This interview is included in the latest issue of the League Managers Association’s (LMA) magazine, The Manager. The full online edition is available here The Manager – Issue 11.

After Newcastle United’s best start to a Barclays Premier League season in 17 years, manager Alan Pardew sat down with Sue McKellar to discuss life at the helm of one of football’s most iconic clubs.

When Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley arrived in 2007 he revealed a five-year plan to make the North East club self-financing. Raised on a diet of football legends, free flowing football and frequent marquee signings, it was hard for many of the Geordie faithful to visualise how such a financial model could enable them to remain competitive.

Five years on and with a host of clubs, North and South of the border, having entered administration, Newcastle’s plan and the transparency of its objectives is reaping the rewards of its conviction. Tasked with balancing the playing budget off the field while pursuing progress on it, is former Reading, West Ham, Charlton Athletic and Southampton manager Alan Pardew.

Since his appointment in December 2010 Pardew has assembled a side that has ploughed through any fears of ‘second season syndrome’ to sustain a challenge amidst the Barclays Premier League’s upper echelon. The Manager spoke with Alan Pardew to learn how his own career path from non-league footballer to Premier League manager is enabling him to strike just the right balance, and we’re delighted to offer this interview in this week’s The Leader.

You took a non-league football route into professional football as a player, while working as a glazier. In what ways has this route influenced your values and given you an appreciation of good man management?

“It was a very important route because you understand the work place and what the media represents to the working man. When I was a glazier I was reading the newspaper every day and that was my only insight into the football world. When you play in non-league football you meet a cross-section of characters that you don’t meet in professional football. You might have a company chief executive and a dustbin man playing side by side in the same non-league team.

So you come across many characters from different walks of life, whereas in professional football you have football-focused individuals who have based most of their upbringing on football because it was going to be their career from day one. Due to the playing route that I took I’ve experienced diversity of character, so when I come across what may be classed as a ‘difficult or enigmatic character’ in the football world it’s not so much of a problem for me.”

You had two spells as a caretaker-manager at Reading; how important was that glimpse into the reality of management for you?

“My first period as caretaker was brief and a bit of a blur. I was called upon to run the team, which was a significant jump for me because there were some experienced people in front of me. The second period was much more important because it was a chance to actually get the job full-time, which fortunately I took. From my background of being a not so well-known player, it was very important that I got that first chance. When I was reserve team manager I think that Reading recognised that I had qualities that I could possibly take into the role of manager. I was fortunate enough that Reading owner John Madejski gave me that opportunity.”

Out of all the players he managed, Steve Coppell highlighted you as a natural to go into management because you were managing situations while you were playing on the pitch. How conscious were you of that yourself?

“I was a bit like that when I played. I was always disappointed that I wasn’t captain but my playing ability always restricted me from assuming that role. But I still always tried to offer leadership on the pitch. It’s part of my make-up, and I’ve always been a talker. Communication on the pitch is something that I’m good at so I can understand Steve Coppell’s view. I didn’t really ever lose my head on a football pitch and I was always pretty much in a good space to control what was going on. I was always the type of player that offered an opinion to other players at the training ground and the players were always responsive to any advice that I gave them, which was a good sign.”

Under Steve Coppell you scored in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final to knock out Liverpool and earn Crystal Palace a place in the final against Manchester United. How much do you believe that Palace’s achievements shaped your belief that teams with less resources can actually be competitive with the biggest teams in English football?

“I think that it probably has influenced my thinking. Additionally I had some good cup runs with non-league teams. When I was playing for Corinthian Casuals we took Bristol City to a replay, which was probably an even bigger gulf than Crystal Palace and Liverpool at the time. So yes, I have played that underdog role in the past and know that success can be achieved.

At Palace we reached the FA Cup Final that season and finished third in the old First Division the next. A lot of that success came from the work ethic we had as a team and I now generate that in all of my own teams. Under Steve Coppell the emphasis was on the team and he never outwardly showed if it hurt him to lose a big player. Ian Wright broke his leg and didn’t play in the semi-final and we still beat Liverpool.

He never let any disappointment that he may have had on such occasions transfer to the team; there wasn’t a flicker. That is a quality that I took on board and if I lose a good player I think back to Steve and I make sure that I carry that trait through in my management. I believe that approach is very important. The players must understand that it isn’t about the individual, somebody can come in and if they are inspired they too can do the job.”

You are still a young manager and have already experienced highs in your career; promotions with both Reading and West Ham, leading West Ham to the FA Cup Final and winning Southampton’s first trophy since 1976. The emotions of succeeding take care of themselves but how have you dealt with the lows when you have lost a job?

“I believe that it is very important that you don’t get twisted about this game and start taking on board the conspiracy theories of why you have lost your job. You have just got to make sure that you are stronger next time that you go in. You can’t let disappointment hurt you and you’ve got to be resilient.

When a football manager joins a club, he needs to make sure that he is looking at the whole club and that he’s putting down a foundation and a clear vision of where he is going, because that clarity and communication can actually buy you another game. If you don’t do that and you lose four or five consecutive matches there’s a good chance that you are in big trouble. If the club can see you are trying to work with the budget that they have presented you with, trying to inspire people, trying to create a good work ethic at the football club then it might buy you that extra game.”

Newcastle United have a clearly defined five-year vision which they have made public. How beneficial is it for you as manager to have that transparency?

“I do think that the clarity of the budget is important. Some fans may not be entirely happy with the amount we have to spend but at least they know the big picture. When you look at the world economy and where football is at the moment we are seeing really tough times. We’ve seen examples of Portsmouth and Rangers, in Scotland, that show if you overstretch you are going to find yourself in serious trouble and you are putting the club’s future at risk.

At Newcastle we’ve got a good foundation and a good financial model and now the question is whether we can bring success within that model? That’s the challenge that I accepted when I joined the club and so far we are doing well and can hopefully continue to grow as we go along.”

A lot of clubs suffer from ‘second season syndrome’ after promotion to the Barclays Premier League. How have Newcastle United avoided that?

“I experienced ‘second season syndrome’ at West Ham. The first season we had a fantastic time in the Barclays Premier League, reached the FA Cup Final as well, and came close to winning against Liverpool. I went into the second season with almost the same group of players and we didn’t improve the areas that I thought were problematic.

Essentially I believe that you need to make some changes after that first year; if you can you should because the players can suddenly feel that they are Premier League players and you can often see the work rate and commitment go down by five or 10 per cent, which is enough at this level to cause you problems.”

Continues to part two.


This interview is included in the latest issue of the League Managers Association’s (LMA) magazine, The Manager. The full online edition is available here The Manager – Issue 11.

The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.

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