01 Mar 2012
ALAN PARDEW: NORTH EASTERN PROMISE
When Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley arrived in 2007 he revealed a five-year plan to make the North East club self financing. Raised on a diet of football legends, free flowing football and frequent marquee signings, it was hard for many of the Geordie faithful to visualise how such a financial model could enable them to remain competitive.
Five years on and with a host of clubs, North and South of the border, having entered administration, Newcastle’s plan and the transparency of its objectives is reaping the rewards of its conviction. Tasked with balancing the playing budget off the field while pursuing progress on it, is former Reading, West Ham, Charlton Athletic and Southampton manager Alan Pardew. Since his appointment in December 2010 Pardew has assembled a side that has ploughed through any fears of ‘second season syndrome’ to sustain a challenge amidst the Barclays Premier League’s upper echelon. The Manager speaks with Alan Pardew to learn how his own career path from nonleague footballer to Premier League manager is enabling him to strike just the right balance.
You took a non-league football route into professional football as a player, while working as a glazier. In what ways has this influenced your values and given you an appreciation of good man-management?
“It was a very important route because you understand the work place and what the media represents to the working man. When I was a glazier I was reading the newspaper every day and that was my only insight into the football world. When you play in non-league football you meet a cross-section of characters that you don’t meet in professional football. You might have a company chief executive and a dustbin man playing side by side in the same non-league team. So you come across many characters from different walks of life, whereas in professional football you have football focused individuals who have based most of their upbringing on football because it was going to be their career from day one. Due to the playing route that I took I’ve experienced diversity of character, so when I come across what may be classed as a ‘difficult or enigmatic character’ in the football world it’s not so much of a problem for me.”
You had two spells as a caretaker manager at Reading; how important was that glimpse into the reality of management for you?
“My first period as caretaker was brief and a bit of a blur. I was called upon to run the team, which was a significant jump for me because there were some experienced people in front of me. The second period was much more important because it was a chance to actually get the job full-time, which fortunately I took. From my background of being a not so well-known player, it was very important that I got that first chance. When I was reserve team manager I think that Reading recognised that I had qualities that I could possibly take into the role of manager. I was fortunate enough that Reading owner John Madejski gave me that opportunity.”
Out of all the players he managed, Steve Coppell highlighted you as a natural to go into management because you were managing situations while you were playing on the pitch. How conscious were you of that yourself?
“I was a bit like that when I played. I was always disappointed that I wasn’t captain but my playing ability always restricted me from assuming that role. But I still always tried to offer leadership on the
pitch. It’s part of my make-up, and I’ve always been a talker. Communication on the pitch is something that I’m good at so I can understand Steve Coppell’s view. I didn’t really ever lose my head on a football pitch and I was always pretty much in a good space to control what was going on. I was always the type of player that offered an opinion to other players at the training ground and the players were always responsive to any advice that I gave them, which was a good sign.”
Under Steve Coppell you scored in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final to knock out Liverpool and earn Crystal Palace a place in the final against Manchester United. How much do you believe that Palace’s achievements shaped your belief that teams with less resources can actually be competitive with the biggest teams in English football?
“I think that it probably has influenced my thinking. Additionally I had some good cup runs with nonleague teams. When I was playing for Corinthian Casuals we took Bristol City to a replay, which was probably an even bigger gulf than Crystal Palace and Liverpool at the time. So yes, I have played that underdog role in the past and know that success can be achieved. At Palace we reached the FA Cup Final that season and finished third in the old First Division the next. A lot of that success came from the work ethic we had as a team and I now generate that in all of my own teams. Under Steve Coppell the emphasis was on the team and he never outwardly showed if it hurt him to lose a big player. Ian Wright broke his leg and didn’t play in the semi-final and we still beat Liverpool. He never let any disappointment that he may have had on such occasions transfer to the team; there wasn’t a flicker. That is a quality that I took on board and if I lose a good player I think back to Steve and I make sure that I carry that trait through in my management. I believe that approach is very important. The players must understand that it isn’t about the individual, somebody can come in and if they are inspired they too can do the job.”
You are still a young manager and have already experienced highs in your career; promotions with both Reading and West Ham, leading West Ham to the FA Cup Final and winning Southampton’s first trophy since 1976. The emotions of succeeding take care of themselves but how have you dealt with the lows when you have lost a job?
