Alan Pardew arrived at ADO Den Haag on Christmas Eve to a club heading for relegation, but has he turned things around? Erm, not quite…
Towards the end of an interview this week with Voetbal International, in which he had variously bemoaned the quality of his players, the club’s lack of an overarching philosophy, their artificial pitch, their training facilities and his treatment by the Dutch media, ADO Den Haag manager Alan Pardew said: “I have not regretted my choice for a second.”
“I could have enjoyed life at home in Surrey,” Pardew continued. “Playing golf, playing tennis, walking the dogs, but within me there is still a burning fire for football.”
But there’s a very strong chance that this job could end in ignominious relegation, which would be his second appointment in a row in which he has steered a club towards the drop, though technically speaking he had been removed by the time West Brom dropped in 2018. Den Haag are second-bottom of the Eredivisie, seven points from safety with eight games of the season remaining, having won just one of Pardew’s eight games in charge so far.
In fairness to Pardew, this was not an easy gig. When he was appointed on Christmas Eve, the team were second-bottom having won just three of their 19 games under previous boss Alfons Groenendijk and his temporary replacement Dirk Heesen. Pardew brought with him Chris Powell, the safest pair of hands and nicest guy in showbiz, to help out, and a few days later Martin Jol was confirmed as an advisor to the club, though he was apparently partly responsible for Pardew’s appointment. In his first game, a group of home fans produced a banner depicting Pardew and Powell as ‘Ghostbusters’.
A solid team around him, but it’s fair to say that Pardew has not exactly lit a flame of glorious enthusiasm underneath his new team. That one win came in his first game, against fellow strugglers RKC Waalwijk and they have drawn three, two of which were 0-0s and the other, 2-2 with Heerenveen, saw them have two shots on target to their opponents’s 31.
Still, if you just listened to Pardew you might not realise much was wrong. “Despite all the negativity around the club, I see something in my group that gives me confidence,” he said. “I see passion, combative spirit. I also see that we were completely hopeless against FC Utrecht, PSV and AZ, but at the same time that we should have won home from Vitesse and Heracles, that we fought like lions in Heerenveen. We have to turn that spirit into results.”
I could have enjoyed life at home in Surry. Playing golf, playing tennis, walking the dogs, but within me there is still a burning fire for football.
It could be curtains this week, though: on Friday second-bottom Den Haag face Fortuna Sittard, a place above them in the Eredivisie relegation playoff spot. Lose, and they could end the weekend ten points from safety with seven games remaining, firmly into ‘snookers required’ territory.
All of which begs the question: why Pardew? It seems like a particularly random appointment: what did the people of the Netherlands know about him before he arrived?
“We all remembered Pardew doing some stupid things in England,” says Chris Tempelman, corespondent for Voetbal International who has been covering the team. It seems those clips of fights with David Meyler, calling Manuel Pellegrini an effing old cee and the provisional nightclub sleazeball dance at the FA Cup final, travelled ahead of Pardew.
“With Pardew, it’s mostly about Pardew, and not about his teams,” Tempelman continues, telling a familiar tale. “That’s a big problem. Of course he tries to say that’s not the case, but in his way of acting on the sideline – the dance in the cup final, the way he acts against other managers, other players – maybe that’s in the past, but for me it says that he thinks it’s about him.
“He talked about wanting something new [when he arrived], but I think in England nobody wants him anymore. Of course you want something new if there’s no work for you in England.”
Ouch. In truth though, this was something of a hospital pass. In the summer Den Haag sold their two best players from last season – former QPR and Burton man Abdenasser El Khayati and Sheraldo Becker, who contributed 24 of their 58 goals – without convincingly replacing them. Indeed, last summer’s recruitment turned out to be a complete shambles: of the eight players signed, only two remain. Their owners, a Chinese group called United Vansen, have been on an economy drive, so even by the standards of the Eredivisie, funds have been limited.
Pardew inherited an old and inadequate squad, with probably only two – goalkeeper Luuk Koopmans, and the superbly-named 19-year-old winger Crysencio Summerville – that would particularly interest anyone else. Not even defender Shaquille Pinas has been able to stiffen up their rearguard. “For any coach this was not the right moment to come in,” says Tempelman. “When Pardew arrived in December and went on a training camp in Spain, the first thing he said was: I need new players.”
Even now Pardew admits, in so many words, his team are no good. ”This is the biggest and most difficult challenge [of my career],” he said. “The reason is that the quality of this team cannot be compared to all the other teams I coached.”
He talked about wanting something new, but I think in England nobody wants him anymore. Of course you want something new if there's no work for you in England.
But this is where he did himself no favours. Pardew bought in bulk, bringing in eight new signings, seven of which came from England, but not exactly from the top level. Sam Stubbs, a centre-back from Middlesbrough who’d been on loan at Hamilton, has been the pick, but that’s probably more because he’s the only one to have played a substantive amount of senior football this season rather than any great quality of his own.
The rest would be filler in the English Championship, never mind in one of Europe’s top divisions: Jordan Spence, George Thomas, Mark Duffy, Omar Bogle. “They’re terrible,” says Tempelman. “By that I mean they’re replacing other players who appeared in the first-half of the season, and they’re not better.” With little budget and a thin squad, Pardew had to do something, and he says they tried to recruit players of higher quality, but he took eight gambles and, thus far, none of them have come off.
Of course, some of them might have fared a little better with some consistency. Pardew has only named an unchanged side once in his eight games (though injuries have naturally accounted for some of this flux, most notably to centre-back Tom Beugelsdijk), and has started mucking around with formations too, trying a five-man defence last weekend after flitting between variants of 4-1-4-1/4-3-3/4-5-1 previously. You could argue this either way, and Pardew will no doubt defend his approach on the basis that if you’re not winning, you should change something. But if everyone knows their jobs in a defined system, logically consistency should then build.
Eight games to go then. The one thing in their favour is that, of their remaining games, four are against fellow relegation candidates. Win those, and things start to look much rosier, but what chance do they actually have of doing that? “I don’t believe this team can now get the results,” says Tempelman. “It would be ridiculous if he said ‘It’s over, I can’t do it anymore’, but when you see the way they play, what they do on the pitch, what he does with the substitutes, you think ‘how will they ever win a game playing like this?’”
As for Pardew, he’s keeping his chin up. “No matter how difficult the situation is,” he told Voetbal, “no matter how much negativity there may be, I trust my players. They have fire in their bellies.”
You can listen to the latest edition of the Totally Football Show here, and even better you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.