Getting rid of their gaffer right before facing champions Manchester United at Old Trafford is inexplicable. Add to that, low confidence and poor away record, the writing is on the wall for a stinging defeat. For the first half, Newcastle kept a clean sheet, not because of resilience but rather Manchester United neglected to apply their trademark passing to pry open the defense.
In the second half, a pep talk by Alex Ferguson corrected the anomaly. He said: “We had too many individuals in the first half trying to walk the ball into the net. But the second-half display was marvellous, absolutely fantastic and could not be faulted.”
Cristiano Ronaldo’s first hat-trick for Manchester United sent the champions back to the top of the Premier League in intimidating fashion. A Carlos Tevez double and a rare goal from Rio Ferdinand completed a ruthless 6-0 demolition of Newcastle and gave Man United their biggest league win in eight years.
Looking back at Newcastle’s history over the last few decades, it is clear that they are hungry for success. The Toons had been pinning for a league title (absent for more than 80 years) and their last major trophy came in the form of the 1955 FA Cup. They were languishing in the lower leagues before earning a respite and some respect during the tenure of Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson by featuring consistently in the top ten. The fans saw a cavalier approach to football, entertaining no doubt, and decided that should be the way they wanted their football to be played.
As a firm advocate of the beautiful game, I agree absolutely. But before you play with flair, the team has to be founded on something solid. If the backline is porous, the entertainment will never convert into trophies. The desire to see results by the new owner, a self made billionaire, Mike Ashley, is understandable but he should approach the awakening of a great club in the same patient and methodical way in which he built up his empire.
A case in point is the success of Manchester United. The board stuck by Ferguson during his barren early days, when the Scot went four years without a trophy (he was one match away from being sacked). In his first season, he ended up behind Coventry and it was 7 years later that he captured his first league title. During this period, he plodded behind Liverpool as their title drought stretched to 26 years.
Man United were far from playing “sexy football” when Ferguson came from Aberdeen. Their game was based on a tight defense with Schmeichel in goal, Bruce, Pallister as the pillars and the charismatic Bryan Robson who placed his body in front of every challenge. The influx of creative midfield players then took them to the next level and the present Red Devils with attacking verve took shape.
For Arsenal, when Arsene came from an unknown Japanese club, he inherited a team famous for winning with 1-0 scores. The goalkeeper, David Seaman and the Fabulous Four, comprising Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn took professional pride in ensuring the job was done right. Shutting out opponents and keeping clean sheets meant more than scoring goals. Despite this boring style, they earned plaudits from the fans and rivals.
Wenger then took Arsenal from a cup winning team to the Premier League champions in only his second season after recruiting the talismanic Thierry Henry to partner with Dennis Bergkamp.
For both mangers, the right ingredients were added to the broth to form the potent concoction but most importantly, they were given time. Even David Moyes was given a vote of confidence despite two sticky seasons, it is now his six years in charge and Everton have been molded into a team capable of contesting for a European spot regularly.
It is clear that stability plays an important role for a dominant club. Newcastle have been through 10 managers plus several caretakers while Alex Ferguson celebrates his 22nd anniversary at Old Trafford, and their trophy cabinet couldn’t be more different. The Red Devils have have won the European Cup, nine Premier Leagues, five FA Cups, two League Cups and the Cup Winners’ Cup. Newcastle fired blanks.
Actually, Sam Allardyce has the right credentials to transform Newcastle FC. At Bolton, he styled a backwater team into a sturdy outfit which gained the respect of most opponents, including the Big Four, with a physical and direct approach. After he has cultivated toughness and discipline in Newcastle, whether the board wants to keep him for the long haul can be opened up for further debate.
Of course, Allardyce did himself no favors when he refused to do interviews with the BBC, did not have a close rapport with fans, has a prickly and bossy mentality - he loves to be called Big Sam. But his major failing was to sign players of dubious quality. Barton is a nutcase and to buy him over from Manchester City is to carry the curse over from them.
As for Alan Smith, I seriously don’t know what he is good for. He is casted as a midfielder but he can’t make surging runs, through passes or score goals like Lampard, Gerrard or Ronaldo. After Bowyer, Woodgate, Dyer and Bellamy, one would have thought that mistakes have been learnt: troublemakers, no matter how talented, are bad for the team. Apparently, Allardyce has overestimated himself and felt that he could perform miracles.
The shadow of Alan Shearer still looms over St James Park and any incoming manager will have to contend with it. It is counter-productive and he has undermined the manager since his playing days. If he wants the job, then just be a man and owns up. Else, Shearer should publicly declare his non-interest in managing Newcastle.
The fans is another interesting aspect of the Newcastle set-up. The club traditionally enjoyed unwavering fan support regardless of the results on the pitch or their league standings. The barcodes love melodrama and entertainment, winning is secondary if you show them a good time.
Another comic club, Manchester City, also have fanatical support and used to be butt of jokes for their inconsistent performances but this season they had improved by leaps and bounds under Eriksson, and the Toons suddenly realize that they can’t even measure up to this sickly team which is pretty bad for a “big club.” They expect their team to perform just as well or much better, hence the heavy resentment.
However, the fans have conveniently forgot that Eriksson was a choice they objected when the idea was first bandied about at the start of the season. If they have expressed interest, definitely Eriksson will have chosen Newcastle over Man City. By the way, Newcastle are also lacking a Micah Richards and Richard Dunne in defense. That has been the main reason for Man City’s strong performance so far.
With the latest news that Redknapp refused to sip from the poisoned chalice, Newcastle could be facing a relegation battle soon as the Premier League is very competitive this season and a string of bad results can easily change their fate.
Mark Hughes has the right temperament to do the job but it is doubtful if he will leave Blackburn after witnessing the treatment of Sam Allardyce. The obvious choice, if they want titles, is to go for Jose Mourinho but he is equally negative in his footballing approach. Mourinho may not last long in that atmosphere and with Alan Shearer lurking behind, it will take more than money to attract him.
Since Newcastle are not likely to achieve anything significant this season, I would suggest Alan Shearer. The fans have been baying for him to step in, so let’s be done with the myth once and for all. If he performs, that is a bonus but if not, at least future managers do not have to hear chants of She-rah anymore.