As Wolverhampton Wanderers look set to replace Black Country local rivals West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, the highly questionable appointment of Alan Pardew as Tony Pulis’s replacement at The Hawthorns that was intended to precipitate a Baggies ‘boing’ has instead been the equivalent of holding a large pin to a balloon – with the same outcome.
Overseeing a quiet renaissance at Middlesbrough it would seem that Pulis has somewhat dodged a bullet that was potentially heading his way in the form of inevitable relegation, an ignominy the Welshman has yet to suffer during his time as a Premier League boss. Although Pardew has a statistically creditable 41% win record the amount of top flight chances afforded the 56 year old does not run in tandem with his actual achievements, but similar to the likes of Steve McClaren and Alan Curbishley his most recent appointment could be the last.
An intelligent media-friendly persona has often given way to behaviour more in keeping with a meticulously coiffured East End gangster, with an air of swaggering menace at times hanging heavy over the technical area. A vile outburst directed at the then Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini and a moment of madness that saw Pardew lose his head by using it against Hull City’s David Meyler, both during his annus horribilis of 2014, sadly concentrate the mind rather than the urbane, affable side so often reserved for post-match media commitments.
It is of course not Pardew’s fault that he inherited a squad short on top flight quality, nor can the injury to loanee Daniel Sturridge be seen as anything but yet another reason why the Liverpool striker will never fulfill his devastating potential. There is though a danger of Pardew attempting once too often to be ‘one of the lads’ when around his players, as highlighted when four of the club’s senior professionals recently stole a Spanish taxi during a mid-season break. It is nice to see that those who should know better are taking a warm weather training camp and the club’s predicament with nothing but the utmost seriousness…
Although I stated West Bromwich Albion’s squad is short of the requisite quality needed to retain the club’s position at the top table, this is purely based on this season’s paltry return of points and subsequent league position. On paper – always a dangerous and often futile place – there are three or more Premier League sides with worse squads who will stay up. A cursory glimpse of West Brom’s squad only serves to baffle, rather than conclusively explain their current standing:
Ben Foster – arguably England’s best goalkeeper. Jonny Evans – much sought after former Manchester United defender. Kieran Gibbs – an experienced defender who until relatively recently was an Arsenal mainstay. Salomon Rondon – an old-fashioned battering ram of a centre forward and far superior to predecessor Brown Ideye. There are also honourable mentioned for Jay Rodriguez, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Nacer Chadli, Gareth Barry, Matt Phillips, and Egyptian loanee Ahmed Hegazi. There is therefore something exceptionally amiss for a squad containing the aforementioned to be relegated while the likes of Bournemouth, Huddersfield, Brighton, and Crystal Palace all have realistic chances, albeit to varying degrees, of Premier League survival.
The problem at The Hawthorns would therefore appear to be more psychological than a paucity of both experience and ability, something the board at West Brom would have been mindful of when appointing Pardew – a man known, depending on who you talk to, for his man-management. It does though seem that the Wimbledon-born manager has this time bitten off more than he can chew, with his lead in the sack-race stakes significantly lengthened, and his authority critically weakened, by betrayal from the ‘Barcelona Four’. Again, the way several of the four miscreants were handled in the subsequent days and weeks did Pardew few favours.
West Bromwich Albion have no divine right to a place in the Premier League, no matter how long and passionately their supporters attest otherwise. While railing against alleged mismanagement perpetrated above Pardew’s pay-grade isn’t necessarily a case of sour grapes born from hubris and a misplaced sense of entitlement, it is nevertheless a harsh fact for all clubs outside of London and Manchester that they just aren’t situated in the geographically attractive locations that tempt today’s modern mercenary. Indeed, I would suggest that the Baggies have been fortunate to procure many elements of what ultimately is a failing squad.
Barring an extremely immediate and unlikely upturn in results, relegation beckons for Pardew’s charges. Should his services be dispensed with now, at the end of the season, or not at all? Now would make little sense as nobody is going to want to come into a club two months before the end of the season, only to have a relegation put against their managerial record. A clean break at the end of the season would on that basis make more sense, although a strong but ultimately too little, too late end to the season could see Pardew’s services retained and bring about a chance for the manager to fully implement his ideas with a squad of his own choosing.
Although demotion is now all but certain it would still seem that the next two months could be some of the most important of Pardew’s career. Whether he has the hunger to go on is one thing, although the willingness of chairman to keep giving him chances might be the deciding factor that keeps Pardew in football’s dugouts, or moves the well-spoken Londoner into a television studio every Sunday afternoon.