LONG labelled an “unmanageable” club, Newcastle United, it seems, is manageable after all.
Just ask Alan Pardew.
One of his less-loved predecessors, Graeme Souness, once said the club was only ever two defeats away from a crisis.
He had a point, given the upheavals which had characterised life at the club.
Pardew’s known a few crises, which have largely revolved around high-profile player sales, in his time at St James’s Park.
And he’s lived to tell the tale.
Andy Carroll, Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique left, yet the team became stronger for their departures, though the squad, by Pardew’s own admission, still needs strengthening.
What’s more, most bookmakers reckon Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are more likely to leave their posts than Pardew, chalked up at 100/1 to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post.
The 51-year-old – who signed an eight-year contract last month – has been in management long enough to know those odds can quickly tumble.
And there’s a the small matter of a Wear-Tyne derby to contend with on Sunday.
But the progress made under his watch is tangible.
Last season’s fifth-placed finish brought European football back to Tyneside after a five-year absence.
And the stability that Pardew’s new contract – and the deals handed to key players and his coaching team by owner Mike Ashley – bodes well for the future given what managerial longevity has done for Manchester United under Ferguson and Arsenal under Wenger, both 50/1 to leave their posts.
“I don’t know how long that’s going to last, or how many times that’s happened to a Newcastle manager before,” said Pardew, speaking in an exclusive interview with the Gazette.
“A lot of it’s to do with Mike. Mike had been hurt by football. Previous managers and regimes he’d had looking after the club, I don’t think he felt comfortable that they were doing as perhaps he thought they should.
“I think, in me, he’s seen that I’m doing it in a controlled manner, in a correct businesslike manner, but also trying to perform the team beyond our expectations. That’s what I’m about.
“I think that’s what he’s about in his business. He wants to take on the big boys – Nike, Adidas or whatever – and I want to take on the big boys here.
“It is about trying to get the best you can with you’ve got. “I haven’t got Manchester City’s hand here. I haven’t got Man United’s – I haven’t even got Tottenham’s, in my opinion – but I’ve still got a strong hand, and I’ll try to make it stronger.”
For all the achievements on the pitch, there have been frustrations off it.
Supporters, understandably, were disappointed at the lack of signings in the summer’s transfer window.
Crucially, the club did hold on to its key players – Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Tim Krul were among those linked with moves elsewhere – but United only made one senior acquisition, Vurnon Anita.
Newcastle will look to strengthen again in January’s transfer window, but Pardew’s realistic enough to admit that sooner or later, one of his key men will be sold.
Everyone has his price, as underlined by the sale of Carroll early in Pardew’s tenure.
Ashley’s made his fortune buying and selling sports merchandise, but trading in players is altogether more difficult.
However, with chief scout Graham Carr – who brought the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Demba Cisse to the club – also on an eight-year contract, he’s bullish going forward.
“At some point, we will lose one of our top players,” admitted Pardew. “It’s just natural that that’s going to happen, but we want to get a maximum figure for him.
“And then we’ve got to make sure we bring in two or three that are as good, if not better, than the one we’ve sold. We’ve got to trade up. That’s very, very difficult.
“With the help of Graham Carr and my team, we ain’t doing a bad job on that front.”
The challenge on the pitch is to emulate last season’s Premier League finish while also competing in the Europa League.
Newcastle’s squad, which is weak in a couple of areas, is a work in progress, and fighting on two fronts has already taken a toll on Pardew’s defensive options.
Still, a top-eight finish remains Pardew’s aim. Narrowing the gap between United and the top four – and subtly changing the style of play – has been his preoccupation.
Asked what his biggest challenge has been, he said: “So far, changing the style of the team to control games in a more effective manner, and bringing the team closer to the top teams.
“That’s been my biggest challenge.
“I think we’ve done that.
“I think we’re respected by the top teams, and now we’ve got to prove we’re in that group by finishing in the top eight, for sure, and hopefully top six.”
Those same bookies might think otherwise, but you wouldn’t bet against Pardew and United.
* Don’t miss tomorrow’s Gazette for part two of our exclusive interview with Alan Pardew