Pardew worthy of top honour

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"When you look at his CV, it doesn't make pleasant reading," said Steve Wraith, editor of Toon Talk fanzine, shortly after Alan Pardew was appointed Newcastle manager. And he had a point.

When Chris Hughton was sacked in controversial circumstances not long before Christmas in 2010, it was assumed that the club's owner, Mike Ashley, had a manager of some repute lined up to replace him.

Hughton had led the Toon to promotion at the first attempt, winning the Championship at a canter, and his popularity among supporters increased further as the north east giants flirted with the mid-table positions on their return to the top-flight.

So when it was announced that Pardew, who had been sacked by League One Southampton hardly four months earlier, would succeed Hughton at St James' Park, fans were right to once again voice their concerns at the capabilities of the club's hierarchy.

Prior to joining Newcastle, Pardew's most prominent position had been as manager of West Ham, while the former Crystal Palace midfielder had not managed in the Premier League since being relegated with Charlton over two years earlier.

Yet, little over a year on from his appointment, Pardew was being heralded as the man to restore Newcastle's place among the Premier League's elite, with the Magpies tasting defeat in the league just once from August until mid-November.

Only five wins in 14 games from then on threatened to derail hopes of Champions League qualification but, with one game of the season remaining, Newcastle still have an opportunity to finish in the top four.

What an achievement it would be, too. And, regardless of where Newcastle do finish come May 13, Pardew is, without question, the candidate most deserving of the top honour at this year's LMA Awards.

Such have the consistent highs been for Newcastle over the course of the campaign, it is often forgotten that they were gutted during the summer months, losing their captain Kevin Nolan and, arguably, best player in Joey Barton.

Nolan had contributed 29 goals in 84 starts for Newcastle, an impressive return from midfield, and the apparent lack of respect he received from the club in pursuit of a new contract left many aghast.

The former Bolton skipper was allowed to join West Ham, who offered him the security of a long-term deal, while the arrival of Yohan Cabaye at St James' Park led Barton to believe that his days too were numbered.

Barton turned out to be correct, and soon followed his good friend Nolan to London; joining Queens Park Rangers after Newcastle agreed to terminate his contract.

Newcastle had, of course, also lost top scorer and Newcastle lad Andy Carroll only a few months earlier, and Pardew was forced to beg the board to invest a sizeable chunk of the £35 million made from his sale into the recruitment of new players.

But the investment never game, and instead Pardew had to settle for signing Demba Ba, who had been relegated with West Ham, on a free transfer to compensate for the loss of Carroll.

But the apparent frugality, by either luck or judgement, transpired to be a masterstroke, and Pardew galvanised a side bereft of their two biggest personalities into one cohesive unit.

The acquisition of Ba proved to be inspired, while Cabaye instantly oozed class in the centre of midfield, and the decision to appoint Fabricio Coloccini club captain instantly paid dividends.

The return of Hatem Ben Arfa helped, too, and Pardew must be praised for the way in which he has dealt with the mercurial Frenchman, who has thrived under the tutelage of his manager.

How much influence Pardew has in player recruitment is open to debate, given the previous interference from the boardroom, but he can also boast to have completed the capture of the season in Papiss Cisse.

The goalscoring exploits of the Senegalese have been so impressive since his January arrival that, according to reports, he is now a summer target for Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid.

Newcastle's owners had transformed them from one of the institutions of English football into a laughing stock; characterised by off-field failings and non-sensical boardroom decisions.

Ashley & Co. have done their best this season to further attract the ire of the club's loyal supporters by changing the name of St James' Park, rich in heritage, to the Sports Direct Arena.

Yet it is testament to the superb job that Pardew has conducted on Tyneside that, what would have previously been viewed as a catastrophe by some, is now viewed only as a footnote in a terrific campaign.

The test is now to see if Pardew, who had his fingers burned in European competition with West Ham, can continue to realise his potential and cement Newcastle's place in the upper echelons of English football.

But the debate surrounding potential events of next season can wait for another time. The debate regarding the manager of this season, however, is over. It can only be Alan Pardew.

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