Mike Ashley’s indecision on Pardew reflects a bigger managerial epidemic
“He’s got one more game. If we lose against Stoke on Monday night then he’s gone. I have had enough.”
Those were reportedly Mike Ashley’s words on the status of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, which has come under heavy scrutiny.
Whether you believe he was joking or not (he wasn’t), Ashley has reflected a serious malady that has infected the fabric of soccer in the last decade or two and threatens to break down the game as we know it.
A managerial position is no longer considered by fans, media, and now owners to be a steadfast position meant to be deeply rooted within the fiber of a club and influencing all aspects of building success piece by piece.
Now, a manager sees his days numbered by the idea that his position as head man is based on match-by-match performances and should they stumble in any given five-match stretch with a few tactical missteps, they could be doomed.
Before, the opinions of fans and journalists obsessed by tactics never truly mattered so long as owners - those who signed the paychecks and ultimately made the important decisions - resisted the change.
Now, that is no longer.
Enormous television contracts in the top division have seen owners become not just wary of relegation, but downright terrorized of the drop, fearing the gigantic loss of revenue.
There won’t be another Sir Alex Ferguson. There won’t be another Arsene Wenger. Those men didn’t just produce instant results on the pitch, but built dynastic environments with long-term player development, recruitment, scouting networks, training regimes, and ultimately an overall aura about a club.
And when they leave, you see how devastating it is for a club as a whole. Ferguson won 13 Premier League championships, yet his value as a manager was never more evident than right now, with the club caught in a maelstrom since his departure.
People didn’t want to just go to Manchester United because they could win the Champions League, they wanted to go to Manchester United because they knew the environment created from the top down would make them the best player they could possibly be.
It’s certainly possible to criticize Wenger’s tactical abilities, with one needing look no further than his stubborn insistence on depositing Mesut Özil on the wing when he’s obviously not meant to be there. However, to do so would be to miss Wenger’s strengths as a manager altogether. He is one of the best in the world at discovering unseen young talent, a skill that is completely overlooked in the job description of way too many gaffers.
In today’s world, we see Fulham tumble from the Europa League finals down into the Championship with an embarrassing slew of managerial misfires that saw them hire three men within a single season. Roy Hodgson didn’t build the base for success at that club, but he understood it and inserted himself into all parts of the framework, and skillful transfer market dealings to establish the Cottagers as consistent Premier League mainstays. Once he left, and those after him didn’t grasp the concept, it all began to fall apart.
The problem for Fulham now is they’ve completely whiffed on three managerial appointments in a row. A managerial hire at a club needs to be the right fit. Managers aren’t just “good” or “not good” managers. There are good fits and bad fits. Current free agent Tony Pulis may be a solid manager, but his style as a person, a leader, and a tactician aren’t right for a number of clubs. Same of Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen, and Felix Magath.
Yes, even Magath. He submitted a horrific showing in the English game, but even his style had success somewhere - the man won the Bundesliga at one point before even his time in Germany soured.
So when Mike Ashley says Pardew has “one more game left” or whatever that set number may be to prove himself the right man, the owner is missing the point completely.
A managerial term isn’t defined by the results of one match. It’s defined by his abilities to successfully steer a particular club to victory not just by tactically directing his players, but also by how those players arrived on the pitch in the first place and how well they are put in a position to succeed.
This is not to say that firing Alan Pardew would be the wrong move. Newcastle certainly seem to be on a collision course with the drop. The overarching point here is if Mike Ashley is indeed “fed up” with Pardew, what will one match prove? What about two? Delaying the inevitable will only hurt the club more.
The second-longest tenured manager in the Premier League is Pardew on four years with his club, and now that tenure is threatened by a boss who doesn’t even understand what he should be asking of his subordinate. As a result, the entire situation has turned into a complete circus.
Managers are no longer generals in charge of their troops, they’re pawns used to stack up a squad for owners who have no idea how to put together a soccer team but insist on doing it anyways.
Unfortunately, he’s far from the only one in England, or Europe as a whole.