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Newcastle face their biggest test of judgment since hiring Keegan

 

Sacking Souness was the right decision but should have been done sooner, reports Michael Walker

 

Friday February 3, 2006

The Guardian

 

 

Newcastle United's board is not used to attracting praise but it deserves some for the actions of yesterday. Graeme Souness was taking the club down and although the timing of his departure is far from perfect, in dismissing the Scot the board has at least acknowledged the mistake of his appointment.

The club breathed a collective sigh of relief when the news finally came though. Souness and his staff have not impressed enough of the good people who work at the club, either on the pitch or off it, and there is little sense of loss. Hanging on for the sake of money may be understandable in a business as ugly and short-term as professional football, but there should be no pretence that Souness and his staff were doing anything else since they were knocked out of the League Cup in November by a Wigan team featuring seven reserves.

 

After showing poor timing when appointing and sacking managers in the past the chairman Freddy Shepherd and his board, for the sake of the club's credibility, need to get it right on this occasion. Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Sir Bobby Robson and now Souness have each left early to mid-season. Inevitably that brings a degree of instability that Souness, correctly, identified as one of the club's biggest handicaps.

But that does not mean Souness should have stayed on to end that run. Newcastle are slipping - no goals in any of their past five defeats, one point from the last 18 - and Souness proved unable to do anything about it. Yesterday's timing was not great but the decision was still the correct one. Now the time can be spent discussing and assessing contenders, while the interim appointment of Glenn Roeder and Alan Shearer sees Newcastle through.

 

Now the club have to come up with their greatest managerial decision since February 3, 1992, the day Kevin Keegan was first asked to return to St James' Park. That was the moment the modern Newcastle were reborn and if things today are incomparable to the era of Ossie Ardiles, there is still a strong sense that the club need to reconnect with the fans. They, after all, are what make Newcastle "big", not trophies.

 

In one of the fans' polls in September 2004, when Robson was sacked to no public outcry, Martin O'Neill came top. He was annexing trophies at Celtic then, building on the underestimated achievement of turning Leicester City into a force.

 

Trophies would impress Tyneside but O'Neill also possesses that intangible human quality that so matters in Newcastle and places such as Liverpool. It could be awkwardly defined as humble gravitas, and the Irishman has it. So, too, does Paul Jewell, whose work at Bradford City is underappreciated in the way O'Neill's is at Leicester. Jewell and O'Neill both have the ability to impose their will on their teams.

 

Souness, sixth choice for the job, never had such affinity or impact. He does, however, have charm and there were moments when it was possible to see why a lot of people in football like him. Last summer he walked up to the man from the Sun newspaper and offered that granite handshake of his. Simultaneously, Souness whacked the reporter on the shins. "Old habits die hard," the Scot said.

 

Even on August 3, 10 days before the start of the Premiership season, Souness knew he was on uncertain ground at Newcastle. That afternoon he was standing on the rock-hard training ground which played such a part in their injury problems.

 

Souness wanted to get his point across, and he had one. It was that Newcastle needed a strong league season, for the good of the club and his job security. His argument was that the previous year had been undermined by progress to the Uefa Cup quarter-final and the FA Cup semi-final. They ended up 14th in the league.

 

Theoretically he was right. Translating the theory into practice was beyond him. Injuries have played a part but they have been overplayed and there have been too many inconsistencies - making Jermaine Jenas captain then letting him join Tottenham; saying he had inherited "arguably the best squad I've ever worked with" then complaining it was "a stinking dressing room"; mentioning bad luck when he had the good fortune to have a depressed Sunderland down the road.

 

The biggest of all was the happiness to take on the likes of Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert, but not Shepherd. In the coming days it will be claimed that Souness signed neither Albert Luque nor Celestine Babayaro. If that is the case, why he did he not say so at the time?

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Is a very good article....

 

Was shocked and stunned listening to TalkSport this morning - they can't understand for the life of them why we've sacked Souness and were arguing the fact that we were safe from relegation! ;)

 

Took a convo with Graeme Courtney to point out that we're only 6 points off relegation and that if results go a certain way this weekend, we'll be one game off dropping into the bottom 3 before they realised that the situation is perilous.

 

The timing of the sacking is terrible, the decision to do it is not - it's damage limitation now I'm afraid. Even if we survive the season by the slimmest of margins, I'll be relieved.

 

It's an strangely similar feeling to 14 years ago when KK took over..

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Furthermore, I note the reference to Ardiles in that article. The way I saw things under Ossie's reign was that, while we were shite, the players always gave 100% and had some degree of organisation about them...

 

Couple that of course with the fact that Ossie was given absolutely no financial backing from the board..

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Furthermore, I note the reference to Ardiles in that article. The way I saw things under Ossie's reign was that, while we were shite, the players always gave 100% and had some degree of organisation about them...

 

Couple that of course with the fact that Ossie was given absolutely no financial backing from the board..

88497[/snapback]

 

Are you saying that FS is a better chairman then? ;)

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Was shocked and stunned listening to TalkSport this morning - they can't understand for the life of them why we've sacked Souness and were arguing the fact that we were safe from relegation! ;)

88496[/snapback]

 

aye it was annoying. Brazil kept going on about it being the wrong decision. It's frustrating that the media in general have this point of view at times, they don't have the day by day experience of what a farce these last months have been: the "proper players", the excuses, the "not big on tactics" the list goes on...

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Furthermore, I note the reference to Ardiles in that article. The way I saw things under Ossie's reign was that, while we were shite, the players always gave 100% and had some degree of organisation about them...

 

Couple that of course with the fact that Ossie was given absolutely no financial backing from the board..

88497[/snapback]

 

Are you saying that FS is a better chairman then? ;)

88591[/snapback]

 

Never doubted that FS is a better chairman than Forbes...

 

Doesn't make him free from justifiable criticism though :blink:

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