“I believe that it is very important that you don’t get twisted about this game and start taking on board the conspiracy theories of why you have lost your job. You have just got to make sure that you are stronger next time that you go in. You can’t let disappointment hurt you and you’ve got to be resilient. When a football manager joins a club, he needs to make sure that he is looking at the whole club and that he’s putting down a foundation and a clear vision of where he is going, because that clarity and communication can actually buy you another game. If you don’t do that and you lose four or five consecutive matches there’s a good chance that you are in big trouble. If the club can see you are trying to work with the budget that they have presented you with, trying to inspire people, trying to create a good work ethic at the football club then it might buy you that extra game.”
Newcastle United have a clearly defined five-year vision which they have made public. How beneficial is it for you as manager to have that transparency?
“I do think that the clarity of the budget is important. Some fans may not be entirely happy with the amount we have to spend but at least they know the big picture. When you look at the world economy and where football is at the moment we are seeing really tough times. We’ve seen examples of Portsmouth and Rangers, in Scotland, that show if you overstretch you are going to find yourself in serious trouble and you are putting the club’s future at risk. At Newcastle we’ve got a good foundation and a good financial model and now the question is whether we can bring success within that model? That’s the challenge that I accepted when I joined the club and so far we are doing well and can hopefully continue to grow as we go along.”
A lot of clubs suffer from ‘second season syndrome’ after promotion to the Barclays Premier League. How have Newcastle United avoided that?
“I experienced ‘second season syndrome’ at West Ham. The first season we had a fantastic time in the Barclays Premier League, reached the FA Cup Final as well, and came close to winning against Liverpool. I went into the second season with almost the same group of players and we didn’t improve the areas that I thought were problematic. Essentially I believe that you need to make some changes after that first year; if you can you should because the players can suddenly feel that they are Premier League players and you can often see the work rate and commitment go down by five or 10 per cent, which is enough at this level to cause you problems.”
At Reading you made it clear that you wanted to deliver a mantra of ‘Team, Flair, Spirit’, and when you joined Newcastle you said you’d bring ‘Drive, Desire and Commitment’. How important is it for a manager to clearly define his brand of management?
“If you are going to put yourself in line for any job as a professional football manager it’s important you put down the foundations of what you represent; what you will and won’t accept from the Board, your players and your staff. If I was a chairman, I think I’d want to hear that type of clarity coming from my manager from the outset and what my manager was going to bring to this football club. I’ve always gone into interviews and said that I can over-achieve because I believe that I can by creating the environments where I can achieve. Sometimes you are not given the time, issues can arise that affect things. If there’s any advice that I would give a young manager it would be to get the clarity of their vision and ability across from the start. You must convey clearly and concisely the brand of football that you want to play and how you are going to achieve it. My brand of football has always been the same - to try and win the game whatever the odds, within the tactical game plan that we have. This is usually on the front foot and making it very, very difficult for the opponents.”
How do you communicate your vision to a multi-cultural dressing room?
“First of all you have to start with your staff, because if they don’t have the same passion as you to convey the message then you are not going to be able to do it on your own. You need a staff that can take the message forward for you and continue it when you may be away from the training ground, dealing with other club obligations. If your staff don’t carry it through then there is a lack of continuity and it becomes ‘wishy washy’. If I saw a staff member ignore one of our players using a mobile phone in the treatment room and not dealing with that situation, then that staff member is going to be in trouble with me on that occasion rather than the player. I’m reliant on that staff member to realise the significance of the culture we are building within the club. “I’m very lucky that I inherited so many good staff at Newcastle United who have completely bought into what we are doing. Delegation is so important for a manager and something that you come to understand and get to work for you better when you are older. So you need to know that you have a staff that you can delegate to. It’s very difficult to delegate when you are younger because you have a tendency to think you alone must always know what’s best and that you have to do it yourself and earn your spurs. In all honesty, it’s the reverse and the more experienced you become the more you learn to delegate to your staff.”
Who would you identify as mentors to you; who helped shaped you as a manager?
“Steve Coppell was probably more influential than I’ve given him credit for, because in my formative professional years he was my manager so he subconsciously moulded a lot of things that are in me. The person who really got me into coaching and management in terms of looking at it professionally was Keith Peacock at Charlton, who was Alan Curbishley’s right-hand man for a long while and father of Gavin Peacock, who played for Newcastle United. I used to have long discussions with him about managing. Players influence you, coaches influence you, and people you watch on the TV influence you. I like to find out things continually about football techniques, methods, and sports science, and make sure that I’m not falling behind in any way. So you have to be very open-minded as a manager. It’s an ongoing process of self development and if you stop thinking that you can learn then you are in big trouble.