Interim Newcastle United Manager John Carver finally came up against his predecessor, Alan Pardew, for the first time in last week’s Premier League tie between Crystal Palace and Newcastle. However with Carver’s long-term position at the club still uncertain, it remains to be seen whether that will also be the last time he faces off against his former boss.
Rejuvenated since the arrival of Pardew, the Eagles’ have been in fine form and now look on track to escape relegation. Prior to last week’s match Pardew had registered five wins out of his first six games in charge, however it has been quite the contrast for his former assistant at Newcastle. Managing just one solitary win in his first six games, and conceding nine goals along the way, things have not started well for Carver. Despite his desire to be appointed the permanent boss of Newcastle, he will be struggling to impress the powers that be with this current form.
Having initially been handed the role on a caretaker basis, the failure of Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley to identify a suitable long-term candidate for the vacant position, meant that Carver was handed his dream opportunity and promoted to interim manager until the end of the season. With reported targets, Derby boss Steve Mclaren and former Lyon manager Rémi Garde, both appearing to have turned down the role at this stage, Ashley may just have had the great fortune of stumbling across his ideal man without even knowing it.
Similar to the Roy Hodgson’s role as England head coach, the job of Newcastle manager is often considered as being one of English football’s biggest poisoned chalices. With its passionate fan-base and regularly sold-out 52,000 seated stadium, many a manager have been lured into the role believing they can be the one to turn the clubs fortunes around. Yet with fans demanding an entertaining, winning brand of football, and an owner who is notoriously difficult to work alongside, many who try ultimately fail.
Not since the reign of local hero Sir Bobby Robson, has a Newcastle manager been considered a success amongst the fans. The likes of Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder and Sam Allardyce have all tried and failed-even the return of Geordie messiah Kevin Keegan, couldn’t return the club to its place amongst the best in the Premier League.
Arguably the manager who came closest to rivalling Sir Bobby’s record is in fact that of Alan Pardew, who in his first full season as manager, achieved a 5th place finish pushing Chelsea all the way until the final fixtures of the season. Having always been viewed as a puppet under the control of Mike Ashley throughout his regime, the Geordie faithful never looked favourable on Pardew. This became most apparent in the current season where the fans’ unrest had grown to the point that the ‘Sack Pardew.com’ campaign was lodged.
Despite being widely regarded as notoriously hard to please, the Newcastle fans have always maintained a soft spot for members of their own, hence the widespread affection still held towards the late Sir Bobby Robson. In John Carver they not only have a fellow Geordie at the helm, but a man whose intense love for the club is equal only to that of the supporters, something they wouldn’t find in many other managers. His affinity to Newcastle has been prominent throughout the majority of his life.
Firstly from his playing days where he was a youth team player for the Toon until injury cut short his career, right through to his various stints at coaching the Newcastle team, dating as far back as 2004. Carver’s overwhelming passion for his club is evident for all to see, although it has occasionally overstepped the mark. Instances such as his clash at Wigan Athletic, following a rather heavy tackle on one his team members, as well as an incident with Craig Bellamy at an airport lounge, suggest that he is partial to the odd flair up. However, in Carver’s defence these events only occur in times where he identifies possible harm being brought upon the club, something that will surely endear him to the fans.
Having worked under Mike Ashley since 2011, he is well aware of the way the club chooses to operate and would be able to act as a bridge between the fans and the boardroom, a link that has eroded away of late. With Ashley’s stringent transfer policy unlikely to change, Carver will know he has to make do with the squad already in place. Having worked with the entirety of the Newcastle squad as Pardew’s former assistant, he will have developed a clear understanding of the players’ capabilities and will have identified how he wants his team to play.
Even after just a few games in charge, Carver has begun to stamp his own style of play into the team. With French international midfielder Remy Cabella being restored to the starting line-up, it is clear that he is looking for more attacking midfield options, as well as an element of flair that so excites the Geordies. Although the results haven’t gone his way of late, the performances have been encouraging, and Newcastle have perhaps been unlucky in not collecting more points.
If the early displays of improvement can be maintained for the remainder of this season, then come Summer Mike Ashley may no longer need to continue with his managerial search. Even if Ashley had never envisaged handing John Carver the reigns, he may just have inadvertently stumbled across his perfect man, who was hiding under his nose the whole time.
by James Johnston