The appeal of Selhurst Park was in its simplicity
Three months into his new job at Crystal Palace, Alan Pardew’s performance has been impressive. Beyond home defeats to Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal, Pardew has provoked a reaction within his squad and there’s no way of describing his appointment as anything other than an obvious success.
A success in football terms, certainly, but – from Pardew’s own perspective, a personal one, too.
His situation at Newcastle was very well documented and the difficulties he faced were very apparent.
From the beginning of his time in the North-East, he was treated with suspicion. The supporters viewed him as a manager-of-convenience and as someone who was brought into the club to do exactly what he was told and to act as the human veil for whatever background skullduggery Mike Ashley was engaged in.
That association destroyed him. Ashley is arguably the most toxic personality in the game and he is surrounded by such suspicion that Pardew was always assumed to be ‘in’ on whatever convoluted background machinations were taking place.
Not that he made it easy on himself. Alan Pardew has an awful lot of affection for Alan Pardew, so his failures will always attract a degree of schadenfreude. In addition, beyond the obvious restrictions forced upon him, his job performance on Tyneside wasn’t always quite what it could have been.
Between 2011 and 2014, Pardew did manage one fifth-placed finish, but that early success was mixed with an awful lot of abject football. Direct, unimaginative displays, listless defending, multiple stretches of fallow form; Mike Ashley’s ownership may have asterisked a lot of that failure, but the failure itself was still Pardew’s.
Regardless, Newcastle was always a mess. His flaws were very real and his excuses were tedious and grating, but everything that happened during those four years was framed by a distoring ambiguity and, as a result, Pardew’s time at the club never felt like it was entirely ‘about the football’.
Compare that to the situation he finds himself within now: he’s back to being just a manager.
His decision to move back to London was entirely profession-related. By all accounts, his family still lives in the area and, of course, Pardew was not only born in the capital, but he also spent part of his playing career at Selhurst Park.
There were many legitimate reasons to head south and, combined with the perpetual animosity he faced, it was a very logical decision.
Maybe, though, the primary appeal was Palace’s simplicity. There are challenges and restrictions at the club, but none of the vaguery that exists at Newcastle. Pardew’s job now is to coach a squad, plan his tactics, and win as many Premier League points as he can. That must be refreshing.
After the politics, the fan demonstrations, and all the associated disharmony, he’s now back to having a clearly defined job – and, more importantly, he’s now able to be judged on a purely sporting basis.
That seems like a trivial point, but consider how difficult it must have been to wear the accusation that he was only employed by Newcastle because of his fondness for West London casinos.
Without being part of a proper interview process or without necessarily having the credentials to manage at the level he was elevated to in 2011, Pardew struggled for legitimacy.
How rarely, during that period, were discussions actually centred around his managerial performance? And how often, by contrast, was Pardew handling accusations about his relationship with Mike Ashley, batting away questions about the club’s infrastructure, or feuding with the press?
At Selhurst Park there’s none of that and, for the first time in years, the perception of Pardew is being determined by how his team are performing on a Saturday or Sunday. His personality probably precludes him from ever being universally popular, but in South London he now has the ability – for better or worse – to define his own context.
On Saturday, Palace were enormously impressive at West Ham. Yes, their hosts were very charitable, but it would be contrary not to mention the performances from Glenn Murray and Jason Puncheon, the team’s astute use of set-plays, or how well-coached the visitors looked until they were reduced to ten men.
That’s the difference, now: Alan Pardew is a footballing topic once again.