Miles Starforth: The question that Alan Pardew really didn’t want to answer

Alan Pardew
Alan Pardew

Alan Pardew didn’t like the question.

It was posed in a small changing room, which was being used as a makeshift interview area, at Newcastle United’s training ground late last year.

Yes, the club spent more than £50million in the summer, but it’ll take another £50million to address the gaps in the squad which have been allowed to widen over the past few years.

Pardew was asked whether his chance to become England manager had gone.

It was a fair, if mischievous, question.

Pardew didn’t like it. He got up and walked out, and the question was left unanswered. The Press conference was over.

But Pardew’s non-response told its own story. He didn’t think his chance had gone.

A year later, Pardew is the second-favourite, behind Gary Neville, to succeed England manager Roy Hodgson. Brendan Rodgers isn’t far behind him in the betting.

Pardew’s Press conferences got a little spiky at times in the first half of last season.

It was that kind of season.

Before one with the written Press he railed against what he felt had been some “******* disgraceful journalism” that week.

Then he got on with it. Pardew was like that.

In that same room, Pardew, now in charge of Saturday’s opponents Crystal Palace, had been forced to defend the club’s transfer policy countless times.

It was a policy about which, privately, he had reservations, but he didn’t feel able to go off-message.

Owner Mike Ashley, it seems, doesn’t like his managers talking about transfers.

And in that same room, Steve McClaren, his successor at Newcastle, is fielding awkward questions.

McClaren – who refused to talk about the January transfer window after the Leicester game – is similarly uncomfortable.

After all, he is answering questions that should be answered by managing director Lee Charnley given that his role, despite his place on the board, is largely limited to preparing the team.

That job is hard enough given the club’s lengthy injury list.

McClaren already finds himself under pressure at United given the club’s position. There were boos at the final whistle on Saturday.

Fans, understandably, were unhappy with what they had seen against Leicester City, who comfortably won 3-0 to go top of the Premier League. The result left Newcastle fourth-bottom of the division.

Sunderland’s 1-0 win over Palace at Selhurst Park on Monday night compounded matters. Sam Allardyce’s side are now within striking distance of United, whose spell out of the bottom three could be short-lived.

Palace, despite the Sunderland result, are favourites to take all three points.

And McClaren won’t need reminding that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are next up at St James’s Park.

McClaren, rightly, must take responsibility for the team’s performances, but the head coach – or manager – can only work with what he has at the club.

Yes, the club spent more than £50million in the summer, but it’ll take another £50million to address the gaps in the squad which have been allowed to widen over the past few years.

None of United’s summer signings had any Premier League experience.

And McClaren needs character as well as technical ability.

Character is one quality that the team lacked against Leicester, and questions about the club’s recruitment, overseen by Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr, have not been fully answered.

In the fortnight before he left Newcastle, Pardew had publicly stated the need for another striker.

As it was, not one player was signed in January this year.

Pardew was given control of incomings and outgoings at Selhurst Park, and Palace co-chairman Steve Parish has backed his vision at the club.

Former United midfielder Yohan Cabaye was among this summer’s arrivals.

Palace’s form has been mixed, but the 10th-placed club is still nine points ahead of Newcastle. That’s halfway to Premier League safety, and relegation this season, more than any other season, is unthinkable given the incoming TV deal.

Pardew might not be as good as he thinks he is, but he isn’t as bad as he was made out to be at United.

That said, the 54-year-old, by his own admission, had overstayed his welcome on Tyneside. It was time for a change.

Pardew was acutely aware of the mood in the city, but, ultimately, it wasn’t the clamour from fans for a change that led to his exit.

He was lured away by the promise of more control.

McClaren has a place on the board, but it remains to be seen what influence he can have over a recruitment policy that has been leaned towards cross-Channel imports in recent years.

Charnley wrote about a “strong summer of business for our club” in September and talked up “four exceptional summer signings” in an email to supporters in September.

However, McClaren could have done with four more players accustomed to English football’s top flight. It could be next season before Florian Thauvin and Aleksandar Mitrovic fully adjust to the Premier League.

So McClaren, like Pardew and John Carver before him, finds himself under pressure.

But the biggest problem at Newcastle can’t always be the manager or head coach, can it?

The club, from the outside, seems to be run more like a business than a football club.

You like to think that footballing success will lead to financial success, but the primary focus at United, which had £34.1m in the bank at one point last year, has always seemed to be the latter.

It’s too early to say whether Ashley’s pledge in May to invest and win things has led to a culture change off the pitch, though things haven’t got much better on theb field.

McClaren will sit down with the media later this week ahead of the Palace game. And there’s not much he can say.

He can be critical, but not too critical, of players he can’t afford to alienate. He can update on injuries, but he probably won’t want to to talk about transfers.

Maybe McClaren is finding out just why Pardew walked away from the biggest job he’ll ever have in football – unless he gets the England post, of course.