There was something different about Alan Pardew on Sunday. Something reassuring. When he spoke to the press of his anger with Callum McManaman and his deep concern for the fallen Massido Haidara, you could almost see the paternal forcefield spreading out around his squad. He radiated authority and strength. Ordinarily, you look at Pardew and conclude that the only thing he radiates is ‘Joop’. Something’s changed.
It’s the beard. With a beard, a man becomes A Man.
A month ago, Pardew looked like an ageing scoundrel. Han Solo fifteen years after the Death Star, legitimised as an intergalactic consultant on the Kessel Run, but still a little reckless, still resentful of authority. Now he looks more like like Gepetto, Pinocchio’s carpenter father. He has lived his own life in full, he has made his own mistake, he has loved and he has lost and he wants only to extend that privilege to others. Haidara is his real boy, they are all his sons, and he would calmly and unquestioningly risk his life to protect them.
Callum McManaman’s real problem, you see, is that he has no beard. With his cropped head and shaven chin, he looks like he should be walking two bulldogs around a shopping centre on a Tuesday afternoon, blasting donk music out of his mobile phone. Of course we don’t believe that ‘he’s not that sort of player’. Of course we are ready to hate him. He hasn’t got a beard.
With a beard, he’d look like a junior doctor in Stalin’s Russia; tender, traumatised by power outages and pogroms. We might have viewed that challenge as something more whole-hearted and human than despicable and destructive. Clean shaven? No chance.
Beards can do much for A Man in football. Look at Andrea Pirlo. No-one will ever notice if his skills decline, they’ll be too busy gazing at his chin and sighing in admiration. Pirlo has a warrior’s beard, the kind of warrior who steps out of the undergrowth to protect the unwilling heroes on their lonely voyage. He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn and if by his life or his death he can protect them, he will. You need that sort of companionship in Serie A.
There have been barren times for the humble beard. Since the golden age of Socrates and Ricky Villa, Trevor Hockey and Danny McGrain, the chin has been reduced to an off-Broadway stage for struggling goatees and anaemic tramlines. The 1990s offered only Alexi Lalas’ audition for the Spin Doctors and Alan Cork’s unkempt angry market trader effort. Now we are blessed to live in this golden era when men can be Men.
Pardew’s beard is phoenix-like. He has passed through the fire of midwinter, when his Newcastle side couldn’t beg, steal or buy a win. He has survived the torment of watching everything he had created twist in the flames and he has prevailed. Even with that cruel, last minute defeat, his team are renewed and reborn. They will not be relegated, not this season. They will rise again. He fell for an eternity, but the Balrog has been slain and Pardew the Grey has become Pardew the White. That is the beard’s doing.
You simply cannot get that kind of rebrand from a moustache or pointy sideburns.