By Steve Graves
Ok, let’s accept there are some reasons not to like Alan Pardew.
He did this.
He said this.
Nevertheless, I’ve always been something of a fan. There’s something about the cut of his jib, the urbane eagerness, the passing resemblance to a sharper-suited Billy Bragg that appeals.
As much as anything, there’s clearly a thoughtfulness there, the kind of contemplative approach English football has sought to drive from our game like a medieval plague.
At first glance it wouldn’t make him an ideal fit at Newcastle, home of wide-eyed exuberance, of gods and monsters, messiahs and saviours.
When Pardew arrived at St James’ Park there was no Jim White-hosted welcome ceremony and very few Deirdre Barlow impersonators wearing poorly-screenprinted t-shirts bearing his features.
Amid the general tut-tutting over Mike Ashley’s sacking of Chris Hughton, Pardew effectively sidled in, almost hoping nobody noticed. It’s hard to imagine Kevin Keegan doing the same.
Crucially though, Sam Allardyce accepting anything other than a big entrance is equally difficult to countenance.
And with Allardyce, Newcastle fans were burned. Badly.
It’s hard to avoid comparisons with Roy Hodgson at Anfield, especially if you’re not trying to avoid them at all.
Allardyce was the media’s pick for the job, seen as having earned the chance of a bigger club after some mid-table success (so far, so familiar). The story was that his self-belief and ebullience would be just what Newcastle needed, while his brand of direct football would appeal to a Tyneside sensibility which could trace its lineage back to Jackie Milburn and Hughie Gallacher.
What a fundamental misreading of the club the latter point proved to be.
Football clubs, particularly major, storied ones, have a soul and a style which defines them in the eyes of the public and their fans.
It may not be strictly true that Spurs are the guardians of push-and-run, or that pass-and-move has always been the Liverpool groove, but these myths and legends are important.
At Newcastle a penchant for number nines (emphatically not false ones) and flying wingers is not a sign of limited horizons.
Whereas for an Allardyce or Hodgson a direct style is a means of negating opponents, of levelling the playing field against superior opposition, at Newcastle it’s the route to excitement, to goals, to a packed house acclaiming a plundering hero.
The poverty of ambition of Allardyce’s football, and the disconnect between it and his bombastic style off the pitch, showed the importance of connecting with the fanbase and understanding what they really want.
This is Pardew’s great strength at Newcastle. Early in the piece he sought not to impose his own style, but to capture the essence of what has thrilled St James’ down the years.
The acquisition of Demba Ba has given the side and the fans their rampaging focal point, while in midfield Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are streetwise enough to hold their own but also assert their talents on the ball effectively and at high speed.
On a limited budget and with the benefit of excellent scouting from Graham Carr, Pardew has created just about the best Newcastle side he possibly could. And it is recognisably a Newcastle side - Ba, Best and Jonas may not match Shearer, Ferdinand and Ginola for ability but some of the football they produce can be just as thrilling.
The football the current side plays is not always technically refined, not always smoothly continental, but on nights when they stick three past a shellshocked Manchester United it is breathlessly exciting, vigorously enjoyable and not lacking in moments of skill and composure.
That Pardew has achieved this at Newcastle so quickly is a testament to his abilities as a listener and willingness to learn, two much-underrated management skills in many walks of life.
The next challenge for the former West Ham boss will be to move Newcastle up a level, perhaps even to claim a longed-for trophy. Much of that will depend on finances and the availability of the likes of Ba, but by giving the fans a team they can recognise and identify with, Pardew could buy himself the time and patience he needs.