Passionate Pardew has nothing to apologise for

I’VE never thought much of Alan Pardew and, must confess, I couldn’t understand why Newcastle made him their manager after sacking that very nice man, Chris Hughton.

But, like Paul on the road to Damascus, I’ve been converted.

Not only has he turned the Magpies into a top-half team, but he’s shown a passion I’m sure will have endeared him to the Toon Army – illustrated on Sunday with his touchline behaviour during the Tyne-Wear derby.

He’ll probably look back at his antics with a certain embarrassment – admitting in his post-match interview that he hardly covered himself in glory when his over-the-top reaction to Newcastle being awarded a penalty when they were 1-0 down riled Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill to the point where they had to be pulled apart.

But he did not, and should not, feel the need to apologise.

If I was a Newcastle fan – and I must say I’ve always had a soft spot for the Geordies – that’s how I would want my manager to behave in the heat of a derby.

And if I was a Sunderland fan I’d be pleased to see O’Neill reacting as he did. In fact, I’d be chuffed to bits to hear that he’d sent out his team with fire in their bellies.

Derbies are, after all, meant to be tribal affairs. But that doesn’t excuse Lee Cattermole’s actions.

Not for the first time, the midfielder overstepped the mark, booked after just 40 seconds for a reckless challenge on Cheick Tiote – his 10th booking of the season which brought him an automatic two-match ban – he managed to walk the disciplinary tightrope for the next 90 minutes, only to get himself sent off after the final whistle for swearing at referee Mike Dean – an offence that saw him banned for an additional two matches.

As skipper, Cattermole is meant to lead and set an example, but he’s such a hot-head – a serial offender – that he cannot be trusted, even after the game is over.

Balotelli love cure has echoes of Rioch

MARIO Balotelli is in love. He let the world know in his own inimitable fashion during Manchester City’s recent victory over Blackburn with a message on his T-shirt – “Raffaella Ti Amo” – declaring his love for his model girlfriend Raffaella Fico.

But whether he is prepared to take his manager’s advice and actually tie the knot is another matter.

According to Roberto Mancini, bad boy Balotelli needs to get married to save his career.

The City boss came up with the marriage solution after learning Balotelli had been photographed outside a Liverpool club in the early hours of Friday morning – 36 hours before he was due to play against Wanderers in the Etihad derby.

Mancini didn’t let the issue prevent him selecting the talented but wayward hitman, who duly scored City’s second in the 2-0 win that kept them top of the table. But after the game Mancini confirmed he would fine the striker the maximum allowed – two weeks wages, around £220,000 – then, in agony aunt style, suggested settling down might be the only way of curbing his excesses.

It was radical, headline-hitting stuff, but Mancini is not the first manager to prescribe marriage as a way of keeping a young player in check.

Back in the Nineties, when he was managing Wanderers, Bruce Rioch more than once advised young players to ditch the bachelor lifestyle.

He never had to deal with players who let off fireworks in their bathrooms or gave him quite as many headaches as Balotelli has given Mancini. But there were occasions when he needed to bring his players into line and, in his book, there was no better way of keeping a young man on the straight and narrow than getting him hitched.

United can play badly like this all the way to title

I LOST count of the number of times I heard commentators and pundits saying Manchester United had not played well at Tottenham.

Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted in interviews after the 3-1 win that they were lucky.

Spurs had played exceptionally well, easily the best team in the first half, and United’s players had to dig in to get the three points.

But I’d bet my life savings that, in the sanctuary of the team coach, the concerned expression would have gradually given way to an ever-widening smile then a little chuckle of self-satisfaction. Fergie knew on Sunday evening that, although still two points behind City in the two-horse Premier League race, United had taken a giant stride towards retaining their title.

Not for the first time, challenges had been met and questions answered by the Old Trafford success machine.

As Owen Coyle said last week, Fergie and his troops are serial winners – “course and distance specialists”.

For all the riches and wealth of talent Roberto Mancini has at his disposal, City are going to have to show character if they are to win the Premier League for the first time. And that is something you just can’t buy.

Van Persie truly is in Bergkamp class

ONCE ridiculed for mentioning his name in the same breath as Dennis Bergkamp, I’ve drawn a certain satisfaction from seeing Robin van Persie almost single-handedly keeping a poor Arsenal team in the top four of the Premier League.

The ridicule was prompted by my assertion that Van Persie was the first player since Bergkamp – his fellow countryman and fellow Gooner of course – who I would pay top dollar to watch.

Bergkamp really was a joy to behold; smooth, elegant, self-assured and not just a great goalscorer but a scorer of great goals. He was truly world class and I’m delighted to say Van Persie is in the same mould – and if anyone doubts that, just take another look at his injury-time winner at Anfield on Saturday.

It’s no wonder the Arsenal hierarchy are now considering relaxing their rigid salary structure in an attempt to keep him at the Emirates.

I just hope they haven’t left it too late and RVP isn’t tempted to follow his former team-mate Cesc Fabregas to Spain.

The Premier League will be all the poorer for losing one of its stellar performers – and so will I if I have to fly to Madrid or Barcelona to see him play.

Always everybody’s fault but Roman’s

ROMAN Abramovich sacks his manager and blames his players.

The only person he doesn’t appear to hold responsible for the mess Chelsea are in is himself – and he’s owned the club for the past nine years.

But then he never looks in the mirror, judging by the permanent salt and pepper stubble on his sulky face.

The man might have untold wealth, but like so many of his ilk, he has no class.