A decade after Alan Pardew left West Ham, former Irons striker Dean Ashton revealed his nickname among the players: Chocolate, because if he could eat himself, he would.
Never knowingly short on self-confidence, Pardew, then one of the most highly regarded young English managers, was West Ham’s number one choice following the Glenn Roeder appointment debacle.
Although when he left three years later, the club had just gone through its worst run of defeats for 74 years, there are still plenty of fans who look at his time at the club and think ‘if only,’ because when he got it right, Pardew got it very right.
All three of his completed seasons went right down to the wire – play-off finals in 2004 and 2005, and the FA Cup final in 2006 – he pieced together the wreckage of the Roeder era to get the team back up to the top flight.
Then he assembled another side with the likes of Dean Ashton, Bobby Zamora, James Collins and Shaka Hislop to re-establish West Ham’s place at the top table and come within seconds of winning the FA Cup. His critics may have accused him of having a slightly high opinion of himself – but his fans would say he had his reasons.
Ultimately, though, whilst results did not help, bad luck played a significant part in bringing about Pardew’s downfall. Having bet on signing Ashton from Norwich, it looked like the manager’s luck was in as the striker fulfilled his potential and more at West Ham, earning him an England callup – but an injury sustained whilst away on international duty was the beginning of the end of Ashton’s career.
If Lionel Scaloni’s long ball in the closing stages of the 2006 FA Cup final had fallen to anyone but Steven Gerrard, then surely the trophy would have made its way back to London that day – but it had to land at the feet of the one player who could find the net from 35 yards out, and as a result it was Liverpool who went on to win the penalty shootout.
The arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano in hugely controversial circumstances destabilised what Pardew had been putting together, and was followed shortly afterwards by the sale of the club to new owners from Iceland, full of good intentions and ambition.
The record losing streak further undermined him, and – with huge irony – a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton proved the final straw. The Pardy party was over.
When the West Ham job became vacant again in 2017, Pardew admitted that had he been offered it, he would have taken it again.
Unfinished business and a sense of regret? Very possibly. Some fans would feel the same way too and take him back today.