Alan Pardew - Taken from The Sunday Times (Sunday 16th November)
by David Walsh
NO man, it is said, can be a hero to his valet. What footballer is fondly remembered by the apprentice who once cleaned his boots? More than 15 years have passed since Andy Woodman looked after Alan Pardew's boots at Crystal Palace: he was a young goalkeeper who never got to play a league game for Palace; Pardew was a senior pro who played in the 1990 FA Cup final.
Woodman's memories are vivid: "Alan and Geoff Thomas were the two first-team players who had time for the apprentices. Alan, in particular, always looked after me; stood up for me on the training ground, took me to some of the classier nightclubs. One pre- season we were away on a trip and I saw something in a shop that I liked but couldn't afford. Alan used his credit card and allowed me to pay him back in instalments. That was Alan."
Fifteen years on, they are both still in the game: Woodman is goalkeeping coach at Rushden & Diamonds, Pardew a Premiership manager. They have remained in touch and when the weather is right and they've got a day, they play golf. Late last week, Woodman spoke to his old mentor.
"We're going through a tough time at Rushden and I called Alan looking for advice. He said he'd been in the same situation when he started out at Barnet and that the important thing was that I was always there for our manager, Barry Hunter. We would get through it, he said, provided we believed we would.
"But that's Alan, I ring him two days before West Ham's game against Manchester City and he calls me straight back. He was always like that. He's going to be a top manager."
Pardew's record is impressive. He became manager of Reading in 1999 when they were second from bottom in Division Two. Four years later they finished fourth in Division One, denied promotion to the Premiership by defeat in the playoffs. Two years ago he left Reading for West Ham United, who had just been relegated from the Premiership.
At the second attempt he got West Ham back to the top flight and two months ago, his Hammers set out on their Premiership journey. They have been a breath of fresh air, playing a high-tempo attacking game that has produced better than expected results. This afternoon they will look for another one at Manchester City.
We meet at West Ham's training ground at Chadwell Heath in East London. You come curious to know if he is another young manager on a hot streak or if he has more than that. Why shouldn't England produce a young Jose Mourinho? Why couldn't it be Pardew? He talks about the kind of player he was and what people used to say about him. "There was a label I had: 'He maximised his career'. That pleased me because we're not all gifted with talent. I was limited but I got the most I possibly could out of it."
That attitude lies at the core of what he is about: "It suited me to be given a challenge. 'You're marking Gazza today'. I wasn't fit to lace Paul Gascoigne's boots but marking him brought the best out in me. I see that attitude in our captain, Nigel Reo-Coker. He doesn't care who he's up against; he's got so much self-belief."
Still, it was highly unusual to make a 21-year-old the team captain at West Ham. "Well, Nigel Reo-Coker's a highly unusual character," Pardew says. "The captaincy motivates him. Without it, he's not as good. I don't know if it is attention-seeking, I wouldn't call it that, but he wants the responsibility. I want our captain to be inspirational, to say the right things off the pitch. Nigel Reo-Coker says the right things and he acts correctly off the pitch."
How have the senior players reacted to such a youthful captain? "I think a couple of them have a problem with it. It goes against the grain a little bit. It doesn't bother Nigel and it doesn't bother me. We've got good, experienced professionals here. We've re-signed Christian Dailly who is very important for us. Then you look at Teddy (Sheringham); forget about Teddy's ability, his greatest strength is his character.
"He was at Man United but there's no airs and graces about Teddy. He's probably seen 10 Nigel Reo-Cokers in his time, he's played with better players than we have but he doesn't look down on them, he doesn't show them any disrespect."
Has Pardew not been intimidated by Sheringham's aura?
"I signed him knowing that could get in the way, but I like to
think it hasn't. I haven't gone out of my way to prove
myself to him or impress him but I want him to respect me.
"At Reading I was accused of not paying enough attention to the senior players and it was justified criticism. You always want to be there for the younger guys but the older guys are entitled to ask, 'What about my experience?' I think I have learnt to listen more to them."
He is also ever mindful of the club he now manages: "There are things about West Ham, the commitment to play good football, the tradition of producing good players and the fact that I am just the 10th manager in the history of the club. These things give West Ham its character. No club in the Premiership has had as few managers.
"When I was growing up, I saw West Ham as a good footballing side that didn't win as many games as it should. Sometimes, they were accused of having a soft centre. We will always try to play in the right way and have a go, but anybody seeing my team wouldn't ever say it had a soft centre."
