London Evening Standard
Jose Mourinho has always held out his hand to Alan Pardew, inviting him to watch Chelsea train after Pardew was sacked by West Ham.
But, on Sunday, as Pardew takes Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge, he is not sure how Mourinho will receive him.
“Last time we met I was at Newcastle,” says Pardew. “Jose was pretty upset. We beat them 2-0. He didn’t come for a drink after that one. I hope he’s cheered up a little bit.”
That defeat in December, the first of only two Premier League losses for the Blues this season, must seem a world away to Mourinho. All he needs is one win to secure the title and that may not be too difficult with Palace arriving on the back of defeats against West Brom and Hull.
Pardew admits: “It’s a good game for Chelsea because we’ve achieved our objective [avoiding relegation]. Our players have lost a little focus. At this level, two per cent less focus is enough to lose a game. I hope on Sunday we’ll get back the tough edge we had when we played Sunderland and Manchester City. Our victory over City was probably the most satisfying result I can remember as manager.
“We did everything almost perfectly and got a bit of luck. We will need that against Chelsea. I expect Jose to get Chelsea over the line [and win the title] but I don’t want him to do it against me on Sunday.”
When Chelsea are crowned champions, Pardew hopes talk of them sending people to sleep will evaporate.
“Chelsea have entertained us. Certainly for the first half of the season, they were the best team by some distance. Nobody said then they were boring. Recently there has been a little bit more ‘let’s not lose’ mentality and I get that. When you are making sure [of the title] you start not being as flamboyant. You have to admire Jose’s functionality. Any other team in their position might have had a wobble but, when Jose gets into these positions, he gets the job done.”
Evidence of that came at Leicester on Wednesday when a stinging half-time team talk shook the Blues into life as they came from behind to win 3-1.
“What really sets him apart from all other managers is the success he delivers,” says Pardew. “He won the Champions League at Porto with a team that had no right to do that. Then to do it at Inter Milan where, for a few years, they had no chance of winning it. And he creates tremendous loyalty. You do not find many players who criticise the way he goes about his work regime which means he is taking care of the whole squad.”
Pardew’s first chance to take on Mourinho as Palace manager comes after the end of his four-year stewardship at Newcastle. The 53-year-old led the club to a fifth-placed finish in 2012 and into Europe, an achievement which saw him crowned both the Premier League and LMA Manager of the Year. But his reign was marked by discontent among the fans and he left when he finally realised he would never win over them or the Tyneside media. The tipping point came after the victory at home to Everton on December 28.
“The next day, the reaction in the press and the town was that we won because of their deficiencies. I thought to myself, ‘what am I ever going to win here?’ I thought maybe it’s time to go, it’s better for them and better for me.”
Six days later he took charge at Selhurst Park and, despite his love of the club, he had concerns.
“I’m kind of an icon as a player for a famous goal [the winner in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool] and a period which was Palace’s best. When you become manager, you put that at risk. A manager at Palace will never win every game. The burden of not losing that tag, being liked and respected, that’s a difficult position to keep when you are the manager. I’ll carry that burden until the day I finish at this club.”
So far, Pardew has coped impressively. Before the last two defeats, Palace had taken 25 points from 12 games under their new manger. What is more, Pardew has done that largely with the team Neil Warnock left behind. So what has changed? “I felt the players were not giving themselves enough chance at winning games. They needed to flower a little bit. If the sun’s out, enjoy the sunshine. And we did.”
The result has been a tough team playing with pace and discipline. This has been exemplified in the performances of Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and, in particular, Jason Puncheon. “In the modern game, you need someone to quicken the pace, create an idea. Cesc Fabregas does it for Chelsea and Jason is our Fabregas, trying to come up with something that might unlock the opposition. He’s done it very well.”
Pardew is targeting a top-10 finish next term and has been scouting in Europe – he was in Lisbon last week to see Benfica face Porto – as he looks to strengthen his squad.
There could be new American investment at the club and Pardew confirms he has been party to some of the talks. “If the investment comes, what a great position we will be in, the only Premier League London club south of the river. It’s a huge catchment area. Westfield is being built in Croydon and we could grow really quickly.”
But his own horizons extend beyond Palace. “I’ve potentially got another 15 years as manager. I’d like to manage one of the big clubs before I retire. And I’d like to manage on the international stage. The chance of an England job is probably thin for me but that doesn’t mean, in today’s global market, I couldn’t manage another international team.”
First, though, he must deal with a manager who has already proved himself to be one of the best.