Pards Under Fire!

AFTER coming under fire from fans, Alan Pardew has decided to face the criticism head on in his most frank interview since taking over as manager.
In this two-part exclusive for the Club's Official Website, Pards answers the tough questions that the fans are asking and reveals his vision for taking the Club forward.

Alan, you have had to face strong criticism from supporters recently. How do you react to that?

AP: I am well aware of the frustration of our fans, when they see us lose a game and are then forced to watch the Club's former young stars excelling at the highest level. It's heartbreaking for everyone connected with West Ham United. The Chairman, Terry Brown, suffers just as much as anyone. For reasons beyond his control he has seen a lot of great players leave the Club, but his wish, like mine, is to return West Ham to the Premiership. When I arrived at Upton Park the Club's position was unsustainable. Huge sacrifices had to be made to the detriment of the team and morale has suffered as a result. However, we are emerging from these problems now and remain hugely competitive with a bright young squad of players that will only get better.
The abuse and angry reaction towards me recently only fuels my desire to be stronger and improve the team. That's what the fans expect and I will not shirk my responsibilities.

Because of its history and tradition, the expectation level at West Ham United is very high. Is the job tougher than you expected?

There is huge media and supporter pressure on us to get promoted quickly, and I fully understand that. However, my management is not about a quick fix. When I first met with the Chairman and the Board of Directors they knew that my management style concentrates on structure and building a foundation for future success. The Club has been forced to go through massive changes since I arrived. We've tried to put a safety net around not making promotion by addressing the problem of the large wage bill and our wages are now coming down towards Championship level. To achieve this there has been a huge turnaround in players. I've invested in young players who I believe will improve and contribute to a bright future for the Club, but these changes were never going to take effect immediately. 
My job has been made a lot easier by inheriting a Youth Academy that is well run and has a very successful record in developing young players. My working relationship with Academy Director Tony Carr is one of mutual respect and you cannot underestimate the job Tony and his staff have done for the Club and continue to do day in, day out. The Academy represents the core of West Ham United and is a very solid foundation from which to work. Unfortunately, we have lost a generation of talent from our Academy in the past year or so. It's that generation we are trying to replace by being astute in the transfer market and I believe we have brought in players capable of taking West Ham United forward.

Is the current squad good enough to win automatic promotion?

This year the inexperience of our younger players was always going to show itself. I've deliberately brought in younger players because I want to build a solid base, which will take the Club forward. Of course, these younger players need time to grow into the responsibility of wearing the claret and blue of West Ham United and sometimes their inconsistencies have let us down.
Missing key senior players like Teddy Sheringham, Steve Lomas, Christian Dailly and Malky Mackay has not helped. These players have a responsibility to focus on promotion in the short term, but also we need them to guide our young players and teach them about attitude, application and professionalism. It is here that the views of our senior players carry so much weight.
Our system is evolving into the one I played with great success at Reading. The players are now realising that it holds the key to greater flexibility going forward and tighter security in defence. Traditional 4-4-2 is too rigid for me at times and it means you can't always ask enough questions of the opposition. Given time, I believe the system I've implemented will bring the team success. 
In some games we have had a tendency to get carried away with ourselves, expecting to turn up and win without working to our full capacity. In this League, where teams are so evenly matched, if you are just short of that maximum work rate you can and will get beaten. I will not accept that and I sincerely hope lessons have been learned.

Is the Championship opposition given enough credit by West Ham's supporters?

It's easy for a Club of this size, because of its proud history  and heritage to take the opposition in the Championship lightly. This can be true of the players as well as the supporters, who are taking on the immense responsibility of wearing the West Ham United shirt. There has been a problem at Upton Park, when we play a so-called lesser-name team, that the atmosphere focuses on our mistakes rather than the positive things we do in the game. This can spread to the players and make them feel inhibited. Before the Sheffield United game I walked into the Stadium and found a crowd expecting us to win, and I knew we had a tough match on our hands against a team that had been on a great run. When the first goal went in there was no help for us from the fans as we tried to retrieve the match. We were having to do it ourselves and unfortunately we failed. Our performance got worse as the negativity got worse and it turned into a very ugly day for us.

After achieving success at Reading have you ever had any regrets about joining West Ham United or considered quitting Upton Park?

History is a great passion of mine and it was the history of West Ham United that attracted me to the Club. My success at Reading wasn't immediate, but based on the principles of laying solid foundations and building a promising young team, from which they are now benefiting at the Madjeski Stadium. Having said that my record speaks for itself at Reading. In my first full season we finished third, the following year we won promotion and in Reading's first year at this level we finished fourth and reached the Play-Offs - the same position that I achieved with West Ham United last season. I've only ever been at the top of the League, chasing promotion. I know what it takes to win games, but more importantly I know that no club will grow if they simply look for a quick fix. As I've said, I explained to the Chairman when I arrived that if they wanted a manager to bring them a short-term solution then I wasn't their man.
However, I still firmly believed that I could win promotion for the Club in my first year. We got very close, but ultimately failed in the Play-off Final, because in the game that really mattered we didn't play as well as we could have. But these young players will have gained massively from that experience, just like my former players at Reading did when they lost in the Play-Offs. Rest assured that the players here have gained strength from the Play-Off disappointment and are better equipped to challenge for promotion because of the experiences of last season.

Do you feel the Club is still suffering a backlash from the Play-Off Final defeat last season?

Losing in the Play-Off Final to Crystal Palace was demoralising to our young squad. From my experience at Reading I knew that it would be very difficult for us to deal with the disappointment of that defeat. When you look back to events on the day you can't help but feel anger and frustration, and I think that has surfaced at times this season. Some people believe that you can pick out a great player because he performs on the big stage. But that isn't always the case. A lot of our young players were chastised after that game, when for most it was their first really big test. Hopefully, though, they will be better for the experience and be able to rise to their next important occasion.

Will your position as manager be under threat if the team don't win promotion this season?

I understand that football is a results driven business. However, I don't see why my stewardship of the Club should end if we don't win promotion. The core group of young players that I've assembled will be armed with two promotion efforts and would have gained immense knowledge of what is required to reach the Premiership. After going through an immense period of change the squad is looking strong again, the wage bill is down to a manageable level and the Club is in a good position to move forward.