The image looked mostly the same Wednesday: Alan Pardew stood on the touchline, coaches flanked near him, watching Newcastle United pass, shoot, and defend. He wore the usual gear of a black suit—this time with a black coat on top of it—and a tie neatly in place. Even his trademark hair almost as white as his collar was still parted to the left, exposing a little patch of bare skin around his hairline.
The only difference was that he wasn’t the manager of the men wearing black-and-white.
Now as Crystal Palace manager—back at the club with whom he went to the FA Cup Final as a player 25 years ago—he has guided the Eagles to more victories than they had before he arrived. Pardew looks in control, serene, and wise—perhaps that’s because he is away from the Newcastle touchline now, and, for the first time in years, not under tremendous pressure.
It is, of course, a little ambitious to suggest Pardew is a long-term solution for Palace and will lead them to continued success, but there’s no doubt that the club has played over-its-head-good since it appointed him manager just before New Year’s. Out of a possible 18 points in six Barclays Premier League matches, the now Pardew-led Eagles have taken 11 of them. A Dwight Gayle penalty conversion against Tottenham Hotspur, a two-goal comeback against Burnley, a Joe Ledley goal—it suddenly looks normal for Pardew’s team to win.
The difference is stark; before Pardew took over, Crystal Palace were 4-11-7 in all competitive matches and their goal difference was -6. Since, the Eagles are 5-1-2, including a win over Spurs and an FA Cup victory over Southampton, two of the best clubs in the league. Goal difference? +7
It’s not as if Pardew is the beneficiary of star players. Aside from Gayle, Mile Jedinak, and Jason Puncheon, Palace don’t have any other notable names producing (producing as a very generous term, as Gayle and Jedinak have 12 goals combined and no Eagle has more than four assists). Yet the players look calm, Pardew looks calm, and, yes, the fans at Selhurst Park look calm.
Which it the complete opposite of Pardew’s time in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The Newcastle United fans found plenty of reasons to vent their frustration at Pardew: the Magpies getting knocked out of the FA Cup and League Cup early every year; Sunderland handing Newcastle United 0-3 defeats at St. James’ Park the last two years; the lack of notable names Pardew bought in the transfer windows; Pardew pushing an assistant referee during a match against Tottenham in the early going of the 2012-2013 campaign; the Magpies going from one point off second place in the Premier League last season in November and taking down Manchester United at Old Trafford a month later, to 15 losses in their next 21 games; last March Pardew headbutting Hull City midfielder David Meyler during a match.
And then this season, after a six-match winning streak from mid-October to mid-November, which included Magpie wins over Spurs, Manchester City, and Liverpool, Newcastle reversed their direction and lost five of their next eight games. They were within reasonable distance of a UEFA Champions League spot before November ended; now they sit in 11th place in the Premier League with a goal difference of -6 and the fans use Pardew as a punching bag even after he has left the club.
Despite the mayhem that ensued at times, however, Pardew was under more pressure than he should have been. Newcastle have always been a hotbed of football enthusiasm, evident by their high attendance every season. But despite the team not being a powerhouse, the supporters expect top results, which is only a recipe for constant heartbreak in the English Premier League.
From the mid-to-late 1990’s the Magpies did have success in the EPL and FA Cup, and even made the Champions League twice in the past 19 years, But this is still a club that was relegated in 2009. Newcastle United don’t spend much anymore, yet the fans seem to expect that they will have enough talent to finish in the top four of the league every season.
For someone like Pardew who couldn’t meet those unrealistic expectations and couldn’t field anything more than a team with mid-table-level talent, he may not have been able to manage to the best of his abilities. His first two seasons in charge of the team were relatively tame, yes, but the fans barked at him constantly afterwards. When they saw the Magpies finish fifth in the Premiership at the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season, they thought it was realistic to imagine Pardew could replicate the effort the next season. Even though club owner Mike Ashley didn’t want to spend large sums of cash, they expected a team that would compete for European berths every year.
Instead, the team played like, well, a club should play if it doesn’t spend money or properly develop, finishing 16th and 10th in the league in the following two seasons, respectively, and losing more scoring depth than they added. The team came down to earth.
Yet, the fans only jeered Pardew and continued to put the unrealistic hopes of European football on his shoulders. They expected that he rally Newcastle to go deep into multiple competitions, expected him to make a Jack Colback into another Demba Ba, and expected him to ignite his team to climb up the table to enter the conversations with Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and the likes. When that didn’t happen, the fans didn’t adjust their aspirations for what the Magpies really were. Rather, they applied more heat on Pardew and called for his job when the noise didn’t make a difference.
That’s not Crystal Palace. At Palace—a club that entered the Premier League just a year-and-a-half ago—the noise level is lower. The expectations of Pardew match the talent he can field. The goal? To avoid relegation, not be one of the best teams in England. The overachieving prize? A top-half finish, not a top-five one. With a club that—even though it is situated in London—has more patient supporters, Pardew can thrive.
No one’s saying fans won’t examine his every move and be frustrated if the team goes on a losing streak (this is the Premier League, after all), but Pardew won’t have to worry about getting sacked any day like he likely worried in his last two years at Newcastle. That kind of freedom can do wonders for a manager, especially one who just came out of a high-pressure role. Palace might just have been lucky this past month, operating under a small sample size, but the conditions are cemented for Pardew to find success.
So even if the colors of his suit, tie, and coat match the black-and-white of his old club, Pardew surely doesn’t miss it. The angst, the questions, the pressure—Pardew isn’t seeing any of that at Crystal Palace. Instead, all he sees is the Eagles’ red and violet hues, colorful on the pitch.
Kind of like what Pardew can be for the first time in years.