NEWCASTLE ANALYSIS: Pardew faces up to his critics as the discontent in the St James' Park stands continues to rise (From The Advertiser Series)
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NEWCASTLE ANALYSIS: Pardew faces up to his critics as the discontent in the St James' Park stands continues to rise
EARLIER this week, Alan Pardew stopped to allow a young boy to have his photograph taken standing next to his car. As he wound down his window to pose for a picture, he spotted a sticker on the youngster's jacket. It said, “Pardew Out”. Such is the current way of things at Newcastle United.
“I try to be respectful of people's opinions,” said Pardew, who finds himself at the centre of a growing maelstrom as Newcastle supporters express their mounting frustration at both his position and the general state of things at St James' Park. “I saw the sticker on him, and his friend was on the other side of him taking a picture. I just gave him a wave – you've got to put up with things like that at times like these.”
Last Saturday, Pardew found himself facing more than just a derogatory sticker as thousands of away fans at Stoke's Britannia Stadium joined in a chorus of “We want Pardew out” at the final whistle.
Prior to kick-off, two banners had been unfurled, one of which proclaimed: “Pardew is a muppet.” These are furtive times, and having directed their ire at Mike Ashley, Derek Llambias and Joe Kinnear in the recent past, Newcastle's supporters currently have Pardew firmly in their line of fire.
“You can't get away from the fact that my relationship with the fans has suffered,” he said. “It is not good at the moment. I am not pretending that my relationship with them is anything other than precarious – my position with them, and their mentality towards me.
“I am in a precarious position with them and I want to change that, but really and truly I can sit and speak all day long, and that isn't going to change it. We really need the team to win a few games.”
Recent results have undoubtedly brought things to a head, but it would be wrong to suggest that the current discontent is down solely to Newcastle's miserable form since the turn of the year.
Initially rejected as part of the 'Cockney mafia', Pardew gradually won Newcastle fans over in the first two years of his reign, and after riding out the furore that accompanied the departure of Andy Carroll, his stock was probably at his highest when his side qualified for Europe at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
Since then, his standing has plummeted, with a range of factors contributing to an increasingly deep-rooted division between his own position and the opinions of the fans.
To some, he will always be a “puppet” for the detested Ashley regime. Others decry his failings as a figurehead for the club, as evidenced by the headbutt on David Meyler that earned him a severe rebuke from the FA.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that to most supporters though, it is the decline of the last two seasons that has turned public opinion on its head. Last season's relegation battle was miserable, and while this season could yet end in a top-half finish, a series of heavy defeats and yet another double failure in the cup competitions has soured the public mood.
Supporters question Pardew's team selections, as well as his ability to get the most out of the players under his control. Hence the repeated calls for Hatem Ben Arfa, a figure who has become a totem for those who decry Pardew's lack of understanding about what makes Newcastle supporters tick.
If Ben Arfa was half the player some Newcastle supporters seem to think he is, he would be playing for Real Madrid. Yet for all the Frenchman's failings, a chronic lack of flair in the current Magpies line-up repeatedly brings Pardew's judgement into question.
“If the stick is coming my way, then I accept that,” he said. “This is a club that brings a lot of pressure and having been a manager here for three years, you feel that pressure.
“You have to understand where you're working. This club has a religious fever, and it is such that is goes to extremes. I've said that all along. Even when we win, I sometimes think the reaction is too extreme, but I don't think that will ever change. It's a club where you live and die by results, and I'm in the doghouse at the moment.”
Bearing that in mind, it would have been easy for Pardew to lock himself away this week, blocking out any negative attention.
Instead, he has done the opposite, making a point of being as visible as possible and continuing to perform his duties as the public face of a club that boasts more than its fair share of senior figures who actively avoid their ambassadorial duties.
That hasn't always made for a comfortable seven days, but even Pardew's harshest critics would have to applaud his refusal to bury his head in the sand.
“It has been a tough week for me, but I've never hidden from it,” he said. “I've been in and around the city, and was at another function on (Thursday) afternoon.
“It is very important when you are leading a group that you are seen to stand up to it, the pressure, because I'm going to ask 11 players to stand up to it as well. I'm not the one who is kicking the ball, so I owe them a great debt.
“Of course the reaction in the city is very different during a bad run. It changes from week to week, although it hasn't changed much lately because we haven't been winning!”
The key question is whether the situation has passed the point of no return. This afternoon's events should be instructive, and from Pardew's perspective, it must be alarming to think of just how bad things could get if Swansea were to inflict yet another home defeat on the Magpies. Win, however, and at least the harshest of the derogatory chants should be becalmed.
Newcastle managers have recovered from difficult situations before, and Pardew's own career contains examples of him having to overcome negative reactions to rebuild a relationship with his own supporters, most notably during his time at West Ham.
Very few managers survive a sustained attack though, and with four games of the season remaining, the potential for irreparable damage remains huge., “You can't go through a managerial career of 12 or 15 years and not have moments like this,” he said. “The thing about today's society is that it is so intrusive of your life now.
“You are getting it from all angles, different types of strange opinions. Some are fair; some are a little bit unfair. With the Premier League, it builds and builds, although I'm pretty sure that if you'd got four defeats in a row as Newcastle manager in 1964, you'd still have been getting it in the neck.”