was his fault.
It's probably an unfair comparison given the difference in times and attitude, but one can't help but feel the likes of John Lyall or Billy Bonds would have been down on their players like a ton of bricks in such a situation. Yet Pardew - a forty-something married man with children - seemed to prefer to be seen as one of the lads, even down to driving around in an expensive new two-seater sports car. Hardly the West Ham way, and certainly not a situation Lyall or Bonds would have found themselves in; further disapproval was registered in some quarters.
There were also signs of discontent from within the club as radical changes were made in important personnel, such as the forced removal of popular long-standing press officer Peter Stewart. Pardew introduced his own team, including former News of the World boss Phil Hall as his PR man. The club began to feel less of a family outfit than a professional one which, some may argue, was not necessarily a bad thing. But it was different nonetheless.
Back on the pitch things were going from bad to worse. United were humbled by tiny Chesterfield in the Carling Cup and continued to lose regularly in the league. Records were being broken for the wrong reasons; eight hours without a goal, 12 hours without an away goal, seven consecutive defeats ... it was all beginning to look very grim, and for the first time since the dark days of the Championship voices of discontent amongst supporters were beginning to become fairly frequent.
Stubbornly, Pardew continued to ignore calls for changes in his first team. Call it misplaced loyalty if you will - and with hindsight it's perhaps easy to - but he retained hope that the players who performed so admirably for him during the 05/06 season would eventually be able to replicate that form. But they didn't, and that refusal to drop key players was to eventually prove to be a major factor in his dismissal.
One saga that had been been played out constantly in the background was the club's takeover. It had implications for Pardew as far as the team itself was concerned due to the events surrounding the capture of Tevez and Mascherano (although his use of the issue as an excuse for the team's poor results was poorly received).
Pardew clearly had little time for Kia Joorabchian, the 'owner' of the two Argentineans, and perhaps made the players suffer unfairly as a result. Even now, midfielder Mascherano has barely featured despite the team's appalling form - a major disappointment to many supporters who had pinned their hopes on the midfielder. Meanwhile Tevez - who was at least getting a game - was more often than not being asked to play in unfamiliar territory.
The takeover was finally completed in November; it was the Icelandic bid ably led by UEFA Chief (and former biscuit maker) Eggert Magnusson that won through after Kia Joorabchian's consortium dallied. Once the news was announced, Magnusson was paraded in front of the attentive media at The Boleyn by Pardew (casually dressed in a smart pin-stripe suit buttoned only at the top in some kind of homage to fashionable City boys) whose demeanour could have led those unfamiliar to the situation to believe that he was the club's new owner - not the diminutive Eggertson.
Pardew, November 2006: Too sharp for his own good?
But what looked like a blossoming relationship withered and died within a matter of weeks. Despite stating throughout their bid (and even during their first week of ownership) that they would back Pardew all the way, less than a month after succeeding Terry Brown new bosses Magnusson and Gudmundsson axed Pardew - some 48 hours after the desperate defeat at Bolton that left United firmly entrenched in the Premiership's bottom three.
Pardew - who had intimated otherwise prior to the game - had paid the ultimately price for keeping faith with his established - yet under performing - players one more time. They repaid him by producing one of the worst performances of his three-year reign - a situation suggesting that his influence in the dressing room was by now barely felt. One way or another, his relationship with his players had deteriorated to such a stage whereby it was deemed impossible for the partnership to continue.
Some will argue that the players have ultimately let their manager down, whilst others will claim Pardew's poor decision making in a number of key areas since the summer - both on and off the pitch - led to his downfall. Others will cite a mix of the two, whilst some will criticise the club's new Icelandic owners for calling time on Pardew too soon.
Football is a cruel game at times, and Pardew will no doubt feel bitterly disappointed that he has been forced out of the club that he rebuilt - virtually single-handedly - and one that he clearly has affection for. No doubt that disappointment will be shared by the majority of supporters who, regardless of their view on Pardew's departure, will bear a feeling of sadness that the whole ride has come crashing to a halt so suddenly.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Pardew leaves West Ham United sacked but with his reputation intact, and without a possible relegation on his CV - not exactly a positive for an ambitious young manager with designs on one day managing England and Barcelona. Though for now it looks like old club Charlton may have to suffice.
And for West Ham? The club still has an exciting future to look ahead to, with the promise of a new manager and new players in the forthcoming transfer window. Albeit without the man who in the short space of just three years gave us a number of memories that will last a lifetime.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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