Pardew sacking at Saints raises eyebrows
Alan Pardew described Saturday's 4-0 victory at Bristol Rovers as a big relief, but it obviously wasn't enough to persuade the decision makers at Southampton that the 49-year-old should remain in charge at the League One club.
A press release landed in my inbox at 0821 BST on Bank Holiday Monday morning informing me that Pardew, assistant Wally Downes and goalkeeping coach Stuart Murdoch had all been "relieved of their duties with immediate effect".
They had been sacked, in other words, just three games into the League One season.
The club statement was just six paragraphs in length and, bizarrely, started by announcing that the club would be appointing a new manager and coaches rather than explaining that the previous ones had left.
I tweeted the news, asking what people thought about it. The reaction wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the club's decision. Bonkers, disgraceful, ridiculous and gutted were a few of the words that featured in the replies.
Saints, red-hot pre-season favourites to win League One, haven't exactly made a blistering start to the new campaign. But four points from three games isn't a disaster either and surely does not merit sacking your manager at such an early point in the campaign. Especially when the club's previous result was such an emphatic victory.
Chairman Nicola Cortese has made no secret of his desire to transform Saints into an established Premier League club. I met him last year and found him to be a calm and reasoned man but he is also fiercely ambitious and regards automatic promotion as a minimum requirement for the current season.
However, is Pardew's dismissal not so much a reflection on this season's results but the consequence of problems behind the scenes at the club's Staplewood training ground?
Saints started the process of overhauling their coaching staff last season. Les Reed was appointed as head of the club's football development and support centre in April and Martin Hunter was brought in as under-21 coach in July. Stewart Henderson, who worked for the club for 20 years in a variety of coaching positions, left in July as part of the restructuring.
I have been told that several support staff based at the club's training ground have recently resigned, claiming an inability to work with Pardew.
At first glance the decision to sack Pardew makes Saints look ridiculous, but if Pardew's dismissal is the consequence of off-the-field issues then that would at least partially explain why it comes just two days after a comprehensive 4-0 victory.
There was a lot of speculation that Pardew was going to be fired at the end of last season. Pardew was appointed in July 2009 and his first campaign in charge had seen Saints win the Johnstone's Paint Trophy but miss out on the play-offs by one place despite starting the season on minus 10 points.
Back in May, Cortese described reports of Pardew's imminent demise as "ill informed". A source close to Cortese told me that the chairman mounted a strong defence of Pardew's position at a time when owner Markus Liebherr, who tragically died in early August, wanted a change of manager.
Pardew was allowed to strengthen his squad over the summer, bringing in the likes of Ryan Dickson, Frazer Richardson and Danny Butterfield.
Again, it would be extremely short-sighted if the club allowed Pardew to mould his squad over the summer only to sack him so early into the new season. Unless, of course, Cortese had decided that he was wrong not to dismiss Pardew in May and had now acted swiftly to ensure that any new manager would still have the vast majority of the campaign in front of him.
There had been rumours that Cortese and Pardew did not see eye to eye, but the former Saints boss has yet to comment on his dismissal.
Either way, sacking Pardew is unlikely to be a popular decision with the majority of the club's supporters. It hints at either a club strong enough to resist the pressure of public opinion or one that is out of touch with its fanbase.
The press release announcing Pardew's dismissal stated: "We recognise that frequent changes to the football management are unlikely to assist in the winning of trophies and promotions."
The suggestion is that Cortese, who arrived at the club shortly after Pardew's appointment, is hopeful of making a long-term appointment.
On the one hand, Southampton is an extremely attractive proposition for a prospective manager - a financially stable club with a good squad, a sound infrastructure and a large fanbase.
But the fact that Pardew has been sacked so early in the season might make a prospective new manager think twice before joining the League One side.