There are mornings when Alan Pardew wakes up and can barely believe it is only three years since he took charge at St James' Park. "I keep looking in the mirror and thinking it's been about 20 years," jokes Newcastle United's manager as he prepares for Arsenal's visit to Tyneside on Sunday. "I was a young man when I came here."
The assorted stresses involved in keeping, among others, Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear, Newcastle's owner and director of football respectively, happy have been outweighed by the highs. Particularly now, when an easy on the eye, francophone Newcastle are showing signs of fulfilling Ashley's long-standing ambition and turning into something of an "Arsenal on Tyne".
"I've enjoyed it," says Pardew. "Newcastle United is a bit of a rollercoaster but there've been more ups than downs. I'm very pleased with the progress this club has made. Hopefully we can keep ourselves in the top eight for the next three or four years. That's the objective."
Currently within touching distance of a Champions League place, Newcastle will be aiming higher this season should Arsène Wenger's title challenge falter on Sunday. Even if the afternoon ends in disappointment for Pardew, his side's run of seven wins and one draw in their past nine league games has made a mockery of those who, as recently as October, believed he should be sacked in view of last spring's relegation skirmish. "We're playing on the front foot and trying to take the game to the opposition, whoever we face," says the 52-year-old. "We play a nice brand of football."
Wenger probably feels much the same about the critics who, back in the summer, suggested he was a busted flush, but his Newcastle counterpart knows loyalty is an increasingly rare commodity in the Premier League these days. "Things change quickly," says Pardew, who fully appreciates the absurdity of being the division's second longest-serving manager behind Wenger. "You mustn't get carried away but I think longevity is important. I really do. It's difficult for managers to get any longevity now, though, as that loyalty is not there any more. The game needs to look at it."
Newcastle's manager believes English football is suffering from a lack of continuity at the top of clubs. "It's important to have the same [managerial] voice in the dressing room," he says. "A training ground is like a living and breathing animal. You need to understand how it works so you can make changes when it's not working. You need to have time to be allowed to do that but, sometimes, if it's not working out over a little period, you can lose your job.
"Clubs can learn from Arsenal. What a job Arsène Wenger has done there. I really hope he wins the Champions League this year. He deserves it."
There was a time, most notably during his days in charge of West Ham, that Pardew's attitude towards Wenger was somewhat frostier but passing years allied to Newcastle's own Gallic experiment has mellowed such attitudes.
"We've introduced a lot of French players because of market forces," says Pardew. "Arsène's first port of call when he arrived here was France, for the same reason. I'm disappointed not to have more British players in my team. I want more British players but I'm certainly not going to argue with our French contingent. They've been brilliant. It's a world [transfer] market now. Arsène maybe saw that before other managers; we owe him a bit of a debt."