Pardew, 44, manages the club, not just the first-team squad. The training ground has been repainted, the traditional claret replaced with brighter and more cheerful colours. "Claret is our colour but at the place of work, it is not ideal, because it is a down colour."
Along with the new paint came a change in approach. Pardew wants the training ground to be a refuge from the indiscipline outside: "Everything has to be disciplined on the training ground because if there's looseness there, it will show itself on match day."
He wants the club to reflect his style but understands the relationship works both ways. "I say to friends, 'You know I have been East Ended a little bit here'. Sometimes someone will say to me, 'You're not a West Ham person'. I wasn't but I am now. Some clubs have fans, we have fanatics. A thousand times a week I am asked to sign something or other: 'It's for Billy Bob, he's a West Ham fanatic'. Here, it's nephew, cousin, brother, mum, uncle, granddad, grandma, dad, all coming to the game. They're eight months, they're 80; they're West Ham. It's a religion, they're born with it, they die with it.
"It is related to the club being in a predominantly working-class area in a part of town that has always been run-down. We have a lot of money people at our club who are now in the City, they've come from humble backgrounds and like every other fan here, if they see a load of fancy dans running around, they ain't having it. That's the East End way. That's fine."
Through his conversation Pardew often mentions the need for him to be a chameleon. "Unless you're a chameleon, you ain't going to survive; if you're brown when you should be green, you're dead.
"When I started out in management, I would be aggressive and rude with my players. 'What do you think you're doing?' That sort of manner. I think I manage people better now. At Reading I would be dismissive of the guy from the local newspaper while playing to the bigger boys, the guy from The Sun. A lot of energy channelled in the wrong way."
He enjoyed doing the FA coaching courses and believes they are among the best anywhere. What they couldn't teach him, he now learns from watching and speaking with the best managers. "I love speaking to them, hearing what they have to say. And I love speaking to their staff because staff always give things away.
" 'Don't talk to anyone', I say to my staff, because I am always feeding on what I hear at other clubs. I want to know what Arsène Wenger is doing, I want to know what Mourinho does, I want to know what Alex (Ferguson) does, but I also want to know what Paul Jewell does. I want to know."
Could it be that what sets Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho apart is that they care more: Ferguson going to Lee Sharpe's house, Wenger spending Sundays before his television looking for his next player, Mourinho forging this unusually intense relationship with his players? "Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho, I think the differences are in the cultures of the countries they have come from. Mourinho has definitely brought something different. He is a clever man, astute. He's a trained sports scientist, so he knows his science, but he also has that Latin temperament and it shows in the way he deals with people.
"He is touchy-feely with his players. It would be unusual to see a British manager behave like that. We can banter with the best of them, but in terms of the body language, we don't do that. That's a Latin gift he has. I have thought: should I be a little more like that? "When I was a player at Palace, Steve Coppell once patted me on the back of the head, and I was so pleased. I don't want to do Steve a disservice but he didn't often do that and was quite cold in that sense. It's something I've been accused of in the past - that coldness, that stiff upper lip.
"And I can see that English players are drawn to Mourinho's Latin way. John Terry is drawn to it, Frank Lampard is drawn to it."
For all his ambition and desire to see West Ham grow, Pardew still knows how to laugh. We talk about England and he tells a story about once saying something about Sven-Göran Eriksson that was presented as him criticising England's head coach. It caused a little turmoil, especially in his own home.
"My wife Tina is Swedish. She loves football and loves Sven. Every time he comes to our ground, they're chatting away. She could probably be Sven's new girlfriend," he jokes. "I keep looking out for them swapping telephone numbers but, so far, it hasn't happened. When I criticised him - in all honesty it wasn't a criticism - she was very upset with me.
"I wrote to Sven, explained and we put it behind us. Eventually my wife forgave me."
Should things not progress at the club, West Ham's fans will not be as sympathetic. He knows this and the fighter in him relishes the challenge. Though young and just setting out, he knows where he wants it to end. "I want to be respected. For people to say, 'He done a good job'. When I come back here as a scout for whoever, because that's what most managers end up doing, I want that. I'll be 72, I'll have done my bit, earned my money and because I'll want to stay in the game, I'll be pottering around doing a bit of scouting.
"I would like to come back here and have someone shake my hand and say, 'Nice to see you, Alan, weren't it terrific when you was here?' I am a long way from there, but that's what I'm after."