Give Pardew a break, football management is a stressful business

Alan Pardew was nasty, mean-spirited and rude to Manuel Pellegrini on Sunday.

In calling a man only eight years his senior “old”, he also made the mistake of doing it from wobbly ground too. But none of that is worth a touchline ban and the Football Association were right to let him off with a warning. 

If they were to go around banning every manager who was nasty, mean-spirited and rude on the touchline, the technical areas at Premier League grounds would have the most pristine, perfect grass you’d ever seen. Pardew’s misfortune was to be caught facing the camera uttering words that just sit up and beg to be lipread. In committing the crime of swearing at his opposite number, however, he is hardly alone. 

Football management is a highly stressful role. In less enlightened times, we would quickly dismiss the idea of stress in football, tritely rolling out cliches about soldiers, nurses and pit-workers to diminish the very idea that well paid people could possibly be unhappy. All bobbins, of course.

Stress, sadly, pays scant regard to notions of perspective. It is a very personal curse and it is rooted in the feeling of control, or to be more accurate, the lack of it. Football managers are looked upon by some as omnipotent Gods. We shout at them to ‘change it’ or ‘sort it’ or ‘get it together’, but when the first whistle has blown, their power is limited.

Control? Imagine how stressed you would be were you to spend a week preparing for a major event only to have to leave it in the hands of a motley collection of twenty-somethings who had let you down in the past and would almost certainly let you down again. Imagine watching them run out on your behalf, knowing that 50,000 people had paid more money than perhaps they could afford to be there. Imagine knowing that every newspaper in the land would ridicule you if something went wrong. Swear? I’m only surprised that more managers don’t spontaneously combust. 

Pardew isn’t the first. From the pressbox behind the dugouts at White Hart Lane, the media have seen countless managers lose their cool with each other, with the fourth official, with abusive supporters and even the ballboys. Only a few weeks ago, I saw Sam Allardyce swear at Tim Sherwood and give him a look that suggested he was trying to vaporise him with his eyes. Neil Warnock used to goad rivals with anything from snide remarks about their substitutions to demands for his players to put one on the opposition. Managers are angry, scared and desperate creatures. And you know what angry, scared and desperate creatures do when they’re cornered. 

Football, despite the creeping sanitisation of recent years, still isn’t an environment for the faint of heart, but nor is it entirely cruel. Pardew behaved appallingly, but when the game was over, he sought Pellegrini out and apologised. Given that Pellegrini was gracious enough to accept the apology, that is where the matter should end. 

There are those who have complained that Wayne Rooney’s two match ban, incurred in 2011 for swearing into a camera after completing his hat-trick, must surely serve as a precedent. But there is a difference between engaging a camera and simply being caught on one. While Rooney certainly had my sympathy at the time, this isn’t the same offence. 

And besides, let’s look at the positives: The Guardian’s policy of refusing to be intimidated by naughty words has left their North-East coverage looking like off-cuts from the Derek and Clive tapes. For that, if nothing else, we owe Pardew our thanks.

Pardew goes toe-to-toe with West Ham's Sam Allaradyce in the dugout next weekend - check the latest match odds.

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